Inspiring your team beyond impact of the storm

This IS collective loss

Your team is confronting the brutal reality of the current situation. You are leading them  through lost revenue, reduced budgets, colleagues laid off and exciting new projects postponed. You know that this feels tough because it is tough – that the discomfort that you’re all feeling – is grief.(1)  You are experiencing multiple, concurrent losses both as individuals and as a collective. You understand that this is a time of navigating endings by being vulnerable and courageous – naming and taming your emotions; and reframing the current situation to see opportunities in the many losses around you. More than ever, this is a time for you to build hope in your team so that they can dial up their energy and motivation. You need them to persevere and more than that, to perform as you build your new future together.

Focus forward

Richard Branson emphasises the importance of understanding that whilst you are feeling a sense of loss; your team will be facing similar emotions and ‘will look to you for guidance on how to respond.’ .

He has four key tips (2):

  1. Start talking: Have an honest and open dialogue in which everyone can offer their ideas and opinions. Discourage them from blaming others, but own your personal mistakes and allow other team members to do the same. Encourage your people to bring their expertise into these conversations. Nobody else knows their area of the business better than they do, so let them share their views on what’s happening.
  2. Focus on the future. It’s important to dissect what has happened and perform a post-mortem on your business to make sure that you don’t repeat the same mistakes. But it’s equally important to be focused on what happens next. When things go wrong in business, consider it an opportunity to take stock and determine whether you’re heading in the right direction. Decide whether your business could benefit from pivoting its focus to something else – maybe one part of your product or service is proving popular even if the business as a whole isn’t working out. If that’s the case, re-focus your efforts on this aspect.
  1. Remember why you started. When everything goes wrong, it’s easy to forget why you got into business in the first place. But remind yourself why you were passionate about this project. As I’ve written before, no business will succeed if the only goal is to make money. Whenever we launch a new Virgin business, we look at how we can offer a product or service that’s truly different from what everyone else in the industry is offering. So during tough times, stop and think back to when you launched your startup. What was it that you wanted to achieve? Spend time with your team, discuss your goals, and revise them if necessary.

You’re are only as strong as the teams that surround you. You need to make sure that you include them in conversations when times are tough. The people on the front lines of your business will often have the best ideas on how to improve things for customers.

Also find out the things keeping your team awake at night –

  • Worried about whether they will be paid on time, in full this month?
  • Concerned about their safety on the frontlines?
  • Distracted by working from home?

These ‘hygiene’ factors may not motivate your team, but by not addressing them, you run the risk of your team being demotivated and disengaged.  You might not be able to give everyone all the answers or the certainty they want; but clear, consistent and transparent communication builds trust and engagement.

Make hope happen

Focusing forward needs you to build hope in your team. The global expert on hope – psychologist Shane Lopez, defines hope as: the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” (3)

In this way of looking at hope, it is something that you as a leader can actively build. It is not merely wishful thinking.  Hope needs:

  1. Goals: You probably have goals already. Are these specific, measurable, attainable, inspiring and time based?
  2. Pathways: Do you have a clear game plan, or ‘pathways’ to get from point A, where you are now, to point B, which is goal attainment.
  3. Confidence: Do you believe in your own ability and mental energy to work and pursue your identified goals along your selected pathways?

Pathways and confidence work in tandem; they reverberate in such a way that the more you have of both, the easier it is to pursue and attain your goals. They make the wish of a better future something deliberate and active. They make hope a verb, not a noun. They actively build hope by charting a clear path forward, inspiring your teams to move towards higher ground and believing that together you have the energy and capability to achieve what you have set out to do.

Research on hope shows that it plays a central role in persistence, motivation, engagement, conscientiousness and innovation. It tangibly increases productivity by 12 – 14%! It also helps teams to overcome obstacles.  When hopeful teams bump into an obstacle, they just generate more pathways. They figure ways around and over the obstacle. When teams who are low-hope bump into an obstacle, they get stuck and frustrated, and they may have a downward spiral in performance, mood or attendance.

Hopeful teams tend to be realistic in how hard it will be and the obstacles they will face but they also know that they’re good at changing tack and developing new routes if necessary.. Teams that are hopeful are also good at asking for help and support when they need it to achieve their goal. They’re agile and resourceful; and good at re-assessing if goals are do-able and how to achieve rejog goals if needed. People with low hope stay stuck. Hope helps teams to widen their perspective and take longer range views. It is the antidote to fear, which whilst useful for survival, narrows the perspective and range of responses. Hope unleashes creativity and innovation.

To build hope in your teams:

  • Reflect on your own level of hopefulness as a leader. What are your natural strengths? Where are there opportunities? What actions can you take? Who is a role-model for you? Could they advise, mentor and coach you?
  • Reflect on your team’s level of hopefulness. What are their natural strengths? Where are their opportunities for growth? What actions can they take? Who is a role-model in the team who can share ideas and approaches within the team? Who could  advise, mentor and coach the team? How can you recognise and reward more hopeful behaviour?
  • Involve your team and share these insights about hope. Ask them to reflect on their own level of hopefulness. What are their natural strengths? Where are their opportunities for growth? What actions can they take? Who are role-models in the team who can share ideas and approaches within the team? Who could advise, mentor and coach the team? How can hope become part of your way of working together and culture? How can everyone recognise and reward more hopeful behaviour? 

Taking on a life of its own

Michelle Obama noticed that ‘hope can take on a life of its own’. It becomes a virtuous cycle. It builds momentum. It imagines the better future you all want. And it makes this happen by believing you have all you need to make this future a reality; and by building pathways for you to walk on. It takes action. It unlocks and unleashes the new beginning you’re starting to see ahead.



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