In a world where everything that can be measured is seen as meaningful, and where things that can’t be measured don’t matter, the pandemic has busted one of the great untruths and shown that it’s actually the ‘unmeasurables’ that matter more.
KDVI Associates Claire Pointing and Andrea Foot explore the unique position that leaders are in to influence their organisation’s culture, and how the desire for certainty in an uncertain world is pulling leaders away from connection and towards action.
There’s no getting around the fact that we’re still caught up in a weird world right now. On the one hand, governments, leaders and individuals are desperate for the pandemic to be over. On the other, we’re still technically in the middle of a pandemic. Certainty is in short supply, especially in those parts of the world still experiencing lockdowns and restrictions. This is leading to a jarring clash between desire and reality.
The Action to Connection spectrum
This clash is resulting in a rush to action. Activity, decisions, structures, policies - mania to create certainty. The more we work with our clients across the globe, the more we’re sensing that leaders feel the fog of the pandemic has lifted far more that it really has – today’s “new normal” will not be the same as next month's “new normal” let alone “normality in 6 months” however much you wish it will be. They’re planning for a world they can’t see, aren’t connected with, and don’t understand.
These actions are denying us the space to think about organisational culture in this moment; to remember what it is that connects and binds our people together. And without finding ways to re-establish those connections, organisations are continuing to operate in survival mode, relying on rapidly diminishing ties established before the pandemic. Ultimately, we’re being drawn by the comforting pull of action and process when it is emotion and connection that is at the very root of creating flourishing organisations.
To a certain extent, it makes sense, especially if you look at it on an ‘Action To Connection’ spectrum. At the moment, leaders are too indexed towards the action end, because the connection end is hard. It’s messy, full of emotions, and harder to map.
In the Learning Lab
As we made space to pause and consider this during our recent KDVI Learning Lab Conversations, where leaders and coaches come together to share, reflect and learn, some interesting insights emerged. Many noted the high levels of stress that are persisting in organisations, as the cost-cutting put in place to weather the crisis, and the working hours excluding the commuting time, have become the new normal. Some groups explored the danger of teams exploding in reaction to exhaustion and pent-up emotions. Others shared how the inspiring, future-looking rhetoric coming from the very top of organisations is missing the mark with employees because it is disconnected from the emotional reality they are currently experiencing.
At the centre of these issues is that leaders, drawn to action, are failing to understand the direct impact their emotion has on their organisation’s culture.
Emotion and connection at the root
Leadership behaviour, either consciously or unconsciously, sets the tone for the organisation. Leader’s behaviour, language and tone sets the cultural boundaries that people operate within. If you’re a leader that’s focused on action rather than emotion, then the culture becomes very transactional. Very process driven.
One of the curious things that has emerged during the pandemic is that power and impact of leadership behaviour diminished as we inhabited a virtual world, removed from each other. There was little choice about how everybody worked – the vast majority of non-frontline or manual workers had to work from home. But now, as we try to plan how people are going to be working in the new world, the influence of leadership behaviour is strengthening again.
As the attraction of action pulls, leaders aren’t asking ‘why are we putting this in place?’. They’re rushing to ‘How do we put this process in place?’ .
These actions, developed without the essential foundation of connection, are creating silos within organisations as people battle out how their preferred culture is played out through the imposition of process. What is becoming clear to us is that emotion and connection are at the root of supporting these new ways of working. Without considering them, processes and actions risk, at best, being less effective and, at worst, damaging short term distractions.
Tapping into emotion isn’t easy for leaders. Process is familiar and comfortable. In fact, many leaders we work with are afraid of too much emotion coming to the surface, worried that it makes them look weak or vulnerable.
But vulnerability opens a door to connection and emotion, so as a leader, give yourself time, space and permission to look beyond the anxiety towards curiosity. Don’t rush to action without connection, because if you can connect to emotion, you will be part of your organisation’s shift from surviving to thriving.
Our Learning Lab Conversations are a space for reflection, shared experience and discovery about leadership in the face of extreme uncertainty and disruption, in order to unlock the energy and imagination required to navigate choppy waters effectively. To find out about our next series, contact [email protected] or signup to our mailing list.
KDVI, 2022Read more