We are facing working situations and complications that most have never faced before. And while enlightened leaders want to provide flexibility to their team members to accommodate these trying and challenging times, the work must still be done. This paradox raises leadership flexibility to new importance. How flexible is too flexible? How do we get the work done and take care of people? Here’s how to strike that balance.
What are We Balancing?
When you strip away all of the noise of the news and things about this situation that seems new and unique, the fundamental question is no different than what leaders should always consider.
How do we balance the needs of the business from the needs of the team members?
Or, how do we balance the work with the workers?
In The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership we introduced the 3-O Model of leadership that states that leadership is about finding the balance between three factors:
The flexibility we seek now is the fundamental balance between outcomes and others. While situation is different in a COVID world, the challenge of the balance is the same.
Flexibility is the Key to Balance
Since I don’t know your business, your situation, the needs of your location, or the specific situations your team members face, I cannot give you a specific prescription for finding the balance you need. Even if I tried, it wouldn’t work. So rather than suggesting the solution, I will give you some things to consider when creating your needed flexibility.
- Priorities are key. Here I am not talking about the priories we state and put on the walls of the conference room (that no one can see now) that read: “People are our top priority.” Rather, I am talking about the realities of this week, next week and the rest of the year. Do you have the team capacity, energy and focus to reach the business goals in front of you? If the answer is yes, it makes it easier to be flexible with team members to deal with the rest of their life situations. If you look at the workload and find a lack of capacity the decisions might need to be different.
- Balance isn’t static. Chances are that the need for and capacity for flexibility could look different in each of those time horizons. When you consider the needs of the organization in each time window, rather than overall you make the decisions more accurate and manageable for everyone. Rather than trying to find a policy that will fit every situation and business need, strive to create guidelines and practices that will allow both leadership and line workers to adjust to the needs of the work and the workers daily or weekly, rather than with one approach that can’t be altered. Flexibility will come easier when we realize that there isn’t a perfect balance but rather is something we strive for as conditions continue to change.
- Solve it together. As a leader you want to find a level of flexibility that will address the needs of the business and meets the needs of the team too. And since those needs are both changing, trying to do the calculus of finding the right answer alone, likely will be difficult. That’s why everyone will be well served to solve it together. Bring the business needs to the table and have the team bring their needs too. When you work together to find the flexibility that is needed you will get better solutions, and just as importantly, solutions that everyone can support, even if they aren’t perfect.
My dad used to say that leadership was hard, that’s why you got paid. If you have been leading for long, you know he was right. The situations we find ourselves in today weren’t something he or we could have anticipated. But with a clear plan and the help of your team, you can find solutions that you can make work – for both the organization and the team.
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