Article - Leadership and listening


Leadership and listening in the corporate world

Posted by Pierre-Yves Rahari on 11 August 2020

We were catching up with a friend last week[1], who commented almost in disbelief that 98% of their 38,000+ staff globally had moved overnight to working-from-home when the Covid19 crisis broke, and that despite teething problems at the beginning, all operations are now running quite smoothly. Our friend works for one of the largest Asset Managers in the industry. His experience has been shared by everyone we know in the Wealth and Management industry.

From here on, the questions facing our friend and his fellow Managers across the industry are first, how to organise a return to work once the lockdown measure will relax, and more importantly, how is this unprecedented experience impacting the leadership model in their organisation?

The enormously disruptive Covid19 event requires the industry to deploy new ways of working and interacting with each other; and it now poses questions on the leadership model in a post-Covid19 world.

Drawing on our observations during the crisis and our knowledge of the industry, we want to provide support as everyone is preparing to enter the next episode of the Covid19 crisis. We won’t be offering how-to ideas, we want to propose guiding principles to steer your thinking and your action as leaders in the next few weeks, months:

1. Ask, listen, learn

Once the first rush to confinement has passed and that the most urgent decisions have been addressed, now is the time to listen to your teams, clients and colleagues, and hold on drawing too fast a conclusion or opining on the situation. Take the time to reach out, to every one of them, in individual or team meetings. Ask questions and actively listen to how they are doing; what their particular circumstances are; what is most anxiety-provoking; what works and doesn’t work in confinement; what their expectations are for now and the future; and how they envisage their return to work. Reach out again, and again, and allow yourself to understand what is happening, at all levels of your organisation and the industry. This will help create a report of trust with your colleagues; give everyone the space to reflect on the crisis situation; before taking further action.

2. Get your hands dirty[2], but don’t do it alone

This crisis demands a lot from leaders to take action, think and strategize on the best way to navigate the choppy waters, and prepare for reconstruction. But now is also the time to dive into details; provide first hand help your colleagues; jump in to cover for a team member; go the extra mile to help a client; or learn that skill that will make a difference for your organisation’s projects. And create opportunity to draw people into flexible and agile teams, at all levels of the organisation. This versality is not only a key survival tool; it will signal to your teams, clients and colleagues that you are going through this crisis with them, not besides them.

3. Accept vulnerability

This crisis has revealed a number of vulnerabilities of our societies and organisations, but more immediately, it has put your teams, clients and colleagues in a fragile position. As a leader, you are not immune to that vulnerability either. And recognise that fear of death and fear of the unknown are most prevalent at the moment, as we still months away from finding a vaccine against Covid19, and that we are still unsure how things will unfold. In your interaction with your teams, clients and colleagues, take the time to recognise this vulnerability, and be genuine in speaking about your own situation. This will enhance the trust built through the ask-listen-learn approach, and will contribute to the containment role that is expected from you in a crisis situation.

4. Recognise the loss, and help make sense of things whenever possible

While it is necessary to re-organise a semblance of normality through ongoing work schedules and regular meetings, take the time to recognise the loss that your teams, clients, colleagues – and of course yourself – have suffered. This can be the loss of a familiar environment; of well-oiled routines; of the security of a job; of the prospect of a brighter future; but it can also be the actual direct or indirect loss of friends or family members. As such, don’t underestimate your ability to offer containment by simply – once again – ask-listen and-learn. And for yourself, organise dedicated time, alone or with professional help, to reflect on your own losses. This can help your teams, clients, colleagues and you make sense of what is happening, or where they find themselves. And it is a necessary step before launching into the action of [re-]building your world and your organisation.

5. Recognise that going through a crisis is a process, but not at the same speed for everyone

Going through a crisis is a process, ranging in general from shock, denial, negotiation, depression and acceptance, before one is able to pick oneself up and move to a reconstruction phase. The Covid19 crisis has been characterised by very acute sideration and denial responses at the beginning of the pandemic. As a leader, learn to recognise the phases your teams, clients and colleagues find themselves in, now and in the future, which is very individual and not necessarily in sync for everyone. You will need to adapt your response model and expectations – including your own – to the stage your organisation finds itself in, at the risk of delivering sub-optimal reconstruction programmes otherwise.

6. Take a pause, and celebrate

The speed and scale of the Covid19 crisis has been extraordinary, and so has been the overall response of the industry. Yet, much more will be asked of all of us in the future, as we start considering and strategising on how to re-construct post-Covid19. This is going to be a long-haul process, requiring much energy and mobilisation. As such, before moving into the post-confinement phase, take the time to pause and replenish your resources, and offer or expect the same from your teams, clients and colleagues. Do this regularly, every hour, every day, every week, whenever possible, and again, encourage everyone around you to do so. And say thank you, a lot; celebrate achievements, small and big[3]. This will help re-mobilise energies and leap to the re-construction phase, with a view to sustain this rhythm for a long period of time.

[1] Over Zoom, of course …

[2] However, keep washing them each time you get home …

[3] A round of Zoom-toasts? A round of applauses? Sending flowers or chocolate to your teams, clients and colleagues? Creative ideas abound, the sky is the limit …

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The Wealth and Asset Management industry in a changed world

Posted by Luuk Jacobs on 21 August 2020

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