Leading When You're Not Sure What to Say

Leading When You're Not Sure What to Say, by Ryan Hansen

I am at a loss for words this week.

The last several days have been filled with hurtful words, painful scenes on unfolding in city streets and TV screens, and challenging - but heartfelt and important - conversations with friends and family. I find myself struggling to find the words to support and lead through days like these.

If you are leading people right now, you have probably found yourself in a similar place. Every day brings a new challenge, so how can we know what our people need from us? When they look to us for leadership, will we be prepared to answer? Great leaders are forged in crisis, and we are certainly in the middle of a leadership crisis right now.

The simple truth is this: in a crisis of humanity, the solution is human values. We need to connect with each other as people, more than as coworkers. Many of us have spent careers learning and perfecting every intricacy of the modern workplace but at times like these, the solution lies in connection. Focus on meeting your team members where they are, and seek to serve them in that place. You will know you are on the right track if you are emphasizing compassion, sympathy, listening, and trust.


Times are just plain hard right now, and they are hard for each of us in different ways. Let's not forget that the protests and civil unrest gripping the country are taking place against the backdrop of a global pandemic that brought unemployment and unusual circumstances to all of us. No matter our individual circumstances, this country is on edge. Leaders can ease the tension with caring, kindness, and an earnest willingness to help.


The best way to show up for our team members is to show up in the exact way they need us. Author Dave Kerpen calls it The Platinum Rule: "Do unto others as they would want done to them." This requires us to know our team members, to know about our team members, and to know how our team members prefer to be treated. When we see one or more of our people struggling with grief, loss, stress, or trauma, we can support them by seeking to understand their experience through their perspective.


In the age of smartphones, our full attention carries inordinate weight. How often do we see colleagues check their phones during a meeting? (Be honest - are you reading this during a meeting?) Now more than ever, the act of sitting down and staying present with another person is a sign of true respect. When a leader does it, it can be a real gift. Sit with your team. Ask them questions. "How are you feeling about this? What are you thinking about?" Let them share their stories, and let them see that you value their perspectives by focusing on the time you are spending together.


I love this quote from Steven Covey:

Without trust we don't truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.

You cannot hope to have productive, beneficial conversations without trust. The team has to trust that you represent their interests and that they will not come to regret the things they share with you. And, as I heard Simon Sinek explain this week, trust is not only from the team to the leader - the leader has to trust the team members as well.

How can we help? Contact our Solutions Team at 402.779-5846 or drop us a line at [email protected]


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