The business community will look back on 2020 as the year that truly put their mental and physical resilience to the test.
Facing unprecedented challenges, those in positions of leadership in particular were required to dig deep to keep their business and their staff on an even keel.
So what will 2021 bring for business owners and leaders, and how can they leave the past year behind – while taking some key learnings with them?
Bruce Ross from Ignite Business Leadership is a leadership coach specialising in embedding peak mental performance in individuals and teams. We spoke to Bruce to get advice on business and mindset planning heading into the new year.
What are some of the biggest challenges leaders / business owners may have faced this year?
This has been an extraordinary year. There has been an unrelenting level of disruption and uncertainty that some have described as ‘viscerally terrifying’.
It’s left many feeling raw, vulnerable, exposed… and exhausted. We got the measure of who we really are compared to who we thought we were.
This has been a year of leading through crisis… plans in disarray, and uncertain futures. The pain has been real and deep – death, sickness, loss of income, isolation.
It’s helpful to look at leadership through the lens of energy: The job of a leader is to give energy.
So, how do you keep yourself topped up, when there’ve been so many leaks? How do you keep your people topped up? (i.e. engaged and focused?)
People are fearful for their jobs, so they don’t leave. They’ve been working in remote locations and working longer, so burnout (energy leakage) is huge.
While we have some order of normalcy here in NZ, what about the international impact? There is not one pandemic, there are three: COVID, economic and mental health.
So if I was to ‘bottom-line’ it, I’d say the biggest challenge within crisis-leadership is we become energy colanders. It’s hard to think and focus, tolerances are lower, visions are obscured, there’s reactivity and catastrophisation.
That is why leaders have had to develop the human part of leadership … being transparent, having humility, being honest, showing empathy, expressing gratitude, really listening.
This helps to steam the energy loss and deepens sense of belonging… to get through, together.
Whether our businesses have been positively or negatively affected, we have had to deeply reassess and revisit what is important – both within the business and within ourselves.
When taking time to reset over the break, what are some things leaders can do to come back with a fresh vision and leave some of the stresses / challenges of the past year behind?
Step One: Take Some.
Recovery time is essential in the reset process. This means deliberately switching the brain off and out of work mode. So #1, take some!
There are two forms of recovery: Passive and Active.
Passive can vary from the ‘blob’ out variety (Netflix binge, alcohol, sleep) through to planned self-indulgent / ‘me-time’. ‘Blobbing out’ is a slow reset; think, 1 week needed, at least.
Deep ‘me-time’ requires you to answer this question, “Of all the things I’ve done in my life, which ones gave me a 9 – 10/10 rejuvenation?” Those things could include reading, getting a massage, walking the beach at dusk, coffee with friends, meditation etc.
Create a list of your top ten 9-10/10 rejuvenators. When done, pack an uninterrupted and intense 24 or 48 hrs made up of just those things.
Active recovery is you deliberately putting energy back into your life via the threshold of regular challenge – so it is the likes of yoga / exercise, or sauna / cold showers or deliberate creativity or researching a passion.
Think of it as those activities that demand your focus and are challenging… and from there, you get to drop into the zone, into Flow. 3-4 hours of Flow is deeply restorative. E.g. mountain bike riding, chess, horse riding etc
Step 2: Plan with Realistic Optimism
When it comes to resetting your vision, undergird this with realistic optimism. Visions, by definition are optimistic but we absolutely need realism to ensure practicality.
So, here are two recommendations for how to plan during uncertain times.
- Reduce the Time Frames
- Scenario Planning
Reduced Time Frames:
Rather than setting the usual 12 vision, set 1 month, 3 mth, 6 month and, if your ecosystem is stable, 12 month vision (depends on how hard-hit your business has been).
Under each vision, have two columns headed: ‘Benefit’ and ‘Barrier’
Then go from left to right, left to right. – what’s a benefit of that vision? What’s a barrier to achieving this vision? Then, what’s a benefit? What’s a barrier? Go for at least six of each.
The two don’t have to be linked. E.g. Benefit: $x turnover reduces debt. Barrier: Staff morale low etc
Then in whatever planning comes next, incorporate overcoming the barriers to achieve the vision: Realistic Optimism
Scenario planning considers multiple scenarios, in this instance, Best, Worst and Likely. What’s the Best outcome? The Worst? And the Likely?
It is highly recommended that while you take yourself through this process, also do it with your whole team. Maybe take a half day to go through them.
The process will be a revelatory. You will see who thinks strategically, you’ll get insights you wouldn’t have considered plus it equips team members on how to plan within a uncertain futures… applying realistic optimism.
If leaders are looking to do some reflecting during the break on their own leadership , what are some top tips on how they can do this to improve their approach in the coming year?
Two answers to this: Reflections while on holiday plus reflections when you return to work
Reflecting on the year, while on holiday…
- Undertake an honest self-assessment (x/10) for:
- Modelling the way (articulating and aligning actions with personal values)
- Inspiring a shared vision (articulating a vision that appeals to shared aspirations – with daily, weekly and monthly clear messaging)
- Challenging the process (searching for opportunities, experimenting and taking risks)
- Enabling others (fostering collaboration, creating psychological safety)
- Encouraging the heart (showing compassion, empathy, appreciation, celebrating wins)
Then reflect on those answers:
- If pre-COVID was about productivity, post COVID is about productivity AND value. What does ‘value’ now look like for my team, for my clients, for my suppliers, for my community? [Hint: look closely at ‘belonging’ and inclusion]
- What worked throughout the year?
- What do I wished I’d done sooner (and why)?
- What are the three things should I remain true to / not change (why and how?)
- What are the top five things should I change? (why and how?)
- What support do I need to achieve these?
Reflections when you return to work…
Are you a good/great leader? How would you know? You will have your assessment but, really, it’s a question best answered by your stakeholders – those above, beside and below you.
If you’re committed to improvement, I recommend this approach.
Ask key stakeholders two questions.
- “How can I be a better leader for you?”. Take notes and however they answer, say, “Thank you, what else?” or “Tell me more about that” (Nothing else… no blame, justification, apology etc).
- “If I were doing this thing better [e.g. being a better listener], what would that look like? How would you know I was being a better listener?
This second question helps to identify the actual behaviour needed to change or incorporate. You need specificity for your course-correction. This second question gives you this.
What are some tips for influencing your mindset coming back to work after a break away?
There are three elements in the success equation: Vision, Action & Mindset. What percentage impact on that equation does mindset (mental wellbeing) have?
I believe it’s 80%. And given that mental illness is looking to be a third-wave pandemic, developing a robust mindset skillset is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity.
It’s the essential training that builds your psychological shock-absorbers.
Building your Mindset Skillset
- Tools that raise your ceiling on what you perceive as stress
- Physiological – Active recovery (mentioned earlier), sleep
- Cognitive Reframing (how is this working for me, not to me?)
- Mindfulness (deliberate focus into the present moment)
- Tools that reduce stress response once it’s been activated
- If in doubt – breathwork, take a nap, and/or go for a walk (micro-recoveries), talk to a friend,
- Activate the parasympathetic (Rest and Digest) nervous system – meditation, Yoga Nidra, name the emotion, breathwork
- Intercept the anxiety with a new belief – Neuro-sculpting (a process the author trains)
A sense of belonging, inclusion and support is massive in helping you handle the intensity. You can be proactive about this by creating your own deliberately-tasked, Personal Board of Directors.
This grouping has four specific people / functionaries supporting you
- Cheerleader – highly supportive, has your back
- Mentor – someone who has been there, done it and is willing to advise
- Constructive Trustee – holds you accountable, truth-tellers who give constructive feedback
- Connector – has you at the top of their mind and recommends you to others
If leaders are looking to reset their business plan for 2021, what are some top tips on how to approach this?
- You don’t have all the answers… so consider collaborative creation of your business plan with your team. Yes it is possible. They, after all, will be responsible for implementing it – this is how you get their buy in.
- In the absence of face-to-face contact for information, what additional data collection is needed for decision making?
- Widen the lens on what success looks like.
- What does success look like for the company? Obviously there’s bottom-line profitability but, given these times, what else?
- What does success look like for your staff. What non-functional skills and capabilities will a top staff member need to display (care for others? resilience? push-back?)
- Build on what is working
- Include a Self-care plan (with Wellbeing budget) as part of the business plan.
- What does self-care look like for you? For your team?
- Join a mastermind group for support