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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Mar 6, 2020


In this week’s Leadership Today podcast we take a step back to explore five key leadership challenges for 2020 and beyond. We explore the daily practices that help us tackle these challenges head-on.



Hello and welcome to episode 69 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we take a step back to explore five key leadership challenges for 2020 and beyond. 

You only have to read the paper or watch the news to appreciate there are lots of challenges in the world at the moment. Whether it’s extreme climate conditions, global trade challenges, the refugee crisis, or the expanding virus pandemic, it feels like there is a lot to be worried about. 

There are always pressing challenges in the broader national and global context. Being born in the early 1970s I remember growing up with the imminent threat of nuclear war. That was followed by the devastating AIDs epidemic. Then there was a national economic recession, global terrorism, and the global financial crisis. It’s almost like we skip from one existential crisis to the next.

Upon that backdrop there are always challenges for leaders. As we continue through 2020 and into a new decade, I believe there are five challenges for leaders in particular. These are based on research literature and reinforced through my own experiences.

  1. Reflection deficit. The leaders I work with talk about back to back meetings, and too much work to complete in a day. They bounce from crisis to crisis with very little time to think or plan. As a result they’re reactive and struggle to be fully present. The old example of working ‘in the business’ very much applies, with few working ‘on the business’ let alone considering whether this is the right business in the first place.  

  2. Flatlining trust. When it comes to organisations, the trust bank account is empty. People have seen how organisations have treated them, their friends and their relatives. Based on experiences over the past 12 years post the global financial crisis they’ve been taught that organisations can’t be trusted to look after their best interests. We feel like we’re on our own and that it’s every person for themselves.

  3. Internal competition. With the backdrop of flatlining trust, many people have based their work identity and community around their team rather than the organisation. The context might change, but the comments are remarkably similar between organisations. “My team is great - we support each other to deliver great work. Unfortunately we can’t depend on other teams to do the same”. It ends up being team versus team, us versus the world, or even us versus the organisation. While that creates identity for the team, it also discourages collaboration and loyalty to the organisation. If anything it amplifies the lack of trust towards the organisation. After all, even my leader is acting as if the organisation can’t be trusted.

  4. Reluctant leaders. Leadership is often seen as an onerous addition and, as such, many people don’t want to become leaders. They see it as an additional burden on top of the regular job. When I ask people in leadership roles how many hours in their week should be spent leading, very few think it is more than four. 

  5. Transactional engagement. Within all of that context employees are naturally focused on what they can get in the short term. Their relationship with the organisation becomes transactional. Working for an organisation ends up looking remarkably like working within the gig economy. When I’m getting what I need I’ll stay, but I’m always watching out for the next opportunity just in case. Leaders end up focusing on trying to get a short term boost. The question is often how they can get the best out of their people this week.

In summary, there’s an overwhelmingly short term focus on daily problems. Leaders are operating in an environment that’s closer to panic than planning. 

Stepping out of these challenges can be tough. It requires a different focus on daily practices that encourage long term thinking. That’s part of the reason for calling this podcast Leadership Today - it’s what we can do today that makes the difference.

Here are six daily practices that help to address these leadership challenges:

  1. Reflecting. Set aside some time each day to reflect. Think about where you get your best ideas. Think beyond your own industry. It may mean you need to trim back time-wasters such as meetings you don’t have a role in. Look for opportunities to reflect each day. 

  2. Inspiring. A key contribution of a leader is meaning-making. Talk to people about what matters to them, and how their role contributes to something that matters. 

  3. Developing. Focus on what people are interested in developing. Increase the capacity of the organisation and develop up that next group of leaders. 

  4. Connecting. If you’ve ever played the game Jenga you recognise the importance of having blocks that can hold each other together. When you build a tower that way it’s surprisingly stable, but once we start pulling out those cross-connections things seem to fall apart. Well it’s the same with organisations - it’s really important for leaders to build connections across the organisation into other teams and other parts of the business.

  5. Delegating. Most of us understand how delegating is supposed to work. We need to be clear about what’s needed, offer support, check-in from time to time, and provide feedback. But oftentimes we’re delegating the wrong things. We end up delegating tasks rather than accountability. That just makes people more dependent on us, doesn’t save a whole lot of time, and doesn’t build capability. Take something significant in your role and delegate it. 

  6. Clearing. I talked about a leader’s role in removing frustrations recently. It’s really critical that we understand the world our people operate in and make an effort to remove frustrations and inefficiencies. They’re often in the best position to see the frustrations, and we’re often in the best position to clear the way.

As a leader you can check off this list each day - how did I go at reflecting, inspiring, developing, connecting, delegating and clearing? You’re probably doing two or three of these regularly without thinking. There’s a possibility that you’re undertaking another two of these practices from time to time. And there’s probably one or two practices that you rarely take the time to do. Identify the one or two that you can dial up this week, and start putting that into practice on a daily basis.

Well I hope you found this episode helpful. If you did, make sure you share it with someone else. You can always provide a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to the podcast. And also take the time if you haven’t connected with me on LinkedIn as yet you can do that via the Leadership.Today website and just follow the connect links. I look forward to speaking with you again next week.