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Light the Candle

In the challenging times that lie ahead, leaders will need to remember their core purpose - that of engaging the hearts and minds of their people.  Possibly the worst thing to do (however tempting) is become over-involved in managing the business and under-involved in working with the people who work on the business.  Lead first and manage second.  Here are some suggestions to help you to consider how you will lead and motivate your staff in the days ahead.

In tough times, we need to manage ambiguity as much as we can.  If we do not, it leads to conflict as people fill in the blanks for themselves and begin to personalise situations.  Help your people to place the current reality into perspective by communicating what you do know and being honest about what you do not know. Keep communicating.  

Let your staff share their feelings. Everyone will react differently and have a unique process for dealing with the situation.  You need to listen to, and acknowledge each person. Make time to talk to people individually and in groups. Create a space where people can be open.

Now is not the best time to indulge in too much “thinking outside the box” because it comes across as being out of touch with reality.  Instead, focus people on thinking “inside a box” – one that contains the desired goals and the constraints currently faced such as funding, cost-reduction, pay freeze or reductions in head-count.  In this way, you can generate ideas and solutions that take account of current challenges.

Uncertain times do not mean that we have to accept or allow under-performance.  Lead your staff forward and continue to hold them to account for their performance in spite of the circumstances.  Clearly articulate their roles in achieving current goals whilst accepting that these may change as events unfold. Acknowledge what is working well, recognise achievements and celebrate success.

Work to develop trust.  Demonstrate that you are a consistent, dependable leader, committed to your staff’s best interests and outcomes.  Even though you may not be able to give reassurance, for example, about job security, you can assure your staff that you will work to support them so that they are best prepared to handle whatever comes their way.

Give your staff time, attention and challenging assignments.  Motivation often comes from overcoming difficulties. Remember that the greatest development does not necessarily come from attending training events. It happens when people have challenging assignments and are supported and coached to success. Make your commitment to employee development conscious and visible.

Take care of your own motivation and manage your feelings.  Generally, your staff will be looking to you to provide realistic and inspirational leadership. Step up and give it to them. If you feel like you are dragging yourself through the workday, your people are going to pick up on your lack of energy and enthusiasm. Stay informed - read good books and magazines.  Try to surround yourself with positive and supportive people. Clarify and focus on your goals.  Discipline yourself to action even when you do not feel like it.

Above all, be the one who lights the candle rather than curses the darkness.

First published in the Health Service Journal