Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash
Last month we held our first "Leading Women in Finance: Connections Beyond the Numbers" networking dinner. It was a delightful evening, with 11 senior women in finance and financial services around the table talking about their strengths, aspirations, challenges and naturally a bit of GoT. Despite it being the first time this particular group had got together, the conversation included friendly advice and some real feedback: exactly what you expect when you are a part of a group like this. Over the course of the evening, one thing became very clear: the culture within each organisation was very different, with some organisations aligned in values in action and others who were still relatively immature in their ability to bring desired cultures and behaviours to life. This realisation was insightful for many of the women: 'wow, we have it pretty good' to 'I'm so glad to hear there are organisations that embrace diversity and flexibility in this manner'. Consequently, the women around the table and the conversation that ensued 'tilted' to the respective contexts.
What they were doing was "meeting them where they're at"
When we are in a leadership role, or assume leadership responsibilities within an organisation, "meeting them where they're at" is precisely the key to creating engagement and getting buy-in. It is all too easy to focus on the goal, and on the 'next task' or 'next activity' and forget about the journey the team around you are travelling. It's a bit like when you walk ahead of your child, or a dog, and expect them to follow, but when you turn around thy haven't moved from the place you let go of their hand (or leash as the case may be). You call out to them to come, and they look at you but don't move. After a game of stand off, you realise that if you're going to move forward, you to need to walk back and take their hand and walk alongside them. That is the only way to get them to move forward with you.
What does that mean for leading people?
It means that at times, you will feel you are going backward to pick them up to move them forward. And yes you might be, but here's the thing. If you plan for it, the step backwards will be small. Far smaller than if you leave them streets behind expecting they will catch up on their own. It means that at times, you will expect they have a certain capability, or a certain skillset to do something new....and they won't meet that expectation. It means that you need to acknowledge the responsibility you have as their leader to lead them - and to do this in a manner that will work. Have you ever tried to pull a dog forward when they have planted their bums definitively on the ground? It means you need to walk alongside them.
How do I do it?
Prioritise Context. Commit to the knowledge that unless they are really 'in the room' with you - engaged and ready - they will not hear a word you say, never mind do the actions you need them to undertake. Cater for the diversity. We know diversity is a key ingredient to high performing teams, so cater to the diverse needs, skills and experiences. Be comfortable with the fact that this means you will need to spend time on this: time you may otherwise spend on tasks or activities.
Most importantly, plan for it. Build it into your agendas, your 1:1s, your workshops, your team meetings. Being proactive is always more efficient than the reactive actions you'll need to take. Only then will they be ready.