This year is supposed to be all about getting back to normal, but how can you lead in this environment?
At some point in the last year, you probably felt like you were drowning, overwhelmed with the feeling that things are not what they should be or that they are off schedule. You might have even told yourself that things would be better in 2021.
Now that the year is well underway, you might be wondering how exactly you move on? I’m not going to tell you that there’s no going back to normal or that moving past the pandemic will take years. Instead, let’s focus on three things you can do to keep your head above water and even rise up as you lead your organization forward.
2020 had us struggling to find our footing. Like clinging to a pole in the ocean, we held tight to things we could count on. Things that hadn’t changed, like our missions. We figured we could hold on to that pole and maintain the status quo and, eventually, the water would recede. Except that now … after 10, 11, almost 12 months … we’re still holding on, and the water hasn’t gone anywhere. To survive, you’ll have to let go.
I’m not advocating that we break the rules or ignore regulations. Instead, I’m encouraging leaders to take the plunge and try a different approach, one that involves action.
The new year is an opportunity to look at things in new ways and take different steps to get your organization or team refocused on goals and objectives. For that, I offer three suggestions.
1. Seek fresh perspectives
You’ve been looking at your organization’s challenges for a long time. You’ve studied the dynamics, combed over data, and discussed things ad nauseum. If the path you’ve been on isn’t yielding the results you need, or you feel stuck in the moment and unable to move forward, now is the time for a shift.
How? Maybe change your work environment. Ask a colleague from another organization for ideas. Read some business books or follow a business blog. Switch places with one of your employees for a few days. Gather different groups for brainstorming and discussion. Bring in new experts or a life coach. Seek alternative views.
I also recommend revisiting your strategic plan and looking for small steps you can take toward long-term objectives. Once you’ve accomplished those, choose another set of small steps but don’t stop moving. Baby steps will take you in the same direction as giant leaps, but they allow you to remain nimble and shift directions.
2. Take risks
No one expects that we’ll wake up tomorrow and suddenly everything will be as it was before. Things have changed. Employees have changed. Priorities have changed. Your organization also needs to change.
Leaders accept that risk is a cost of opportunity and innovation. Some people may call this approach trial and error. Or nothing ventured, nothing gained. I call it win or learn. There’s no downside to trying something new if you can learn from the experience and apply that knowledge to the next time.
If you’ve been asking yourself “what if” for a while, our current situation gives license to go ahead and try. No one can be 100% sure their risks will pay off, but knowing the outcome of a viable idea is much better company than stewing about opportunity lost or hindsight.
What if you’re risk-averse? Most people tend to avoid risk, leaving less competition for those who are brave enough to try something. If you’ve found a worthwhile opportunity or a unique solution — and no one else has jumped on it — you might reap the benefits of being visionary. I’ve learned that you can’t operate a business or lead a group by looking back. Taking risks sends a message to everyone around you that you are willing to take a chance and face failure to accomplish a bigger goal — the very essence of leadership.
3. Embrace technology
If you had been resisting digital transformation, then 2020 plowed over your objections. We were forced to embrace new technology solutions in every aspect of operations. We learned a lot by working remotely. We used new devices. Tried new software. Automated processes. We were agile. And resilient. I’d go so far as to say that there’s never been a time when our workforce has been more open to tech than right now. So, embrace that and run with it.
If you plan to reboot your workplace or keep working remotely, invest in the tools that make it possible. If you need a way to serve the public better, then launch that new web portal. If you’ve heard presentations on artificial intelligence and thought it could work, take the next step. In other words, don’t hold back. Jump in fully and use this time of transition to springboard a cultural change and process overhaul.
As you consider how to lead in this year of transition, and navigate the post-pandemic journey, remember to look at things from a new perspective, be brave enough to take some risks, and embrace technology. You may still have the occasional days when you feel like you’re drowning, but know that you’re in the water with many others. And you’ve got to let go of the pole if you’re going to rise to the top.
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Edward Tuorinsky, Managing Principal at DTS, a government consultant business, is a service-disabled veteran who brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in the areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.