Monday, September 01, 2014

Leading in Challenging Situations (A Work-Related Post)

I recently attended a leadership workshop where a model was presented that could be used to "foster [trait] in [person]" or "bolster [person/team] during challenging times."

As I've had opportunity to apply the model since then, I've refined it and wanted to share my refined version.

Essentially, this model takes you along the page from WHO to WHY to HOW to WHAT. (WHEN and WHERE are ultimately covered in HOW and WHAT.)

The model was presented as rings arranged in a circular fashion, it was suggested that you could traverse the ring in any fashion. Depending on the situation, you may start at different points. You may start with WHAT (what you want, what must happen) but don't make that the default. In some cases, you may leave the HOW and some of the WHAT to the staff themselves. I do recommend starting with "Understand the Situation" - that wasn't in the original model. Perhaps it was implied, but I thought it was important to call it out.

WHO -> WHY (relational)


This may be the behavior or actions of an employee that you wish to change, or it may be a situation external to (but impacting the employee). The situation may seem unclear at first but as you start writing you'll get it - or you'll have written down "the situation is unclear" which is in fact a legitimate situation.

In one to three sentences, summarize the situation. (Two examples: Bob seems to offend people when delivering bad news; it's Saturday morning and the server has crashed and the CEO is screaming into my boss' phone and Erika's already looking into it but we don't know any more beyond that)


Again, two to three sentences about the person and why they're reacting the way they are.

Bob delivers the truth logically and unemotionally. He thinks he's being helpful by getting right down to the point, but without any preamble people think he's being aloof and without any context they don't know what to think about the data he's providing.

Erika has quickly responded to the server failure and diagnosed it's a problem with the hardware. She's called the hardware team but they're not responding. Erika has a strong sense of duty and gets things done, but she tends to quickly become frustrated when she has to rely on others who she doesn't think are working as hard. Also, her family is in the car waiting for her so they can head off to the beach.



This is a pervasive and ongoing process that you should be regularly investing in - what is the identity of the team? What is its voice, branding, engagement model? How is it expected to behave? This helps build a framework that can be used in all situations. In this particular situation does team culture fit? And is the team member exhibiting it?

MODEL (Lead by example)

This is how you personify the team culture as you expect it to exist. This happens before, during and after any challenging situation - you must be consistent and you must know what you expect and what you want others to perceive.


EXAMINE PROCESS (Foundational, Vision-in-action)

For all situation, some sort of framework should exist. Even in the case of a true "fire" where little is known, people are running around crazy, process should exist (and have been defined during a period where there is no "fire"). This is the vision being carried out. This should allow people to act in new situations in a manner consistent with the vision.


At a certain point, it may become appropriate to step in and identify what you expect will occur. This may be a change in behavior or a final deliverable or a resolution to a problem. You are identifying what you want. This may be a coaching opportunity.


In most cases, you may leave the outcome or the method of getting there up to the staff themselves. If this is the case, you need to make sure you understand their plans so that you can affirm, course correct or manage up as appropriately.


The issue at hand does not truly exist until you acknowledge it and begin the process (until you're involved, the situation is someone else's). By working this model, you are also clearly stating that you expect the situation to have an end point. A lot of this work is internal, you'll keep it to yourself. But taking the time to think through the steps will help you to make sure you have a solid, honoring approach to resolution.
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