Finger painting my way into the future

Finger painting is fun. Finger painting is messy. It has a sense of playfulness about it. It’s colourful. Sometimes the end result is awesome, other times not so pretty. The only way to finger paint is to roll up my sleeves and get my hands into the colour and water and then onto the paper. 

This is what I believe leadership in 2021 is going to be all about. Rolling up my sleeves, staying close to what is happening, in contact with what’s really going on, and having fun along the way. Sometimes the results will be great. Sometimes the learnings will be greater. As I dip my fingers into the paint, they are sensing that the pulse of good leadership in the year ahead is going to be about these 5 things…

“That’s not how we do things around here”. (Embrace change, be ok with failure) I ask myself, am I truly ok with failure? Mine or my teams? The answer is no, I want to succeed. Ironically, in order to do just that, I need to reinvent to serve a world that has new expectations, which means I must get used to the idea of failing fast and moving forward with that learning. Bringing alive this level of change while trying to preserve the status quo is not an easy task. I have to learn new skills, develop new service offerings while continuing to deliver on the old expectations. When I do find the skill and the will to do this dance, there are going to be missteps and slips. It is the price of learning the new and it’s a sign that teams are trying new things. I have to create an environment that allows me and my team the chance to learn new steps and be there to pick myself and them up from a fall. Dust off a bruised knee or ego and get back on the floor. I have to resist the urge of saying “That’s not how we do things around here”. How will I learn new ways of doing things if I keep holding on to the old?

I have poor bandwidth, sorry unable to turn my camera on. (Involve me, engage me) sometimes it truly is a technical issue, most times it a human issue. A person who does not feel connected, who does not want to show up, will find ways to keep their camera off. In a screen based world, finding ways to genuinely connect with a person that I don’t have a ‘real world relationship’ with is incredibly hard. It requires a genuine desire to make new connections, be vulnerable, and repeatedly demonstrate that I am interested and invested in this connection before I make a breakthrough. Doing this repeatedly, not just when it’s convenient to me, demonstrates the willingness to be there and is what eventually breaks through the bad bandwidth issue. The difference between asking “let me know how I can help?” and just showing up and helping. This demonstrated behaviour by leaders is what will involve and engage teams in the time to come. This also will set a great example for them to follow with their team. For those thinking about how culture will get communicated and built, I say, one person at a time, starting with me. 

Why was I not included in that meeting? (Fear Of Missing out or FOMO) This one needs no elaboration. The key is to be mindful of who is included and who is not. Be transparent in explaining how the selection of who should attend and who should not attend was made. Most times people don’t even want to be in the meeting but they worry that their absence may mean something bad. Remove that fear and FOMO is no more. People not feeling appreciated and excluded is a growing problem that needs to be addressed with urgency. Proactive effort to deal with this will be a big step forward in building mental wellness, a bit like preventive healthcare. A rigorous and regular routine of ensuring that due care and thought goes into deciding who is on the meeting bus, and who is off. Also, a clearly published bus roster and timetable keeps the show on the road without any traffic jams.

I see you. I hear you. I celebrate you. (Everyday Recognition) I feel that people are starting to feel invisible. Some are enjoying the cloak. Some are hating it. Whichever way, everyday acknowledgment is what brings smiles to faces around me. The simple ‘thank you’. The call to check in on how you are doing when I noticed you missed a meeting. The call out for the extra effort that was put in to cover for a colleague who is unavailable. The applause is missing because we are all mostly on mute. Creating an environment which has gratitude and acknowledgment, is what leaders of tomorrow must do. I see you. I hear you. I celebrate you, is what will keep the show going on. This is not about the monthly town hall were a few heroes are garlanded, or the glitzy awards function, this is just about ordinary, everyday gratitude, expressed with sincerity, by everybody, every day. Creating a culture that brings this behaviour alive is going to be what separates the winners from the whiners.

Retreat to move forwards. (pause, reflect, re-energise). Gone are the company offsites, team building activities and dinners. For many months now people have just got on with the job and done what needs to be done. There is fear and fatigue setting in. There is also hope and thoughts of a better tomorrow. Leaders need to create the time and spend some resources on an online retreat. Curate an immersive experience that gets a core group of people to pause, reflect, disconnect, and reconnect to reimagine a future they want to race into together. Truly about time to organise the online company retreat to find the best way to move forward.

So time to stop finger pointing and start finger painting. I would love to hear other ideas on what you feel will define being a good leader going forward. My other hand is free and waiting to dip into new colours and try something new. I have identified five things that I feel leaders must pay attention to in the current context. My other five fingers are waiting to start painting too. Do share any “ah ha” moments or insights that you may have dipped into, that can help me crack the colour code of leading into the future. Time to paint some new pictures and have some fun while I am at it.


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nikhil Dey
Nikhil Dey is Vice Chair of Weber Shandwick India. Nurturing talent and helping clients achieve their goals is what makes him happy. He loves learning from students of communication, teaching courses and guest lecturing at various educational institutions. When he is not working you will find him on the tennis court or out for long walks with his family and four legged friends.
Nikhil is a certified life and leadership coach (International Coach Federation - ICF).
He can be reached on twitter @deydreaming

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