“All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall.” —Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
In our everyday lives the pandemic requires us to act for the greater good. We’re asked to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash our hands to keep those around us safe and healthy. But the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases shows that, even when we realize our actions have a major effect on others, many of us are not acting as if they do.
In our work lives the pandemic also requires leaders to act for the greater good. We need to ensure individuals on our team are doing OK amid the uncertainty, and we need to unite them.
A client of mine observed that some of the members of his team aren’t performing at the same level as they were a few months ago. Challenges like that are common as people struggle to meet the demands of work and family while trying to stay healthy and wondering if they’ll still have a job next month.
How can we help the people we lead while still achieving business goals? By holding an attitude of “all for one and one for all.” Declared in The Three Musketeers, a classic swashbuckling tale, this attitude conveys the story’s lessons of generosity, friendship, and loyalty.
Here are some attributes you can demonstrate these attributes and lead your team to higher levels of performance:
GenerosityWhen you reflect on a leader who has shown generosity, what comes to mind? Likely it’s the time they invested in truly getting to know you. In large part, getting to know someone requires active listening and attunement. To attune yourself to others, ask them in a one-on-one setting what’s been challenging recently then allow the space and time for them to open up.
This isn’t about the formality of asking “How are you?” and being satisfied with “Fine, thanks” as a response. Probe deeper and show genuine concern about how they really are.
If you feel that the person is holding back—perhaps because they aren’t used to talking about these topics at work or maybe because they’re shy—there are a few techniques you can use to build trust and create a safe space for them to be honest.
- Priming: In this technique, you share first. Disclose a bit about how you’re doing and where you’re feeling challenged. You can also comment gently about something you’ve noticed that’s unlike them, such as a performance issue. Ask them in a curious and unaccusatory way how they’re holding up.
- Paraphrasing: Repeat the content of what you heard them say, welcoming them to correct you if you misunderstood. This technique lets the other person know you heard them and gives them the opportunity to clarify their meaning.
- Mirroring: When you use this technique you share the feelings that you sense from the other person. For example, “It sounds like you’re feeling disheartened from all of the changes going on.” Like paraphrasing, there’s a possibility that what you sense isn’t on target with how they’re feeling, and that’s OK as long as you give them a chance to explain their true emotions.
Another key element of generosity is your generosity of spirit. Beyond listening to how your people are doing, think about how you are showing up. Are you coming in with the right attitude, energy, and enthusiasm? As Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis write in their Harvard Business Review article, “When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.” Be aware that your mood is contagious.
Ask yourself how people would describe you right now. With most of our interactions happening over video calls, it’s more important than ever to spread positivity. That can be as simple as smiling often and being quick to laugh. According to Goleman and Boyatzis, “Top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did mid-performing leaders. Being in a good mood, other research finds, helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively. In other words, laughter is serious business.”
Being attuned to others and exemplifying a positive spirit are two ways you can demonstrate generosity at work.
FriendshipWhat is it about friends that make you comfortable sharing openly with them? It feels like they just get you. They understand how you feel, and they’re there for you in good times and in bad.
Friends are empathetic. Empathy is when you feel with someone without trying to point out the silver linings or change how they’re feeling. And, given the ambiguity and angst people are experiencing in their lives, it’s important that leaders right now act with empathy.
Empathy, according to social science researcher Brené Brown, is “a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” Exposing your own struggle during these times may feel emotionally risky, but as Brown explains, “Feeling vulnerable is . . . the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity.”
As a leader, it demonstrates to others that you’re human too and can relate to them. Extending friendship to a colleague, especially direct reports, may seem inappropriate for leaders, but just because you demonstrate empathy doesn’t mean you’re letting them off the hook or giving them permission to be a poor performer.
When you meet people’s personal needs and business needs simultaneously, keep a mindset of possibility and focus on what will work rather than what won’t. You can accomplish that by following these tips:
Acknowledge What You Hear the Person Saying. Respond with something like, “I can’t imagine how hard that must be.” No matter how they express their feelings, be there with them and ask if there’s anything you can do.
Give Them an Opportunity to Articulate What They Need. Let the person problem-solve for themselves, though you can help them maneuver. For example, ask them for suggestions about how they can deal with what they have going on while still meeting their deadlines. If there’s bandwidth to be flexible or other people who can jump in, look at the options.
Ask Them What Resources Outside of Work They Can Call on For Support. We often can’t see the resources available to us when we’re focused on the problem in front of us. Find out if the person can tweak their schedule, call on a family member or neighbor for support, or delegate something to someone else to manage what’s on their plate.
Once you’ve landed on some expectations together, check in frequently to see how they’re doing, whether they’re meeting their goals and deadlines, and where they need your help.
True friendships are hallmarked by each member’s desire to engage with the other—it’s about mutual interest in one another's experiences and thoughts, as well as a sense of belonging and connection. It’s possible to be a friend and a strong leader.
LoyaltyIn challenging times, especially during swashbuckling duels, we want to foster cooperation and support among our team. There are certainly instances when healthy competition between teammates can be a good motivator, but when people are already feeling stretched and on edge, rallying and galvanizing them will garner better performance.
Acknowledge and reward people who demonstrate loyalty by stepping up and offering to help their colleagues. Here are some ways to foster loyalty:
Have Team Meetings on a More Frequent Basis. There’s a strong sense of social isolation right now with everyone working remotely. Bring the team together weekly or at least biweekly and facilitate conversation around how people are doing and the support they need from others.
I often use a technique called sweet and sour to get this conversation going. Go around the Zoom room and have everyone share three things that have gone well (sweet) and three things that aren’t working or are worrisome (sour). These can be job-related or personal. After everyone shares, review the list of sours and figure out who on the team can help solve them.
The idea is to build a sense of community support and to let people know that you expect them all to pitch in. When everyone shares what’s confronting them, it gives the team co-ownership of the challenge and the solution.
While it’s important to foster more touchpoints for teams who are now working remotely, keep in mind that people are getting meeting burnout with back-to-back video calls on their calendars. Review why you’re having each meeting. Unless there’s a decision to be made, send an email status update instead.
Clarify What the Decision-Making Process Is Going to Look Like. Loyalty shows up on teams through cooperation. Getting teammates to cooperate is relatively easy when people understand some basic norms of how the team will work. One such norm is decision-making.
Making decisions can be a prime challenge for teams. As leaders, we must clarify for our teams what the decision-making process is going to look like and explain how our remote working situation might require decisions to be made a little differently than usual.
There are four types of decision processes:
- Command: The leader decides
- Consult: Get input from team members and stakeholders
- Vote: Majority wins (this is the most efficient style)
- Consensus: Everyone needs to agree
Many teams lean toward getting consensus under normal circumstances, but that’s a time-consuming process, especially with people working remotely. Revisit the norms around how the team makes decisions, talking through with the team which kinds of decisions warrant each style.
Look to future decisions that will need to be made and agree on the best decision-making approach for each. For decisions that will be made without gaining consensus, get everyone’s agreement that they will support the team’s decision, regardless of whether it would have been their preference. It’s important to show external stakeholders that team members are loyal to the team.
We're seeing a lot of division in society right now and people are asking themselves how they can be a force for good. As a leader, you can have a major impact by uniting people in the workplace through showing generosity, friendship, and loyalty to your colleagues. Current times call for an “All for one and one for all” mindset. Be the swashbuckler and lead on!