“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.“ – Bob Marley
There are a seemingly infinite number of books out there that have been written on leadership. None of them have a story to tell on how to lead currently, in these unprecedented times. And as challenges mounted in the first half of 2020, I saw how shaken my team was.
Every team is built on two key foundational pillars – purpose and rituals. Purpose defines why we do what we do as a team. While rituals are the binding glue that keeps a team together during good and bad times.
Almost instantly, all our team’s rituals from campus chai and multiple huddles throughout the day to Friday team lunches – were no longer possible. While individually, we also began to re-think our sense of purpose towards ourselves, our family, and our society. Individuals now had more responsibilities and difficult trade-offs to make than ever before.
It was as if someone hit a reset button on our lives.
When I spoke with many fellow leaders, something many of us saw was that productivity had increased for our teams, tools were changing as much of the world went remote, and fatigue (meeting fatigue in particular) was the #1 pain point.
I knew, as a Director for Cisco’s Customer Experience Engineering teams, we had to act quickly to provide our teams with a steady foundation. I also knew that, during such times, a leader has only one safety net – culture.
At Cisco, we call this our People Deal. This is our manifesto, and employee value proposition. It is not only the story of who Cisco is, what we do, and where we’re heading – but it is also a foundational outline of what you can expect from Cisco as a company and what we expect from our employees.
There are 3 aspects from Cisco’s People Deal that have helped me lead in these times:
1. Empathy – It is always important to lead with empathy, now more than ever. A lot is going on in people’s lives, and a lot has changed in their lives. Check-in with your teams more often as the situation is very dynamic and is altered constantly. For leaders at Cisco, now is a great time to increase the frequency of your team’s engagement pulses to gauge when and where support may be needed.
2. Empower – Individual contributors loathe when they must wait for decisions and approvals. Empower teams to do what is right for themselves and for the business. Trust is a valued element of our culture at Cisco, and that enables our teams to move quickly and be experts in their specified fields.
3. Extreme Focus – This is a great time to get rid of the bad habits or distractions that every team develops over time. We can re-define our team rituals to discard any bad habits and create new rituals that will help us to bond, re-evaluate what our work/life balance may look like now, and support each other as we move through these times.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what you do today.”
While no one can predict with certainty what the world will look like in the coming months and years, let us focus on what we can do today – for our teams, customers, and the communities that we live in.
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