Steering a path between rigidity and chaos

Conversations over the past year have brought into sharp relief the challenges that leaders are facing in adapting to the Covid-induced reality. They need to manage their own reactions as well as leading their teams through increasing uncertainty and, for many, emotional pain.

The most successful people have managed to pivot, taking into account the new situation, demonstrating flexibility and genuine concern for those around them. But the circumstances can cause even the best of leaders at times to retreat into their own space, sticking to tried and tested or transactional ways of working, or at another extreme to de-prioritise the structure and clarity that teams need, especially when working remotely.

Seniority is no protection against home schooling requirements: a six year old still needs to learn about odd and even numbers, whatever their parents do at work. Acknowledgement of someone’s situation, even without being able to fix it, helps them to feel seen and understood at some level. The boss who made no mention of this reality, asking only for “the numbers and, by the way, I now want them weekly” achieved the opposite of what was intended. He got the numbers, of course, in a compliant way but created a strong sense of demotivation in a senior professional who then felt the weight of pulling their team through to perform in an environment that was lacking in support or recognition.

Lines can be drawn successfully. We heard from someone who was struggling with the combined impact of work requirements and the isolation of lock down; he was quickly given external support and responsibilities were adjusted. The organisation pivoted to take care of their colleague in a way that got the job done, too. In this case, the speed of response was felt as caring, as being acknowledged and seen, the consequences of which came through as restored motivation to get back on track.

The Praesta booklet “Leading Virtual Teams: Living with Contradiction and Uncertainty” gives details of nine contradictions that we identified through our research and the impact that these can have on leaders, teams and their organisations.

Jane Upton

Praesta Partners LLP is a team of experienced senior executives offering bespoke executive coaching & consulting services to boards and professionals worldwide.