There is incredible power in language. As human beings we make sense of the world around us by giving things labels and no combination of six letters has the power to spike more fear than the word “change”…
Recent political events in the UK have left the establishment across the globe reeling. What’s next? What will be the impact? Where do we go from here? Whilst the answers to these questions have yet to unfold, what is clear is that traditional methods of leadership aren’t working. This isn’t just a massive problem for the political class. Over the coming weeks and months the pain will be felt by business leaders and managers in every corner of the economy. Whether Brexit will leave Britain better or worse off in the longterm is irrelevant. The only certainty right now is uncertainty. Businesses that embrace the challenge are the ones that will succeed. Leaders who can galvanise their employees around a positive vision for the future and create forward momentum will reap the rewards. The map no longer reflects the territory. The time is ripe for pioneers.
For many people current events have created a generalised feeling of uncertainty and inertia. Motivational leadership is not enough. Rallying cries and calls to action will fall flat. If we want people to come on a journey with us, we need to engage them and help them understand their role. In order to create lasting positive change and unlock the opportunity that a shake up of the status quo undoubtedly creates, we need to step into a phase of “Activational Leadership”. We need to work with our organisations and teams to truly understand the lay of the land from all perspectives and then quickly create a consensus for action. The role of the leader becomes that of the editor-in-chief, sifting through the narrative to distil the best, most compelling story to tell and then presenting it in the most exciting way possible. It is vital that leaders have the ability to ask the important questions and then communicate their findings so that individuals understand their roles clearly and feel compelled to act. As leaders we need to help our people connect to a strong sense of their own identity and then enable them to embody it.
So what do I mean by Activational Leadership? Activational Leadership focuses on moving our followers to action and requires three key skills: the ability to listen, the ability to tell stories and the ability to coach. Combining these three attributes allows leaders and managers to empower employees to take responsibility and most importantly to act.
Top down initiatives in the current climate will, at best, be stalled by a disengaged workforce or, at worst, be rejected outright by people desperate to have their voices heard. If we want to heal division and sooth those in our organisations who feel disengaged or disenfranchised, we have to commit to taking the time to listen deeply. When people feel they have a voice, they feel able to contribute constructively to the conversation – if their audience is listening they don’t need to shout.
The next step for us as leaders is to uncover the story. Facts and figures are not enough to achieve buy-in. We need to paint pictures with words. We need to create opportunities for our employees to associate with the narrative and place themselves at the heart of the action. Storytelling is a shared experience and when the audience is compelled to re-tell or pass the story on, the ultimate form of engagement has been created.
The final step is then to adopt the role of coach and support our employees to create their own victories which will in turn drive the action forward. The ability to communicate in this way is a multiplier and creates leverage. Rather than one person trying to pull or push an organisation into motion, multiple catalysts for change are unlocked. The best coaches will then find ways to harness that energy and channel it to support the narrative.
This shift in leadership style won’t necessarily be easy and will certainly require effort. Whilst not all leaders and managers have these skills today, they can be taught. The companies that succeed will be the ones willing to take risks, adapt and invest in developing their people to rise to the challenge.