At Insight Experience, we work to help business leaders grow and enable their organizations do great things. The leaders who participate in our learning experiences work in a wide range of settings and scale—from leaders of teams to leaders of global organizations; from leaders of small entrepreneurial businesses to leaders of worldwide functions. There is only one constant: the chaos and disruptions of 2020 have challenged each and every one.
A lot has been, and will be, written about the importance of leadership communication in times of uncertainty and change. This year, unlike others in recent memory, challenges leaders to communicate with a higher bar of clarity, consistency and frequency.
Let’s face it: most leaders learn their craft largely through apprenticeship. Talent Management and Leadership Development programs offer new skills and perspectives at key points in a leader’s career, but the most significant input to how leaders learn to lead is what they see in the leaders they have worked with-- for good or for bad.
COVID-19 has challenged us all to be flexible and adaptable at an amazing rate of speed. Business forecasts that looked strong and growing two months ago have cratered, workloads that were off the charts suddenly disappeared, everyone has had to connect electronically, and a simple handshake is no longer a viable way to greet a colleague or seal a deal. It’s easy to slide into anxiety and be paralyzed by uncertainty, but how we frame this moment in time is a powerful lever to our mental health and productivity. Leaders have always had to be masters at framing their thinking and the thinking of others, but with the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for that capability grew. What’s a Frame? Frames are the boundaries, interpretations and simplifications that we make mentally to understand a situation. We create them instinctively as a result of our experience and the data we take in, and they are particularly valuable in ambiguous or complex situations. We have both reactive frames, which shaped by our emotional responses, as well as proactive frames, which are shaped by logical thought. These mental filters not only help us make sense of a situation but also influence the range of actions we consider. As a result, our frame can be self-reinforcing, which is the powerful insight behind Chris Argyris’ “Ladder of Inference.” Frames are an integral part of processing information and making sense of a situation for ourselves. They are also a valuable tool to help leaders convey information to others.
The last several days have been a whipsaw of adjustment for leaders and teams in organizations around the globe. The coronavirus pandemic has gone from casual remarks in pre-meeting chit-chat to disruption of supply chains, travel plans, work locations, childcare, and personal security in a blink of an eye.
We are living through a case study of crisis management for leaders. The coronavirus may have limited or may have significant impact on your business, but in either case, it’s taking major mindshare for employees and creating anxiety in organizations around the globe. Insight Experience teaches leaders how to communicate effectively. Normally we’re focused on accelerating business results or aligning complicated organizations or helping engage employees to deliver on a vision. We see and learn from the leaders we work with all year long about how challenging effective communication is even in the simplest of settings. An unprecedented, unknown concern like coronavirus makes communication that is heard and helpful even more difficult to achieve.
Leadership development is a big investment for any organization — one that’s only worthwhile if there is a substantial return. As a result, many organizations strive to measure learning lift and ROI from the programs they run, with emphasis placed on measuring new skills and insights.