Can I lead if I don’t believe?

Sometimes as leaders we are asked to step up and lead a difficult program of work, a divisive change to practice or a solution to a controversial problem. As a commander in a hierarchy of an organization, we have a responsibility to contribute to the vision and mission of the Service, achieve key objectives and implement the decisions of the executive. But, how do we do that if we don’t believe in the subject matter?

  • Maybe you think the decision makers have missed a key point?
  • Maybe you think you could have made a better decision?
  • Maybe the decision made adversely affects the morale of your team?

Whatever the reason, it’s definitely a difficult personal challenge to front up to your team and deliver what some might call a ticking time bomb.

Unlike an ostrich, we can’t just stick our heads in the sand. Your team needs you to lead them in the challenging times, just as much as you enjoy leading them in the positive moments. So, let’s look at how you can do it:

  1. Keep the focus on people – When emotions run high about a topic, your team are going to react. The culture of your unit will shift and things will get tough. Regular, normal tasks may be more difficult to complete when the atmosphere is charged with the electricity of challenge and change.  Make sure you keep turning up, be authentic and open to questions. Your team need to trust you and know that you’ll be there to help them navigate these uncharted waters.
  2. Step up and into the issue – Being a leader isn’t always going to smell like roses. But then again, no-one grew into the best leader they can be by sitting in a coffee shop and watching the world go by! The challenge may not be of your making, but you need to be consistent, strong and supportive in helping your team execute and implement. Now is the time to be visible and present.
  3. Go back to basics – Why do we do what we do? Focus on the essentials of why your team exists. When in doubt, or struggling with getting on with the task, go back to what you know – customer service, quality training, community response and social support.
  4. Tell it once, share it a thousand times – Communication is the number 1 killer of change management. At the moment you might be sick of talking about a topic, someone in your team is probably just getting their head around the issue. If people have facts and information, they are more likely to embrace the change, or at least the change process. Don’t sugar coat what’s happening, but be consistent and available to your team to answer questions and to be the conduit to finding out the answers if you don’t know them.
  5. Recognise and encourage – When I was a teacher, I used to get much better results when I praised the child who was doing the right thing than if I addressed the behaviour of the child doing the wrong thing. Humans look to each other for clarity of action and purpose. If you highlight the great work of one of your team, others will look to what they were doing to get that recognition. Everyone likes to be encouraged and supported. You’re going to have an easier time of implementing change with a positive team.
  6. Gripe up, not down – When you truly don’t believe and you think this is going to stop you from being a leader, talk to someone you trust across or up in the chain of command. They will be able to help you to develop strategies on how to lead effectively when you’re struggling to see a way ahead. Avoid talking to your team about your concerns and challenging thoughts though. Your team need you to help them, let your commander or a colleague at the same level help you.

Lastly, if you truly feel you’re stuck and can’t lead an issue that you struggle to believe in, maybe take a different tact and approach the decision maker to offer support in reviewing and amending the change or topic?  Being the architect of change can be even more daunting and challenging than being the implementer of it. Who knows what two great minds can come up with together?  We all know that they are better than one!

One thought on “Can I lead if I don’t believe?

Add yours

  1. Hi Alex,

    Particularly relevant Alex with all the extra work we are doing as volunteers…..

    Ulladulla SES Unit Commander
    Sent from my iPhone


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