This article is our first in a series related to Leadership in Turbulent times. We will share tips, tricks and best practise from industry leaders in this space.
According to a 2013 Harvard survey, there were more than 15,000 books in print on leadership, with thousands of articles published "each year."
Fast forward to 2021, and you can imagine the immeasurable abundance of not only written text but on-demand videos and webinars. Suffice to say; the topic has been "covered" ad nauseam.
So, when I had the opportunity to talk with Microsoft’s Jason Brommet about effective leadership through turbulent times, it would be reasonable to wonder why watch and listen? Like scanning through several hundred channels on your television, why choose this “program” over another?
Perhaps it is because Microsoft is a recognized global brand. Maybe it’s their long history of driving innovation and delivering business and life-changing technology to the world that suggests they may know a thing or two about leadership.
While the above observations on their own may be compelling, what makes this interview so different is that in his role as Head of Modern Work & Security Jason is evangelizing the modern workplace – starting with his company.
In other words, and based on his experience with Microsoft, Jason shares with us his experiences and insights on what it means to be a leader in turbulent times. Jason can do this because he walks the talk of personal experience.
Running Towards Danger
The need for leadership increases during turbulent times. While this is an obvious statement, what may not be evident is that the appreciation of the differences between good leadership versus ineffective leadership becomes more recognizable. In short, during times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), leadership strengths and weaknesses are laid bare for all to see.
So, what makes a good leader beyond traditional attributes such as being an effective communicator with a strong executive presence?
To start, when facing a crisis – especially one such as we are experiencing today with the pandemic, good leaders enable us to see beyond the challenges of the current situation. In other words, they both enlighten and empower us to imagine a better tomorrow through both their words and actions.
Of course, words alone are not enough. They must be backed by tangible actions that lead to the "light at the end of the tunnel" outcomes that elevate organizations to a whole new performance level.
To better understand the connection between actions and results, my first question to Jason was about leadership differences during turbulent times versus times of stability.
According to Jason, we all have natural inclinations to think and respond in a certain way when facing uncertainty. Leaders are no different. However, and this is key, good leaders understand the importance of challenging their instincts when facing a crisis. For example, there can be a strong instinct to hold pat and assess the situation before deciding on a course of action.
On the surface, this may seem like a most reasonable approach. However, it may not be what the situation requires.
I remember seeing a presentation by Colin Powell about analysis to paralysis. It is a term in which we are all familiar. Interestingly, Powell's perspective on pausing to gather and analyze information is that he put a number or percentage on when it is time to think and when it is time to do. According to Powell, there is no such thing as being 100% certain, so if you are 65% confident you are doing the right thing, then do it.
While Jason doesn’t provide a percentage, his observation that leaders should look to make progress versus seeking perfection was a powerful statement. In other words, it is impossible to have all of the answers or to expect perfection in how you, as a leader, communicate and execute.
Instead, and in recognizing the urgency of a situation, you run towards danger by making the best decisions you can based on experience, knowledge, and acceptance of imperfection, and ultimately the confidence that you will get your team to where they need to be.
Of course, to do this requires a great deal of courage; it requires transparency.
A truly effective leader is one who has the trust of those who look to them for guidance. The fundamental tenet of trust is transparency.
Transparency versus selective disclosure is what builds trust because it not only demonstrates that a leader has a firm grasp or understanding of a situation, but that they respect their team and are making them a part of the response versus being relegated to “need-to-know” spectators.
In the next installment in this series on leadership, Jason and I will talk about how the courage to act and work transparently with the team influences necessary change and promotes greater agility.