Insurance.
We have it for many things: for our lives, for our cars, for our home, for our health, for our identities, for our cell phones (!) and much more.
We are purchasing this insurance as a safety net against something bad happening. While different people have different risk tolerances, and differing abilities to pay, generally speaking, we agree that insurance, at least in some cases, is a good idea.
As leaders, there is no doubt that bad things can happen to our teams and organizations, and the people in them. A short list could include:
• A major organizational change like a merger or acquisition
• Massive growth
• Gain or loss of a major Customer or product line
• Layoffs
• Pay cuts
• Significant changes in employee benefits
• Major economic changes for customers or the business
Granted, on the surface not all of these things are bad, but the risk of something bad happening, during or after this event, to stress levels, morale, engagement, productivity, safety, and Customer Service, is significant. And so, like our homes and our cars, we would like to be able to insure ourselves against these outcomes. Unfortunately leaders (or their organizations) can’t buy an insurance policy against these things.
While leaders can’t buy insurance for these outcomes, they can take specific actions that, like insurance, can’t keep the event from happening, but can reduce or eliminate the pain or problems that come from the situation. Here are some of those important actions.
Be observant. Sometimes situations that seem positive, neutral or even innocuous to us, have very different impacts on our team members. When we are consistently and consciously observing our environment and our team members, we may notice a challenge or issue when it is small, allowing us to help solve or overcome it (or at least address it) sooner.
Be a champion of change. We are largely thinking about insurance when things are changing in some way. If we are seen as being in front of most changes, or at least aren’t the naysayer ourselves, we can help people see the positive in the new situation before their negative frame of mind becomes stronger – and harder to overcome.
Be a positive influence. The attitude and energy we project, especially as a leader, is contagious. When you are consciously making sure that your energy and general demeanor is positive and uplifting, it guards against the negativity that can crater a team. Don’t be the person who brightens up the room…when they leave.
Be trustworthy. As a leader you may need to share difficult messages. When higher levels of trust exist between you and your team members, those messages can be more easily received. Having a boss they can trust is one of the most valuable things people look for (or desire) in a job. What level of trust does your team place in you?
Be flexible. When the stuff hits the fan, you need to be willing and able to adjust. When morale is falling, what can and will you do to adjust your approach and priorities to stop the free fall? If people are worried for their own job, or overcome with the specter of the change, you must be able to help them adjust, which requires you to be flexible to start with.
Be a learner. To lead most successfully, you must be a learner. When situations arise, you must be willing to learn new skills, apply your experiences in new ways and much more. While you absolutely need to be able to do this for yourself; as a leader you want others to do the same, so lead (and learn) by example.
Be focused on others. Ultimately this one is the most important. And, many of the others will come easier when this is true first. The best insurance you can have in helping your teams deal with bad things is to be earnestly focused on them, their success, feelings and well-being. When you are leading in that way, people will listen and stay more focused on the goals, and also want you to succeed. Even when things are tough, when you are focused on others, they will choose to follow you.

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