Leading through a crisis – tip 3 – pace your team

pace yourself leadershipNicki Rowland discusses why leaders need to energise and pace their teams through passion, emotion and the strengthening of human connections to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

Emotional connections are crucial

I am a passionate person and I am drawn to others who can express themselves with great emotion too. However, expressing passion alone is insufficient to ‘pull’ our teams in and lead them to success, particularly during a crisis. We need to demonstrate tangible leadership and our intrinsic values to energise those around us.

Much like a marathon runner who is in the final leg or two of their run, our individual team members need us to be a ‘pacer’ and set ‘a pre-determined speed’ to get us to the end of the race. This is all about having a common purpose that your team ‘buys into’. Use this to sustain them en route to the finish line. Consider with me five aspects of crisis leadership that will ensure that all of your ‘runners’ walk away with a medal.

Visible leaders are honest and committed

As a leader, we can motivate and inspire team members to keep focused at work. However, to engage anyone, even at a basic level, we need to achieve their respect and trust. To do this, we must value honesty and display integrity at all times.

We need to visibly demonstrate our purpose as individuals but also connect our people to our business’s purpose. The Exceptional Leadership Academy’s partners at the BoB Group define purpose as ‘What you want to be known for, the reason you get out of bed in the morning and why you are in business.’ It is all about how we show up in the world, be it as an individual or a business.

Much of leadership depends on the techniques involved in motivating others and managing resources to accomplish goals. The ability to develop trust and authenticity is based on honesty. Effective leaders always follow these principles. They plan and lead the way. They generate a clear vision, motivate people and support others to achieve their optimum potential. Imagine that you are a coach watching your runners from the side lines.

Imagine one or two of them are ‘hitting the wall’. Would you stand back and watch them fall at the final hurdle? Would you allow them to ‘bonk’ and ‘burnout’?

No. As a coach, you want your team to win, so you take control. You run out into the pack, jog alongside and hand out the energy gel and water. You refuel them not only with nutrition but also with words of encouragement like ‘Come on, power through’ and ‘Keep your head in the race’. The last thing you need is for someone to crash and burn in the final mile.

Similarly in practice, we need to be perceptive of other people’s energy levels and ‘form’ to tailor our support to each individuals’ requirements, and keep their sights set on the finish line.

Visible leaders build trust

As leaders, we need to avoid authoritarian expressions in the pursuit of our passion and not claim to have all the answers. On the contrary, we need to balance passion with openness and candour and ask our teams for their ideas and opinions. It is all about adopting a growth mind-set and demonstrating our vulnerability as a leader.

Just as a coach might share their experiences and challenges during training as a young athlete with their team, we need to disclose how we have felt and feel. It allows everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet and nurtures trust in the workplace.

Let’s address vulnerability-based trust a little further. This type of trust allows you to take risks, ask for support, own up to mistakes and confront your team members without fear of payback or resentment. It allows you all to be vulnerable with one another. It is Patrick Lencioni, author and a pioneer for organisational health, who talks in depth about this concept.

Patrick says, ‘Trust lies at the heart of a great team, and a leader must set the stage for that trust by being genuinely vulnerable with his or her team members’. He also suggests that there are three ways to begin building trust:

Go First

As leaders, it is our job to model the behaviour that is acceptable in our practices. We need to be first to “open up” and proffer trust to others.  As business consultant, Ken Blanchard, says, ‘When you open up and share about yourself, you demonstrate a vulnerability that engenders trust’.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

This principle encourages us to listen with the intention of understanding rather than with the intention of responding. It is not always about being right and having all the answers –  it is about opening your mind to others ideas and feedback.

Create a circle of safety

We can generate this by first treating our people in the way in which we would like to be treated, as human beings.  Give them a sense of belonging, a shared purpose, some autonomy and most of all, care for them.  We are all human beings and need to feel needed, wanted and appreciated to feel safe.

A coach needs to understand how their runners are feeling physically during training but also how they are feeling psychologically about the challenge and up and coming events. In the same way, we need to open up on an emotional level to our teams so we can match our support to their physical, emotional and mental requirements.

Live and breathe passion

Visible leaders live and breathe their passion – they walk the talk. They live their values and purpose. They are authentic in their pursuit of success. Their day-to-day behaviours support their words and beliefs. They demonstrate their commitment with a firm, fair and consistent involvement in the work of the team. When the team begins to burn out, it is the “visible leader” who is aware of this and ‘refuels’ the team at the appropriate time.

I would like to pick up on the word ‘consistent’ and discuss this further. Inherent in a visible leader is the underlying characteristic of being consistent. Many leaders lack the willingness to commit and to stay committed for the long haul. Visible leaders ‘dig in’ with the team, ‘pace their runners’ and ensure that they maintain a steady speed to realise their goals.

Visible leaders are empathetic

Those who lead with passion and have a ‘lead from the front of the pack’ mentality provide more than just inspiration. They do more than just cheerleading from the side lines or provide a short-lived emotional lift. As passionate leaders, we need to take the time to tangibly demonstrate our passion through visible actions. When we do, our people will do more than just listen – they will actively participate as they will be empowered to do so. We need to keep listening to our teams too and keep them energised by injecting empathy into everything we do. Attentive listening should be the level of communication we should aspire to achieve. However, if you really want to do some ‘carb loading’, empathetic listening will get your people talking about what an amazing leader you are. It is all about the ‘Feel, Felt, Found’ approach.

A conversation could go something like this:

Dental Receptionist – ‘I’m really worried about Mrs X coming in today. Last time she came in she tore a strip off me about the fees we are charging. I found her really intimidating’.

Practice Manager – ‘I understand how you feel. She called me one day complaining about her bill and I felt very anxious dealing with. However, what I found was that when I talked about the value of our service and the benefits of her treatment that her aggression subsided’.

Dental Receptionist – ‘That’s reassuring. I’ll try that approach too. I feel a bit better now. Thank you!’

Empathetic listening requires a willingness to put yourself in your team member’s ‘running shoes’. In this way, they feel heard in a broad minded way. Empathy will allow your team member to feel valued and safe and inspire them to push through.

In my next article, I talk about ‘Amalgam-ation’ – that is, how to bring your team together and to work collaboratively as a strong unit

Find Nicki’s previous tip articles here: Tip 1, Tip 2


If you have enjoyed reading this article and need any support in practice, contact [email protected] or email [email protected].

This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here. 

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