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  • Writer's pictureDavid Brady

Leading Through Covid-19 With C.A.T.T.

As we approach the end of the year it’s a good time to reflect on some of the changes we have needed to make in our leadership styles because of the current challenges. As most people have quickly understood our old approach to leading teams and teams of teams has proven much less effective, and in some cases we are unable to tick the box on our traditional leadership to do lists. With face to face meetings now few and far between and never without some face covering, it leaves us fewer opportunities to transmit our message with the nuance of emotional and social cues so important in communication. Allow me to explain.

Most people will probably remember some of those emotional intelligence tests you needed to take at some point in your management career. The test included pictures of people flashed on a screen with varying facial expressions that you needed to glean information from to determine how they were feeling, or what their current emotional state was. With the requirement of wearing facemasks or only seeing people through video conference, our opportunity to discern how our messages are landing is different, and a different approach is needed.

For most of us, one of our accountability tools was to pop in and see how our teams were progressing on projects. This allowed a lot of informal meetings to take place allowing us to clarify our message, answer questions and be available. The choreography required to attend a meeting while maintaining social distancing inevitably transitioned those drop in visits into scheduled events. Most of you will have probably noticed early on that in order to avoid subjecting our teams to "death by meeting" and interrupting their schedules and depriving them of precious time required to complete their projects in a timely manner, we needed to co-op this style.

Another one of the typical tools of most leaders is the open door policy, allowing your teams and individual members to meet with you when they reach some impasse or have questions that they need to work through to keep projects on track. Since a lot of us are working remotely this is a lot harder to achieve and is another example of something that requires modification.

Yet more casualties of distance working and learning are team building events and training. With the need to limit ourselves to small groups minimizing possible exposure, it has been hard to get training completed. Without the ability for large groups to congregate and calibrate, it proves a challenge to maintain the cross pollination of ideas that are so important to solving complex multi-disciplined projects.

While these are by no means the only problems being faced by the management teams of today, I do believe they represent an opportunity to concentrate our efforts. To get back to the title of this article I alluded to the acronym C.A.T.T. This stands for Communication, Accountability, Transparency and Trust. Leveraging these four principles of management reminds us to apply a level of prioritization to our daily management communication and decision making. Given the restriction and premium placed upon time in our new elevated state of management and leadership, it’s critical to distill things down to their essence so our messages are fully understood.

While in the past when time was not at such a premium, we were able to elaborate upon the point and allow more time for communicating and delivering our message. Today that is not the case. Communication needs to be well thought out and delivered in the most efficient and effective manner. This step requires us to choose our words wisely and to carefully consider and choose the most effective platform for their dissemination. The difference between doing a video conference or sending out detailed instructions via email are significant. You need to consider if there needs to be involvement or feedback from your team or if the marching orders are just that, marching orders. So choose the platform carefully and consider the desired result beforehand.

If you are choosing to go the video conference route, spend the time rehearsing your message and honing it down to its essence. Then after delivering your message make the recording available for people to review again. It’s amazing how much people will miss on the first go round, so encourage them to watch the recording again after they viewed it live. Two words of advice on video conferencing. One: try and curate your delivery when applicable, as if you are speaking to one person. Secondly don’t make the mistake of watching yourself while delivering the video conference as this can distract you. Whatever platform you use to disseminate your message, ask someone you trust for feedback prior to delivering it. This way you can make sure your message is fully understood with nothing left unsaid.

Once you establish the rules of the road so to speak you will need to develop an Accountability matrix so people understand what the deliverables are and when they are due. By providing this upfront no one is left in the dark about what their role is and the timeframe that they have for the project. What seems to be most effective is a two-stage timeframe deliverable, meaning they have a timeline to deliver you the roadmap for execution and a second stage to execute the project. The first stage allows your input and some guidance if they need it and will help you recognize quickly if people will have problems delivering on time.

The next letter T represents Transparency. It’s important throughout all stages, from constructing and disseminating your message and the accountability expectations that you make your intentions clear, concise and transparent. With people working remotely and not having the regular team reinforcement and camaraderie, it’s important that they all feel a stronger level of trust with their leader. Physical separation is difficult on teams, it’s extremely important that this remains in our thoughts when we’re communicating. Transparency and trust go hand-in-hand!

The last T in our acronym is for Trust. As the old saying goes, trust is the coin of the realm. Nobody likes a micromanager, it shows your teams that you do not trust their ability or the process that you have set up. This is the time we must trust in our process, our message and accountability matrix. Don’t allow isolation from your teams to create a sense of doubt in your plan, if the plan is sound you need to give it the appropriate time to be executed.

The stakes are elevated during these uncertain times. For most people it’s not a walk in the park so be cognizant of that. I will say this though, if viewed through the lens of “this is an opportunity not an imposition” your teams will pick up the confidence and will be the better for it. And when all is said and done, and we have moved on to the next crucible, perhaps we will have an opportunity to revel in our successes. To paraphrase the great Walt Whitman, “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every track, the prize we sought is won, the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting.

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