Abundant Leadership SM

Why Crises Call For Abundant Leadership & 5 Ways to Demonstrate It

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Introduction

In the last few tumultuous weeks, I‘ve been talking to my clients a lot about leadership. Times of crisis tend to make or break leaders. Existing leaders either spectacularly rise to the challenge or singularly fail to do so. Future leaders emerge from the shadows showing their true potential and providing much needed support.

In one of my recent sessions, a client asked if we could discuss and explore ‘abundant’ leadership. It wasn’t an area I had researched myself. I was aware of the concept of an abundance mentality versus a scarcity mentality, but not specifically in relation to leadership. However, as soon as my client mentioned the term, I got quite excited. I loved it, realising exactly what it meant to me and how important it was in a time of crisis. So, I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

5 Ways to Demonstrate Abundant Leadership (and some COVID-19 Examples)

So, here are 5 ways you can demonstrate abundant leadership:

  1. Lead more
  2. Be even more visible
  3. Remain optimistic
  4. Power-share not power-grab
  5. Show generosity of spirit

1. Abundant leadership means leading more

First and foremost, it means we need to see more leadership. Whilst I usually bang on about empowerment and autonomy; in times of crisis, your people want you to lead. They want to see you taking action, leading from the front, taking charge, making decisions and coming up with solutions. Because, given the scale of the crisis, they may not have the required skills, knowledge or authority; whilst, if they’re in survival mode, they may not have the mental capacity either.

COVID-19 Examples of Abundant Leadership

You only need to look at what governments across Europe are doing. Imposing draconian social restrictions in democracies, shutting down schools and social establishments, providing enormous bail-out packages to businesses and individuals, coming up with innovative solutions to hospital beds or ventilator shortages and so on. These types of intervention would be unthinkable in ‘normal’ circumstances; however, in a crisis of this magnitude, people want leaders to lead.

2. Abundant leadership means being even more visible

Visibility is also hugely important in a crisis. As a leader, it would be all too easy to hunker down. You’re human too, right? You’re probably experiencing challenging emotions along with everyone else. But now more than ever you need to be seen and heard. If you are what I call a backroom boss, now is the time to move to front of house. If you already lead by walking about, then you need to quickly adapt to the new ways of working and ramp that up even more. As the leader, you’re the barometer of the team. Your people look to you to determine whether things are set fair or whether there’s a storm brewing. As an abundant leader, you would be highly visible, communicating regularly and being as open and honest as possible.

COVID-19 Examples of Abundant Leadership

In this country, Boris Johnson (whatever you think of him) is all over the news. We know he is having daily COBRA meetings, we’re seeing him every night on our screens flanked by his leadership team and scientific experts. People who rarely watch the news are now watching his daily briefings. He is more visible than he has ever been, communicating directly to us, sharing the challenges and the pain but offering solutions and ways forward as well. We know he is on the case, even if for some, it’s too little, too late.  We will have to wait and see.

3. Abundant leadership means remaining optimistic

Abundant leadership is also about remaining optimistic, no matter how bad the situation is. Not blind optimism or rose-tinted spectacle optimism. It’s about avoiding being dragged down by all the doom and gloom and avoiding thinking traps such as catastrophising. This is an unbelievable situation that we find ourselves in. If we went and saw a movie of what is playing out in our lives right now, we would say it was utter nonsense. We wouldn’t believe it could happen, but it is.

As business and organisational leaders, the natural response is to look at the downsides, batten down the hatches, cut costs and stop any investment. Yet an abundant leader would have a more balanced perspective and would ask themselves where the opportunity lies.

COVID-19 Examples of Abundant Leadership

I absolutely love Simon Wolfson’s response to this crisis. As CEO of Next, he will have to close all his stores and fully anticipates losing between £500m and £1bn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but in a recent press conference, he said:

“The development of our business, the development of our systems, new warehousing, all the things that we are doing to move our business forward are not on hold.
At some point, this will pass. And the most important thing is to manage ourselves through this crisis healthily and in a safe way and keep the cash and resources of the business intact. But equally, we need to keep the business moving forward, keep developing the business. 
Remember, this will end and when it does end it will be the things that we’ve done to innovate and move the business forward that will make the difference.”

4. Abundant leadership means power-sharing, not power-grabbing

Abundant leadership means power-sharing, not power-grabbing. It means shared leadership, giving everyone a voice, acknowledging that great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. It involves breaking down the silos in your company, encouraging collaboration and harnessing cognitive diversity. It’s about building genuine partnerships with external stakeholders, being transparent in your dealings, sharing platforms, publicly praising team and individual successes and treating failures as learning opportunities.  Abundant leaders talk about ‘We’ not ‘I’ and ‘Us’ not ‘Them.’

COVID-19 Examples of Abundant Leadership

Well, it’s clearly not Donald Trump! However, the great news is that apparently researchers and scientists across the globe are sharing their data and their learnings about this pandemic in a way that has never happened before. No-one cares about being first or taking all the glory. Everyone understands that this virus knows no boundaries and is a genuine global threat. People across the world are working tirelessly to increase their understanding, learn as much as they can and produce an antidote and a cure. Closer to home, the horrendously bipartisan politics of Brexit have given way to a broadly united government, cross-party initiatives and a UK-wide fight to minimise the impact on our health, wealth and society.

5. Abundant leadership means showing generosity of spirit

Last, but not least, abundant leadership for me is showing generosity of spirit. In times of crisis, it can be easy for leaders to focus on the harsh realities facing their business as opposed to the harsh realities facing their people, suppliers, partners, communities and wider society. And, of course, it’s vital to ensure the business still exists, if humanly possible, so that your people have jobs to come back to, your suppliers still have a route to market and so on. However, as an abundant leader, you would walk your talk in terms of your values and do everything in your power to support your people, whilst doing your bit for humanity.

COVID-19 Examples of Abundant Leadership

There are so many fantastic examples here – a great antidote to all the negativity:

  • Big perfume houses like LVMH producing sanitisers
  • Breweries like Brewdog and our local one, Ramsbury Brewery, producing sanitisers and providing it free to local hospitals and care homes
  • Inditex, owners of Zara and Pull & Bear, producing face masks in their textile factories and aiming to donate hundreds of thousands of them.
  • Unilever donating £100m of supplies such as soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to global and national emergency efforts
  • John Lewis Partnership donating £1m to a community support fund to protect the elderly
  • Morrisons immediately paying small suppliers and even changing the definition of a small supplier so that more companies can benefit

Summary

Thus, abundant leadership has many facets. They are all hallmarks of a great leader in normal times, but they are hallmarks of an exceptional leader in times of crisis. It is leaders who can step up, lead from the front, keep things in perspective, collaborate and show humanity who will triumph in the long-term, ensuring that their people, organisations, external partners and wider communities triumph alongside them. It is leaders like these who will lead us out of the COVID-19 crisis and into a better, brighter future.

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