Is work-life balance overrated?

It’s been decades since work life balance became “a thing” and everyone started to raise this as key priorities of their companies and a way to attract people to work. The concept is decent, however life has taught me that work-life balance can be defined differently dependent on where you are at your career. Additionally, there are components that in my mind go beyond work and home life, that only when applied together with work-life balance concept can give actual mental and physical stability that every human being needs.

Balancing at the edge?

I more and more observe people managers almost forcing on their staff work life balance concept and scaring people with burn out scenarios. Of course burnout can happen to anyone of us, but shouldn’t we just take the right measures dependent on the career step we are at?

Imagine a person that’s at the early stage of his/her career, who wants to progress, develop, climb on the highest organization levels. They often don’t mind staying late, working longer hours and undertaking more effort. For many it’s even more motivating to get complex and challenging work, especially when they are recognized, appreciated and promoted for it.

There are also types of people that are super talented, have high potential but are not aware of it or have low self-confidence. In my mind, they might need a push – a challenging project that puts them outside of comfort zone, dealing with more senior stakeholders – whatever that brings the best out of them. Therefore I am actually in favor of allowing ambitious and passionate people to work more. And that’s not a symptom of my greed and desire to use people. I just think that when you are at the early stages of your career you even feel better when you can overachieve, speed up your development, learn more and quicker.  A manager hanging over someone’s shoulder and nagging about work life balance makes a disfavor to that young, passionate and ambitious colleague. He/she would be better off with your support, guidance and putting in front of them the right opportunities that they can seize .

That mindset shifts when your role in the team/company is more grounded. You have a greater opportunity to choose meetings you attend and timings of it, you feel more comfortable to say “no”, you have ability to delegate. This is the moment when after time of “climbing up” you should become smarter in managing your time. Currently many positions allow for flexibility of place and time of executing your work – it’s time to use it wisely. However that doesn’t mean you can afford to be complacent. The growth mindset should continue and materialize in a different way. You are no longer measured against a number of hours of overtime or progressed cases, but against making the right (often difficult) decisions, driving your strategy in a brave way, forging new paths and bringing others with you. Therefore your focus more than ever should shift towards quality and building long term relationships rather than delivering quickly and at high volumes. This is the time when your work life balance can be better managed and planned.

As you can see work life balance is not something that if once set can’t be changed. It’s a culture of working that allows you to decide when and how you want to apply it and as a leader you should be supporting colleague’s decisions. There are no silver bullets that work for all, as how we define work life balance is a very individual thing, hence the role of a leader is to know and understand how your people operate and apply the best approach at the right time.

Nature – another dimension?

Managing work and your private life can be very difficult no matter what industry you work in. Why would you want to add anything else to it? For me work-life balance is not enough. Home/private life can be also overwhelming: growing kids, someone in family being sick, loan installment being too high – just name it. To balance that out, for your own sanity, you need a space that is not work and not home life, a space that gives you peace and freedom….. For me that’s nature.

Possibility to reconnect with nature, realize that there is something beyond my work, my family, something that is bigger than us all allows me to rethink what’s important, gives more distance to life and provides a level of inner peace. There are different ways to reconnect with nature – spending a few days in the woods, away from people; going for a mountain trip or spending time with animals. I have found my way that not only allows me to reunite with nature but also helps me to switch off my brain. No more thinking or processing information – sounds nice, doesn’t it? I never thought it is possible but yet it’s real. I call it sightseeing jogging. I don’t jog for fitness, to prepare for marathons or to improve my endurance and get a better score. I choose jogging routes close to nature, ideally in the middle of nowhere, where I can sometimes stop, sit down, observe the nature and just be… Be with no home nor work pressure, no deadlines, no people’s opinions, no money needed. It releases so much inner energy that I am loaded for next day or so. Finding that place or activity that gives you a way to vent, be yourself, offset your problems is already half of the success. You don’t have to worry about the fact that you won’t have time for it, once you will find and feel the benefit of it you will always be attracted in that direction. Try it out!

Nature jogging


Finding balance between work, life and nature is hard but at the same time there are periods where we can allow ourselves to have less balance. It’s not a stable component that if once applied you have to stick to it. You have the full control over it and you can make adjustments based on your individual measures. Sometimes that means spending long hours at work and sometimes taking a gap year with around the world trip included.

Although I appreciate the thought behind work life balance concept I preferer stepping away from that format and moving towards wellbeing. Introducing in your daily routine elements that allow for person’s mental and physical development, that intertwine with working in a more comfortable and smarter way, to me makes much more sense.  If on top of that you can reunite with nature and add a flexibility component where you allow the employee to plan his work according to his preference – it creates a safe and balanced environment for people to grow.

Why IT and Business do not get on… and what to do about it?

The fragile relationship between IT and Business can present a major challenge for multiple organizations. The Business-IT gap is present in almost every organization and is down to Business focusing heavily on running the operations, profits and loss and clients, whereas IT on forcing implementations of new technology and maintaining current on the existing one. Existence of this gap is almost natural, just the size of it can be different dependent on how the organization approaches this topic.

There are quite few items that cause the gap between IT and Business to be bigger than everyone would wish to:

  • Business frustrations around the level of service – always too expensive, never as robust and quick as they would like to. Sometimes unrealistic expectations towards the service cause frustrations within IT of never being good enough.
  • Business claims that everything has high priority. For IT that means demand exceeding ability to deliver – often without additional funds to cover the gap. Difficult conversations have to take place that are not welcomed by any of the sides.
  • IT not being invited to the table (or involved late in the game). By the time when IT is involved in some strategic conversations it’s often too late to make contractual changes, change the approach or withdraw from the idea
  • Not enough business involvement and ownership of requirements and testing, causing IT being forced to make decisions without the right context
  • IT thinks it does not need to understand the business in order to implement new technology. Technology implementations devoid of business context can result in outages, delays, frustrations and low technology adoption by end users.
  • Lack or not enough of change management for IT implementations. Business has an impression of technology being dumped at them rather than given a chance to properly understand, communicate and adopt it.
  • Blurred accountabilities – IT making business decisions and other way around
  • Lack of long term, joined IT & Business strategy. Causing conflicts in priorities, escalations, requiring ad hoc changes and implementations.

You could say that establishing the right accountabilities should be good enough to fix this: Business to be accountable for the “why” (strategy) and “what” (business requirements), and IT for “how” (the solution) and “what” (IT requirements). However in many cases that won’t be sufficient as often the innovation might be driven from the technology itself and it’s the IT responsibility to enable Business through it. So what is the solution? There’s no one or easy answer, nor an easy way – however here are some things that could be done:

  • Understand who is your Business and IT key players. In complex, international companies that can be easier said than done. Multiple roles per region, country, globe are crossing each other often with different people with the same job title delivering a different scope.
  • Make an effort to understand each other. What are your capabilities, limitations, challenges, how can you support each other.
  • Collaborate. Invite each other to the table early enough to influence the solution.
  • Build a trustworthy relationship. Be honest about what’s possible, what is not. Have the guts to say “No” but propose an alternate solution.
  • Build long term relationships that can be utilized in every context as you go
  • IT should change its language from features and setting towards talking about benefits, costs, risks and consequences. Business, likewise should seek to better communicate in basic IT language.
  • Where possible be flexible. Don’t be hang up on schedules and delivery plans if not absolutely critical. A level of flexibility will allow to build a better relationship with your partners.
  • Take full responsibility for your area. Own the organization change management, support the solution and drive its adoption.
  • Keep each other in the loop. Information is the critical asset in the organization, be the first one to share it well in advance (if possible) to give people time to digest and prepare their areas and teams for it.
  • Build a joined roadmap, understand your each other’s priorities, try to match them, discuss and align.

IT-Business is a difficult relationship burdened with multiple challenges, unforeseen circumstances and sometimes even competing priorities. However it’s a relationship that has to work properly for the organization to function in an effective and efficient way. IT has to enable the Business, and in modern times Business won’t survive without new technologies and innovative tech solutions. It is both It and Business responsibility to develop, maintain and protect their relationship. This is more and more being appreciated, therefore mature organizations are investing into business-IT relationship functions. What’s more, it’s a worthwhile investment as the more you put into building strong IT-Business relationship, the more benefit and value you will regain out of it.

The difficult romance between soft & technical skills

Technical vs. soft skills, this seems to be a never-ending and common challenge in every working environment. Together with workplace development the balance between soft and hard skills change as well. Technical skills used to be primary requirements for jobs, however sophisticated soft skills can have significant impact on organization. Additionally, today’s workplace is much more flexible – open spaces, coffee corners, activity based working spaces, therefore also more advanced soft skills like communication, integration, collaboration, team management are highly valued. Possession of soft skill is now highly desired, essential and in some cases even more important than technical knowledge.

However even with that shift in workplace it does quite often happen that people with soft skills clash with technicians. There are few reasons why:

  • underestimating the value and benefits that soft skilled person can bring to the table
  • desire to just deliver the solution, sometimes forgetting about user journey and experience
  • perception that this is a technical implementation only
  • perception that people with soft skills slower down the delivery process or add “unnecessary” work

The challenge with that clash between the skills is that in order for them to properly function together a full team mindset shift is required. While building a team be mindful that technical skills aren’t necessarily hard to acquire. With time, they can be gained, advanced. Soft skills, however, are much more challenging to learn since they are based on individual’s character, personality, relationships. They are also less tangible, hence difficult to measure during interviews.

The World Economic Forum has highlighted top 10 soft skills desired in 2020:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Source: Future of jobs report, World Economic Forum

The list is quite demanding, skills out there are complex and advanced, often gained after years of experience. Which only shows that developing soft skills is a process, not something that can be gained in few days and stamped with a certificate. Soft skills are learned and polished across our whole life, however the value out of them can be experienced very fast.

What you can gain out of advanced soft skills:

  • Effective usage of your technical skills and knowledge
  • Ability to “sell yourself” or your work better
  • Get a better buy in from your client or leadership
  • Allow to better interact with people
  • Effective team management

As a non-technical person who joined a very technical department I often struggled with the lack of knowledge and hard skills. I struggled so much that I have been considering changing my career path, but then I asked myself a question: what do I bring to the table? The answer was: planning, managing the chaos, problem solving skills, can do attitude. When I added that to the technical skill of my teammates it gave a holistic picture of well-planned and managed implementation of a technical solution. The best outcome a client can get. That’s because soft and technical skills do not exclude each other, nor they compete, one doesn’t rule over the other. What they should do is go hand in hand.

So what can you do to improve yours and your teams’ soft skills:

  • Coaching – investing in yourself and your teammates by employing a professional coach who will polish your soft skills and discover the potential you have
  • Include soft skill requirements in job description – ensure that when you are looking for a new team member he/she not only brings the breadth of experience from technical industry but also a good level of soft skills that will help you and your team to deliver.
  • Provide regular feedback on soft skills – allow for reflection. Give examples of real situations. Make the feedback instant.
  • Lead by example – if you value soft skills, live your values. If you still are developing them show your progress and path.

Although I do not think the competition between soft and hard skills is equal (at the end the solution needs to be delivered technically), I do believe that properly applied soft skills can be a game changer in project, process or any other piece of work. Therefore, good leaders and managers should invest in a balanced development of the team. At the end,  although technical skills will remain important, the soft ones may determine how far the hard skills can take you.

Building emotional resilience

Emotions at work just happen. Frustration, anger, disappointment and many more can be triggered almost by everything: a deadline missed, colleague getting a promotion or the organizational structure changing. Emotions are normal – also at work therefore we should not hide them, just express them well. You don’t want to be perceived as emotionless robot, do you? Emotions are important to express what you like, don’t like, what hits your values. However they cannot be aimed at hurting or putting others down, released in unprofessional way or be a way of releasing stress. Let’s look at working on the best way to pass emotional statements.

How to prepare yourself for communicating emotions?

  • Analyze facts. Make sure that you understand what your interlocutor has in mind. What are the arguments he/she is bringing to the table and why.
  • Understand the impact you are making. Ask yourself whether this is the right way of communicating emotions to this person. How will the person react, what consequences can it have to your future relationship and cooperation? Could there be any additional elements that push a person to act in specific way that triggers you?
  • Ask yourself some key questions. What is the right level of emotional reaction to this situation? Do you have influence on this situation? What might be the consequences of my emotional reaction? What would your mentor do in this case?  Etc.
  • Look for solutions. Sharing emotions should not be the aim in itself. It needs to go with some proposal of solutions, actions and next steps. Only this will allow to make it justified and a rounded statement rather than just a rant.
  • Choose the right way of communication. Email may not always be the best choice. It gives too much space for interpretation. Talking with people directly or via phone, video might be more accurate.
  • Take help from others. There are some difficult situations in which involving others ie. HR into very emotional conversations might bring better results. It allows to depersonalize the issue and put them into more formalized processes which in some cases might be required.

Building and communicating emotional statements

  • Name your emotions. Don’t just show them and assume people will understand. Often disappointment can be taken for frustration, anger for dislike etc. Make sure the other side knows what you are feeling.
  • Rely on facts. If you are planning to show your frustration, disappointment or any other negative emotion make sure that it’s supported by facts. Showing real data can easily justify a frustration of a problem not solved for months or disappointment in an under performing person. It will also show that the criticism is not personal.
  • Communicate the impact it’s having. Make sure that the interlocutor understands the consequences of his/her actions and reactions and impact it can have on work, people and relationships.
  • Suggest a solution. Don’t focus only on putting your emotions out there. Communicating emotion needs to have a constructive goal. Suggest a way of resolving a problem or moving forward with the conversation. Don’t leave the conversation hanging on emotions only.
  • Be respectful. Never do anything that can give an impression of having no respect to others. You don’t want to be perceived as not professional and bullying.

Emotional Don’ts

  • Never make decisions when angry or frustrated. Emotions blur your judgement. You may say thing or say them in a way you will later regret. Also don’t reply to any emails unless it’s absolutely necessary. Actually wait even a day or so before responding. Sometimes it may force the sender to re-think what he/she has written.
  • Don’t bring negative emotions home. Home should be your safety avenue. Even if your partner works in the same company or market, don’t use them to vent. Focus on anything that can take your mind away from work: sport, kids, walk, tv.
  • Don’t allow for emotional outburst. It’s unprofessional and can only be seen negatively. If you really  have to calm down, step out of the meeting, ask for break, put yourself on mute. Never show people you have no control over your emotions.

Building emotional resilience

For a leader communicating and managing your emotions is not enough. If you want to be a strong leader – high emotional resilience will definitely put you on that path, as it shows your able to manage setbacks and still create a strategy to move forward. Emotional resilience is an inner strength and motivation that allows us to go through and overcome negative experiences. Developing emotional resilience is hard as it requires constant work on emotions and its triggers. Here are few things that can help to improve on your resilience:

  • Work on your self- awareness. This topic comes back as boomerang as a key characteristic of a strong leader. I wrote about it also in: Shaping your leadership lifestyle post. In this case it’s about understanding what triggers you. What makes you frustrated and angry and what situations lead to disappointment. If you will learn to recognize those triggers coming at early stages – it will allow for a more controlled reaction.
  • Learn to accept things. Accept that there are things you have no influence on and there’s no point to agonize over them. Accept that sometimes things will go not the way you wanted. Acceptance doesn’t mean you are giving up. It means you need to look for another way of achieving it.
  • Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your physical and psychological health. Eat proper meals, get enough sleep, exercise, spend time offline – you will have more energy to overcome emotional challenges.
  • Stay positive. Surround yourself with positive people and thoughts. Negative energy can be very draining and impact your own perception of things. Stay away from that.
  • Have a way to release pressure. It might be venting to a friend over a bottle of beer, long jog or lonely hiking. Whatever works for you and helps to get rid of bad emotions.
  • Find supporters. You don’t need to deal with everything on your own. Don’t be afraid of asking for help or advise. Different perspective may shed new light on how you approach things.
  • Step out of comfort zone. Develop yourself, step into new paths that allow for different emotions and situations. It will prepare you for a broader range of emotions and challenges.
  • Learn from mistakes. Making mistakes is normal. What should not be normal is repeating them.

And remember – if you won’t manage emotions, they will manage you.

You always need a Champion!

Stepping into my first EMEA role made me look back at where I was few years ago. Across last few years I had a very clear career path in my head. At first glance highly ambitious (some would say – unrealistic) but on the other hand – looking at where I am today – clearly achievable.

On my way I have met few assholes depreciating my role and input, couple not too helpful people, a bunch of smart and  supportive team players and experts and 3 unique mentors that have turned my thinking upside down on quite few things and helped me to get where I am today.

As a beginner in the corporate world with a “I will rule the world” attitude I didn’t think that mentoring can be an influencing tool that can turn around anyone’s career. How talking to a senior guy can be contributing to my development? If I want to achieve anything I need to go after it on my own, I thought. Only after several years of being mentored I know how wrong I was, hence this article being written as a tribute to mentoring at the turning point (I hope!) in my career.

What’s mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between two individuals, where the more experienced colleague shares his/her knowledge and understanding of work or organization with a less experienced colleague in order to develop him/her. It can be a more informal type of relationship that allows the mentee to reach out to the mentor when and as it is needed rather than having a regular session. Agenda of the relationship is mainly driven by the mentee and aimed at developing long term strategic skills that will be applicable to usually leadership roles. The duration of the relationship is not defined, often moves into friendship.

One thing to note is, that mentoring is a mutual relationship, although you undertake the role of mentee, your mentor takes the benefit of learning also from you.

I have always  perceived my mentors as guarding angels – being there for me whenever I need them.

What mentoring is not?

Mentoring is different from coaching. Coaching is much more formalized, usually has a defined end and set of goals that are aimed at specific aspect of job or performance improvements.  Coach is bringing structure, instructions, assessment and monitoring tools, expectations on very specific measurable outcomes; whereas mentoring is introducing much softer approach relaying on self-motivation and relationship between individuals.

Mentoring is also not management. Management agenda is led by the manager and its focus is mainly on performance of the individual.  The scope of that relationship is usually narrowed to skills required for a specific role.

How to find a mentor?

Finding a good mentor is hard! Here are some tips on how to find one:

  • Official mentoring – Some companies have formalized mentoring programs. Although I am not a fan of those (they usually are too formalized and require some reporting and success measurement), you can definitely find some good people there to help you develop.
  • Recommendation – ask colleagues, your manager whether they know someone who would be willing to take up on a mentoring relationship. However in this case you usually need to specifically know what type of resource, skill and knowledge you are looking for.
  • A “click” – for me the best way to get a great mentoring relationship. If on some random occasion you are talking with a Senior colleague, you clearly feel a connection with and you have an impression you could learn a lot from that person or there is a person you admire – take your chance, ask whether he/she would be willing to become your mentor.

I was often told that you should look for mentor outside of your business line. That never worked for me. I have been in mentoring relationships that completely failed as we couldn’t find the same language and topics that we both relate to. You definitely need to look for people different than you as that will open in front of you perspectives that you haven’t taken into consideration before. But that doesn’t mean this cannot be someone from you closest surrounding. Actually, if you are at the early stages of your career I would recommend you finding a mentor from your direct business line. That will make the conversations much easier.

The photo dates back to 2014. Piece of Starbucks napkin used by Paul Larken (my first mentor) to write “You always need a champion”, as a reminder in case of “doubt in myself” days.

How to build a strong relationship with your mentor?

  • Get to know each other – understand who you are as a person, how you operate and what each of you can bring to the table
  • Don’t rush things – mentoring is aimed at long term development. Things won’t change overnight. You will be in growing pains for months if not years before you understand how much you achieved on the way.
  • Be prepared – be ready with agenda, topics you want to talk about, conversations you want to have. It doesn’t have to be formalized but in order to get the best out of it – it does need to be somewhat structured
  • You don’t have to know what you want but you need to seek for it – it’s not about knowing what you want to achieve at the end of your mentor-ship. It’s about the road you are taking to get there. Your goals might change as you go but the thing you learn, how you approach people and situations, how you become a better team manager, leader is what matters.
  • Build trust – mentor-ship is a unique type of relationship in organization that builds it fundamentals on trust. Whatever is said or done within mentoring relationship it stays there. Both mentor and mentee can be open in their opinions and conversations in full trust that nothing will be revealed.
  • Challenge your mentor – don’t be afraid to be demanding. If you have any expectations, share them in a transparent way.
  • Stop the mentoring – You should withdraw from a mentor-ship if you feel it already realized its purpose or if you don’t feel the mentor is a good fit and the relationship doesn’t bring any value. Don’t waste yours and mentor’s time – move on.

Benefits out of mentorship

  • Being challenged – if you chose a right mentor you will definitely be challenged by him/her. Challenged on way of thinking, approaching things but also way of operating as a person in overall. A good mentor will also put you in front of situations and tasks that are new to you, stretch you and put out of your comfort zone.
  • Sounding board – Running your ideas pass someone with a different perspective or way of thinking can be very refreshing and show you alleys you have not discovered before. This is why for mentors you should seek people that think differently than you.
  • Opening doors –  a good mentor should use his influence to introduce you to senior people, put you forward/expose to some opportunities and challenging pieces of work that can grow and expose your skillset and potential.
  • Guidance and support – a good mentor should guide you via different development topics and support in difficult/challenging situations. He/she should always have time for you when you really need it.

Becoming a mentor

I don’t believe that mentoring several people at once can be effective to any of the parties (unless that’s your only job!). I have seen people claiming they mentor 10-20 people. How can that work? How well the mentor can actually understand what you need, what are your daily struggles and how to best guide you through them if he/she doesn’t have time for you?

Mentoring is hard work, a commitment to the person and organization that you want to help someone realize his/her potential by investing your time and effort into it. If you are lucky to get good mentors you will very quickly see the value of those relationships for both mentor and mentee, at some point you will be mature enough to move away from a mentee role and take on the role of mentor. That’s the best testimonial of mentoring goals being realized in you.

Leadership challenges in pandemic times

Today we are experiencing times when all qualities, values and rules you have lived against might be challenged. Times that may force on you a total change of your priorities and ways you operate. Pandemic is obviously something that impacts also your personal life, therefore it’s even more difficult than usually to stay calm, stable and focused on leading others. However it’s actually you who people will look at to bring stability, reduce chaos and guide them. Here are some key challenges that you may face:

Staying stable and grounded

The current world requires working via unpredictable and uncontrollable situations therefore you should not allow emotions to take priority. There will be plenty of information around you from press, internet, government that may be influencing your perception of things. Keeping a level of stability in how you operate and grounding yourself on facts will allow you to be perceived as balanced and reliable. Therefore in your actions and communication:

  •  Be honest and transparent – share what you know, set some rules of operations. You may not have the answers for all the questions or people may not like what they hear but they will respect you for honesty and transparency. 
  • Rely on data. Don’t share opinions, predictions or press articles. Refer to facts, be analytical where possible. Don’t leave space for interpretation. 
  • Be proactive. Try to anticipate issues and problems and address them before they come or grow. 
  • Communicate regularly. Be the source of information and provide updates on regular basis. Soon people will turn to you for information and will perceive you as a stable source of reliable information.
  • Stay positive. It can be difficult at times but it will help to keep morale.

Keeping balance between pushing for performance and appreciating challenging times

In order to keep people’s jobs the company needs to operate. If we all go underground and stop working the consequences will be catastrophic to all of us. Obviously new circumstances require new ways of working and looking at operations but let’s not forget that we all need to keep the ship afloat.

  • Be flexible. Shift work and priorities if/where you can. Let people know that they are the priority.
  • Be precise. Make sure that your requirements and asks are well understood. Don’t waste people’s time on figuring things out – they have plenty of other challenges to deal with.
  • Understand your team. Each one of them. Know their anxieties, challenges and understand how you can best work with them in the crisis.
  • Build trust and confidence. Help your team to regain comfort of working before you start demanding.
  • Stay connected. Make sure you check up on each one of your team mates from time to time. Be there for them when they need it.

Adaptivity – working through chaos, non-defined timeline and circumstances

Contradicting information, a flood of press articles, crisis predictions, terrifying death statistics and much more create a complete chaos in people’s minds. Additionally an inability to predict the future, impact of what’s happening and how long will it last makes people feel like being trapped. Adaptivity of all of us will be challenged to the bone. Therefore:

  •  Stick to facts – more than ever be fact and data driven. Any gossips, fake news can result in unnecessary misunderstandings, additional level of anxiety, conflicts or even panic. You don’t know what you don’t know – don’t try to be analytical if you’re not; don’t predict things if you don’t have enough facts to do so.
  • Be adaptive. Don’t get used to processes, solutions invented one day as the next day you may need to throw them away and start again. Try to anticipate situations, be proactive.
  • Prepare yourself for the worst case scenarios. First, understand what the worst case scenario means for you and your team in this circumstances – surely nothing what you have been preparing for so far.
  • Make long and short term plans. Think strategically on solving problems and try to anticipate situations but at the same time give the team a tangible and achievable goals for next 1-2 weeks. This will allow them to take one step at a time and give sense of achievement (small successes).
  • Support your company in all actions undertaken. None has ready answers and scenarios for the crisis we are observing but we are in it together and need to support each other’s back.

Building your personal brand while limited opportunities

The fact that your company may need to limit some capabilities, change the plans and priorities doesn’t mean there are no opportunities for you to grow. Don’t be frustrated that pandemic has ruined your goals and plans for 2020, take the challenge and find your way through it. If you manage this properly the current situation may bring you up as a stable and reliable Leader that is balanced and knows how to lead the Team in challenging times.

  • Out of box thinking and different ways of doing work are in demand more than ever. That’s more of an opportunity than limitation for people who are passionate about their work and who want to elevate their careers. Stay informed, observe the situation, propose solutions where possible.
  • Go above and beyond in being a Leader and Team player. A well operating and delivering team in difficult times will be a testimony of your leadership skills.
  • Stay connected. Make sure you touch base with your colleagues all over the world. Check whether they are safe, maybe there are things you can do for them.
  • Take part in voluntary initiatives if you can. Maybe even establishing and leading one is something you’re up for?

Engagement while working remote and under high stress

That’s a tricky one as in this case it might be significantly influenced via circumstances completely outside of your control. Additionally many items usually influencing engagement are highly limited or not possible in current circumstances. Therefore we are back to basics:

  •  Secure your team’s basic needs. For one that might be a monitor to better facilitate their work, for others – few days off to arrange their life for next weeks. 
  • Help to release the stress. Be in a good mood to start with, so you are not perceived as stressed and overwhelmed with situation. Be innovative: have online coffee breaks, contest for the fanciest pajamas outfit or a forum for parents to share interesting ideas on keeping their children busy. 
  • Communicate, guide, support. This time overcommunication is not a problem. Make sure people are aware about company’s actions, be clear on undertaken decisions and their background. Give guidance and support where and when required.
  • Be open. Make sure people know they can always come to you for advice, to moan or just vent.

I am sure that not all of our leaders will pass this leadership test, however I am also confident that some will discover skills and capabilities that they never thought they have, some will mature quicker than in normal circumstances. Being a leader is difficult, but being a good leader in a crisis requires a unique combination of skills, innovation and empathy. This is the best time to step up and go above and beyond in bringing your leadership style to a next level.

Stay safe…..

Community Leadership

For some being a leader at work is not enough – they needed another area where they can fulfil their leadership potential, at the same time making other’s life a bit easier and maybe also happier. That’s what community leadership is to me – a unique type of leadership that’s aimed at group of interests, often based on place/location.

Why would you want to be a community leader?

  • You can make a difference – have some key contribution that can change the community, improve your surrounding or make someone’s life better
  • It develops you as a person and a leader. In community you will come across challenges you normally won’t experience at work
  • You can share your knowledge and shape other leaders

Understanding the community

  • Understand what integrates the community – what do people have in common? Maybe a purpose – special care after nature, a situation they are in – members of the new estate.
  • Understand what divides the community. This will be the items you need to treat with special care – try to address but don’t force them. Tackle step by step.
  • Understand internal and external relationships. Who influences who, what subgroups have been created, who dislikes who, who’s an outsider, what sources of external influence you have to deal with. Identify the influencers and the “grumpy cats”. Create tactics to tackle them all.

How to become a community leader?

  • Listen to people. Hear what people have to say, understand their problems
  • Get the buy in for what you do. Allow people to participate in shaping the change, influence the influencers; create a strategy for “grumpy cats”
  • Be ‘the news person’. Build relationships with key people and organizations. Have the news before others do, become the source of key information
  • Mobilize others. Put them forward, encourage to pick up and own actions. Don’t force your ideas, embrace others, promote teamwork
  • Lead by example. In community we all should be equal. You won’t have your own office nor a personal assistant here. So put your shoulders to the wheel and get going.
  • Learn people respect for their space, common purpose and each other. That includes following common rules and doing no harm to others.
  • Bring balance. In a big community you will come across contradicting views and interests. Be the one to balance them all, bring order and stability.
  • Be the connector. Introduce people to each other so that they can benefit from their relationship.
  • Bring fresh blood to the community. This might happen with or without your control – embrace it at any case and turn into your/community benefit.
  • Shape new leaders – people who can support the community, lead the change, work together for greater good.

Use case – integrate community of newly built housing estate.

A challenge will be to understand the community – it can take long time as it formulates itself on your eyes. That’s also an opportunity because you can influence and shape it from the very beginning.

  • A good start is to set a common collaboration platform – it can be a simple Facebook group or something more complex like a dedicated platform owned by a landlord.
  • Next – integration. People need to get to know each other. Arrange a joined barbecue where people can talk, get to know each other, understand where they live, what common problems they have. Other ideas: arrange a secret Santa day for kids, Easter egg hunting, joined decoration of a local Christmas tree
  • Spend time on getting to know everyone. Stop at the parking to have a chat, lend a ladder or barrow a screwdriver. Soon you will receive a list of community pain points. At the beginning target more common, unifying problems like getting more trash bins. This will give you a smooth transition into a leader role. It will help you understand each person’s role they will play in the community
  • Be the “news person” Establish a relationship with the landlord or estate developer – have the news before others do and share at the collaboration platform. Soon you will become a go to person.
  • Be innovative, surprise people – if you need to gather money for something that you arrange for the community don’t ask for money transfer. Put a piggybank in front of your house. This allows people to put any amount of money, it’s anonymized, kills the discussion on who gave and how much. The purpose is being put as the priority here. Make sure you publish receipts afterword’s – that builds trust for future events like this.
  • Propose a strategy and a plan for your community. This might include some events, way of collaborating but also some rules to follow and respect

Soon you will get:

  • A list of common issues to deal with
  • An integrated group that fill fight against any common problems they have
  • A strong position of a Leader that has been driving stuff from very beginning – your capital for future

Being a community Leader is a leadership from choice. It not always comes easy, can be draining and frustrating especially that usually it goes with voluntary work, but the satisfaction of changing/shaping the surrounding is bigger than that. That’s a responsibility but a privilege at the same time that as a Community Leader you will get. Dream big, set goals, achieve.

Shaping your leadership lifestyle

I am not going to go via standard leadership definitions nor differences against management, there’s already too much of  it all over the place. However what I am going to share are key challenges and at the same time leadership awareness milestones that every staring leader stumbles upon.

I am not one of those people that will state that you are other born as a leader or not. You surely can be born with a set of traits that make leadership easier, doesn’t mean you will use it well. In my view you are becoming a leader which means it’s not given but it’s a process – something you need to learn and grow into.

Self-awareness. This is first and fundamental thing you need to learn, discover, work out. Understanding yourself is truly the basic and I would say the hardest thing, especially that it comes at the beginning of your leadership road. But what does sit really mean? For me self-awareness is understanding of:

  • What are you good at? – what are your key traits, what value do you bring to the table. This is the thing that should  be your primary focus, items that you should invest in.
  • What are your limitations? – realize what limits you. It might be lack of certain knowledge, specific way of looking at things, skillset. This will be a thing that you need to address, if possible. If not – don’t kill yourself over it – learn how to work around it – otherwise it will drag you down.
  • What values do you have? – what drives you? What are your priorities?
  • What borders will you not cross – are there any things you wouldn’t do, rules you wouldn’t break, approaches you wouldn’t take?

I have this luck of being a highly self-aware person. I very well understand where I can add value and that the thing that limits me is lack of technical knowledge and background. For many many years I was agonizing myself over not being technical however working on IT projects. I won’t hide – it was hard. To someone who never had anything to do with servers, switches and databases – IT is like another language to learn but with absorbing additional layer of logic at the same time.

I was working 16 hrs per day, 7 days a week and still wasn’t thinking I am good enough. At that moment I was asking myself whether it’s worth it. I wasn’t able to become technical at the level I would wish, hence I was standing in front of a choice – resign from chasing my dreams or learn how to work around my limits. Thankfully I have chosen the latter and learned to surround myself with technical people who can bridge the gap.

Acceptance. This goes with everything what comes out of self-awareness. Accept that the thing you are good at is the primary (and maybe only) thing you can bring to the table. Accept your limitations, fight with them but if you can’t – find a way to  work around them. Accepted what drives you, although it may not be popular. Accept the rules and borders you won’t breach even if it can mean an end to your career.

Acceptance means you are not only a self-aware leader but also a one that acknowledges the benefits and consequences of being who you are.

Staying true to yourself. This is an alignment with who you are and how you operate. This is avoiding pretending someone who you are not, having knowledge you don’t have, possessing things you can’t afford. It helps to avoid manipulation, make the right decisions and drive others in a consistent way. 

Important tip here – don’t underestimate the power and the trap of feedback.

At the beginning of my leadership road I have met a lot of people that were supportive of my development. Because I am highly open to feedback I have fallen into a trap of naive thinking that if I will implement it all I will become a better leader and a person. How wrong I was…. And it’s not because the feedback wasn’t valuable – it was because everyone have a different perspective. By one my directness is perceived as being rude, for others it’s a blessing that helps to work through complex situations. I didn’t look at the feedback via a perspective of a person that was sharing it. I was bluntly believing it’s the right way forward…. Until the feedback started to exclude each other, until there was so much feedback that I couldn’t absorb it, until there were so many expectations of me that I wasn’t even able to distinguish whether they are talking about the same person that I was before. Again here I was standing in front of a choice – stay who you are or make significant changes. So I came back to my self-awareness questions and decided to be selective on the feedback I am going to implement and learned to acknowledge existence of the feedback that’s not in line with who I am and want to be.

There will be times in your leadership career when you will be standing in front of decisions that are against the way you operate. This is the time when you need more than ever to be self-aware. Staying true to yourself in that situations will be difficult as it may have different consequences to you and your career.  Whatever decision you will make, with high self-awareness and acceptance, it at least will be very conscious.

In my experience, how you deal with the above components, strongly shapes your leadership style. Soon after you step on the leadership road you will understand that the path you have chosen doesn’t touch only on your work. It gets into your blood system and is visible in the way you act on daily basis –  when you give a seat to an older person, when you join the school community to support kids in training football or you are expressing your views at ecological manifest. The leader you will become will affect all your actions and thoughts going forward. Shape your leadership style wisely then, with time it will become your lifestyle – leadership lifestyle.

“The things that make me different are the things that make me’.

– Piglet