‘Back to School’ – a leadership perspective

So the summer holidays are all but over and we return to work: the inbox/to-do list world of real-life.  For many, the return to work and the kids back at school is some sort of blessing – it is (after all) normality – it can also bring a feeling that there’s an opportunity for a fresh start; a re-focus.  It’s not as significant as the new-years-day, ‘life changer’ decisions we often make and do nothing about. It’s more of a personal commitment to stay on top of things, be more organised, be more assertive, be more influential, deliver more … be more!  Anyone in a leadership role will probably experience these feelings and it’s reasonable to assume that some of your co-workers do too. 
Now, in order to fulfil any of our aspirations and leverage the temporary spike in positivity, there are some things we need to consider and I would tentatively suggest that most people will not.  This is where strong leadership can really help to crystallise thoughts and actions – but the window of opportunity is all too small!  Let’s explore the possible mind set.  Firstly, most of the things we tell ourselves we would like to achieve are too woolly…
Goals and Aspirations – the link
How and when would someone know that their commitments have been fulfilled?  Reflect for a moment on the things you’ve said you’ll do.  How good are they as goals?  If they’re anything like the ones above, frankly they’re not good.  Great as aspirations, poor as goals – they’re not specific enough.  And this is likely to be true for your co-workers too.  So, this is about effective goal setting (personal goals – not just the job spec.).  Things like, winning that Bloggs Ltd contract this month - making my diary accurately reflect what I’m actually doing each day – schedule all this quarter’s 1:1’s with my team – building some bridges with Len in finance this month.  These are things we can say ‘Yes, I have done it’ to.  They are the tangible evidence of the things we aspire to. 
Leadership intervention:  Seize the rare opportunity now - set some proper goals for yourself and help your people convert their aspirations into proper goals too.
Three things to consider…
For some of us (if not most), just saying we’re going to do something doesn’t mean it will happen – we all know the realities!  The success or failure lies in the ‘How’.
Questions like – ‘What do I need to do in order to make it happen?’, ‘What might get in my way?’  ‘Do I have the skills and knowledge?’, ‘ How committed am I?’ should be asked – of yourself and of those whose performance you influence.  There are obvious links and synergies between each aspect but, it is the last question – the ‘commitment’ question – that is the hub.
In a work sense, commitment is a function of enthusiasm for the task at hand, confidence in your own abilities to complete it and your desire to see the success it will bring.  What can be interesting and pretty quick and easy to do is to score each of those three things out of 10 (1 being ‘none’ and 10 being ‘Fully’).  Be brutally honest and compare and contrast it with the other things you said you’re going to do.  Then multiply the three numbers together and divide by 100 to give your % score for commitment.  Do it for all your goals and take a step back for a moment to reflect on the result.  For those things that have a low % (less than 90%) – what is the main factor that’s bringing the score down?  In that analysis you have a good diagnosis.
  • Enthusiasm – if this is low, what can you do to make this more exciting to do?  If some of what needs to be done is boring – how can we spice things up… or is there a need to just ‘bite the bullet’ and get on with it!
  • Confidence – This has many influencing factors so let’s look at the primaries.  Belief in having the right skills and knowledge?  Is there a fear of being criticised? If so, why?  Who is the problem (not what)?  Is it past experience that’s knocking the confidence?
  • Desire – Perhaps it’s captured in enthusiasm in some way.  That said I feel that desire for a successful outcome is a significant enough influence on performance to reference it separately – after all, there’s a difference between enthusiasm for ‘activities’ and desire for ‘results’. 
  • Leadership intervention: help people understand how they feel about their aspirations and the goals they’ve set.  Explore how they feel about the things they must do.  Help them create greater commitment by acknowledging dips in enthusiasm and offering encouragement, re-affirm your belief in them and their capabilities and create strong links between the small goals and the big wins – in short ‘Coach’.
The window of opportunity
So how long do you have to leverage this temporary spike in positivity? Well, there appears to be precious little research and the results of the pub-poll (like a straw-poll but a bit more silly towards the end) are interesting.  Most people recognised the feelings of positivity and re-focusing.  When asked how long those feelings last the range was from ‘about an hour’ to ‘a few days tops’.  So anecdotally at least, the window of opportunity for the leader to catch their colleagues in this frame of mind is very small.
Leadership intervention: get in early – schedule a 1:1 (one of the routine ones if possible) in the few days after your colleague gets back from that fortnight in Fuerteventura – and don’t forget to congratulate them on the tan!