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Leadership in Recovery: the new leadership task

If you want to take advantage of what has been the single most powerful and comprehensive management transformation your organisation has ever undergone – now is the time.
The source of the word emergency is the term emergence.

The Latin root is emergere meaning ‘to arise’ or ‘to bring to light’.

The root of the word organisation is ‘organ’, as in a part of your body. The Latin root is organizare, meaning and organ or instrument (see Seth Godin’s great expose on this).
You can see where this is going right?
Maybe we can extrapolate 'Organisational Emergency' to mean the instrumental or organic emergence of …. something ... and that's the question to ask! What is emerging?

In our normal approach to business, we don't allow for a great deal of emergence. Our normal model is to set targets and drive for results. It is now time to step back a little and see what is emerging, in your life as much as in your business.

“If you want to capitalise on the opportunity of this emergency you need to identify and empower what is emerging!”

That can be hard to do. We are so in it and have been for what feels like forever (but is really on 10 weeks or so). However, the ability to step back and allow a space for things to emerge is, in my opinion, the critical leadership task at this juncture.
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So, what are we looking for?
COVID-19 has acted a bit like a super management consultant: rushing through our lives and our businesses like McKinsey or the Boston Consulting Group on steroids, changing everything.
The big difference however is what is changing. Where the big consultants look at structure and procedural change (what I call mechanistic recovery) COVID-19 has unearthed, accelerated and catalysed a more organic transformation.
Now is the time to take a look at what new cultural practices and what new leaders are showing up in your lives and businesses because I promise you, they are!
Organic vs Mechanistic Recovery
I’ve written before about the importance of looking at Recovery from two very different perspectives: Mechanistic and Organic.

Both aspects are critical but we are already traditionally stronger in the former than the latter and it is in the realm of relationships, social capital and culture that the green shoots of change are showing up (see HERE for a Resurgent Recovery Primer).

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Mechanical: Fitting the pieces back together. Driving systems improvement.

Organic: Healing. Social capital is leveraged and renewed.

What are you looking for and how do you do it?
  1. Organic change is subtle and quiet, so you have to be that to notice it. Leaders need to create a space in which they can actually notice what is changing. Speak less, ask more. Allow longer uncomfortable silences.
One client of mine recently decided to delegate chairing the Executive team meetings to the team themselves. He’s consciously and actively vacating the space, literally, so new leadership can arise and new and currently super fragile ways of working, talking and thinking to grow some roots.
He knows that, try as he might, if he’s there he’ll always be pulling for what has worked in the past and looking through the prism of the past. Despite his best intentions, it is likely that he will inadvertently step on those very green shoots he wants to support.
Click HERE for the slide deck to a presentation I use training people in they what, why and how of Social Capital in organisations after events like COVID-19.
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Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Second Tier Leaders
It’s a well-known phenomenon in the Emergency Management sector that, after the initial burst of energy and heroism is over, the traditional leaders of a community often need a break (or they simply burn-out). Whether by design or through exhaustion they generally step-back after a while and the void is quickly filled by second-tier leaders – people who were not in traditional leadership roles but now step up and start the process of healing.
These people (and they are predominantly women) often assume implicit leadership roles quietly and naturally – they simply show up. They will usually step back quickly if challenged and their modus operandi, if allowed to flourish, can be quite confronting to traditional middle management and senior leaders. They are invariably punching way-beyond their pay-grade with little public authorisation to do so and taking on responsibility because no-one else either sees the issue or is willing to take it on.

As a leader YOU WANT THESE PEOPLE AND THESE PRACTICES TO CONTINUE. When traditional leaders get their breath-back they usually reassume control and, inadvertently, shut down these little social experiments in distributed leadership.

“the window in which second tier leaders show up and operate is traditionally quite small, often not more than a couple of weeks to months.”

A really effective method to help ‘flush-out’, support and empower second-tier leaders is to offer ‘invitation-only’ or self-selecting Recovery Coaching. The people who naturally step into these organic leadership roles know they are pushing-the-packet and often dearly want support external to the business. They are also usually very self-aware and will take up the offer if it is made appropriately.

See HERE for the Resurgent Recovery model I work with and the coaching program I offer or contact me directly. You don’t have to use me but I’m very happy to share what I’ve learnt either way.

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Look out for Hyper-rationality
Another well-known phenomenon that occurs in the recovery phase is hyper-rationality. In an emergency context this is usually driven but a sense of uncertainty and a desire to bring certainty back. It shows itself as a vigorous attachment to what is ‘rational’ and ‘reasonable’ and thus ‘measurable’. It is the perfect corollary to a mechanistic view of an enterprise.
The impact is a powerful impetus to ‘snap-back’ to what is implicitly assumed to be the governance and operational processes that effectively managed uncertainty and risk before.
Hyper-rationality is a stress reaction that is hard to notice in organisations that are premised on rational and mechanistic approaches. It can seemingly rachet comfortably into getting control over service delivery. However, in a recovery setting, it is also very effective at undermining and effectively crushing those new, more organic cultural practices you want to empower (see HERE for a great piece on hyper rationality and the importance of transparency in recovery).
Your Leadership Task
COVID-19 has provided us with an extraordinary opportunity to accelerate the transformation of our enterprises; to build and renew the foundations of Social Capital that ultimately underpin the long-term health (and resilience) of an enterprise.
Your leadership task is to stop and actively look and listen for instances of those changes and to quickly get up behind them – even if it means stepping right out the room.