Over the past few years, we have experienced a dramatic shift in our collective mindset. This has been caused partly by the pandemic and a collective feeling and understanding that technology has allowed us to change how we design our lives.
I gave a talk at SaaStock 22, where the concept of “The Era of Choice” was put forward in front of the audience. Although the title seems grandiose, the era of choice is a rather basic concept that, if understood, can completely change how you approach your leadership style in a radically positive and constructive way.
Let’s explore how our mindset has changed and a few tools we can use to develop deeper professional relationships in this modern work environment.
How our mindset has shifted
Our brains have been collectively affected by the pandemic. Whether it was for the best or the worst, we can’t tell quite yet, but what is clear is that we have discovered a desire to be able to choose; a deep desire to design how we work, where we work from, and how we spend time with our loved ones.
We’ve all had enough lockdowns, so let’s keep this section brief. Being told and forced to stay at home without the right to choose was a painful blow to our psyche. It isn’t about whether you disagree or agree with lockdowns, but almost everyone felt relieved when the lockdown restrictions began being lifted.
For the best part of the last two years, we were told what to do without any choice. It was a confusing time, and I believe this caused a deep-rooted aversion to being told what to do. It brought us back to the child-like years when we were confined to our rooms, where our movements were restricted as if we had been punished.
Emotionally it was tiring. Again, no matter whether you believe they were rightfully put in place, the term “lockdown” causes a similar adverse reaction in almost every person I speak with.
Artificial, arbitrary, and dated rules
For years we had been operating under the assumption that a specific type of work just can’t be done remotely. We had been preventing people from working from home for various reasons. Management Insecurities, Mislead Governance, and Dated Compliance requirements were all common reasons for the workforce. In reality, it was nothing more than issues from managers and leaders affected [negatively by their cognitive biases].
For instance, the banking, real estate, and education sector, which had taken a more traditional approach to remote work, were suddenly forced to adopt a new model… and it was just fine.
Interestingly, we now had lockdowns, which created a deep-rooted aversion to being told what to do. We realized that the barriers to controlling how we design our lives were mainly artificial.
Technology and productivity
Technology’s wide availability and accessibility had a third significant effect on the pandemic trifecta. It allowed us to start designing our work experience around our lives instead of what we had been doing for many years, designing our lives around our work.
Even though I’m greatly over-simplifying this, in this post-pandemic world, people realized that they didn’t want to be done what to do; the rules forced upon them were frivolous. They were able to be a productive workforce while maintaining a life-work balance that favored the individual instead of the “corporation.”
With this in mind, it’s important to realize that work has changed forever.
Work has changed forever and has nothing to do with the popular remote vs. office debate. It has to do with choice, the individuality of people, and the ability to design your work around your life, not the other way around.
How to empower people
To thrive and become a better leader in this new era of work, it is crucial to think deeply about the pandemic’s effects and how each person’s individuality and the importance of one’s uniqueness shifted. Good leaders and managers have always known this; they’ve always understood, listened, and provided boundaries and feedback to their coworkers. They’ve always gone above and beyond for the person.
Before I present two of the frameworks I employ to foster more profound and more productive relationships, there are a few things that must be adhered to and accepted before continuing further:
🤙🏽 People have good intentions
🔋 People are capable and resourceful
👆🏽 People are Unique
If you can’t agree with these basic foundational facts about your colleagues, you may stop reading.
Let's explore some tools to build on that and improve trust, accountability, and responsibility.
The Framework of “We”
I’m not the first one to come up with the concept of a framework to improve and structure my way of communicating with others individually. The “Framework of We” is something you build up with each individual. It’s intended as a communication contract between two people, a way to understand, empathize and communicate more productively.
To make it easier, I’ve provided a Notion template to keep track of my contracts with others.
☝🏿 Keep in mind being a leader doesn’t mean you have people working for you. Being a leader can happen at any layer of the organization.
📓 Our story
Start by defining your story.
- How did you find each other?
- What makes you enjoy working with the other?
- What are some projects you have worked on in the past?
- Are you both working together for the first time? If so, what are some other individual projects you’ve worked on before which might bring you two closer to being contributors?
While this may sound wishy-washy, working remotely or hybrid can tend to remove the work’s human aspect. This attempts to establish common ground before embarking on this professional relationship.
💬 How do we Interact? How do we make decisions?
This part requires a little bit of self-awareness and personal honesty. It’s about establishing what each needs to do our best work.
How do we prefer receiving feedback? How do we make decisions? These are all questions you can answer ahead of your first work interaction, and if you have been working together for a while and decide to give this framework a go, you’ll find out how little you know about the other.
⚠ Warning signs
How we respond in certain situations where we feel frustrated or not heard. What are some of the reactions each of us may have, and how should we attempt to perceive it and be helped out of that rut?
For instance (and a basic one at that): One can tend to react quite adversely to not being included in a conversation about a topic I’m involved with unless they understand why they’re not being included. Please do your best to let them know ahead of time, and even though they might not have to be included, it’ll make them feel heard that you had the courtesy to tell them about it.
🤝 Shared values, vulnerabilities
This is quite basic, and there isn’t a need to expand too long on this. Find one or two shared values. The shared values and your story are the cornerstones of your relationship. Furthermore, provide each other with a few examples of how those values are applied in practice.
🙏 Collaborating together
From having understood how we interact together, this is how we collaborate. Do we prefer to meet in person every few days? Do we prefer fully asynchronous and default to written communication?
This is essential in establishing your first boundaries (which are critical for your relationship to work).
Here you have to be careful not to “agree” with what the loudest voice of the two says, but you really should try to find a middle ground. Remember, this is a living contract, and you can revise how you collaborate if you realize it is triggering too many warning signs or you find it unproductive.
Sometimes in relationships (personal or professional), you get “that feeling”. The unidentifiable feeling that something is wrong. You’re annoyed, or you can feel something is off with the other.
Collaboratively come up with a set of equalizing questions. When asked in a safe and supportive environment, those questions will be easier to answer and ultimately will help you lift your relationship back up.
For instance: “Is there something I’m doing that doesn’t work for you?”
⌛ Timeframe & commitment
Possibly the most essential part of all is establishing a mutual commitment to falling back to the Framework of We and establishing timeframes on where you will review the progress of your relationship.
This is a contract for empathy, but it is a living contract. As new decision frameworks are adopted, new warning signs are discovered, or even shared values are brought forward, this contract is something you can update together.
Empowerment through delegation
Delegation is a potent tool when used correctly. Unfortunately, many managers are still under the common belief that delegation means the assignment of tasks.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – General George S. Patton.
I want to bring forward the delegation of authority, responsibility, and accountability concept.
This means you are not getting others to complete tasks but giving them the authority, responsibility, and accountability to reach an outcome. Delegation comes with an expectation that the person will use their entire experience, problem-solving skills, and creativity to produce the best possible result for the outcome.
How do you delegate responsibilities and authority? Assuming you’ve adopted your own version of the "Framework of We", you now have a better communication framework with your coworkers. Now is the time to do your homework and put your attention to detail to the test.
From this day forward, you will own none of the successes and all of the failures of your teams. Repeat this a few times; it’s a hard pill to swallow to become better.
👆🏽Identify what can be delegated
Unfortunately, not everything can be delegated. There may be tasks that require a very personal touch. Take careful time to identify the outcome you’re expecting and the specific items you’re ready to delegate. You’ll delegate, not micromanage, so pick the right things to start.
🤓 Situational awareness and leadership
Before you start delegating random responsibilities across the organization, ensure you have done your homework and understand your people’s strengths.
One tool that has been the most influential and essential throughout my career is the concept of situational leadership. If this is an alien concept to you, I would strongly recommend looking into it. If you want to learn how I apply this to my daily activities, I’d be more than happy to jump on a call and walk you through it.
By being aware of the situation you’re in and understanding the strengths of your teams and colleagues, you will be able to delegate the proper responsibilities to the right people.
🛤 Lead, guide, and provide experience
As a leader, you are there to lead and guide the people you’ve delegated to. Make sure they understand that you are behind them no matter what, and you will always provide your opinions and experience.
You are not there to micro-manage, and following the “Framework of We” you will be able to express and guide your colleague much more positively and productively.
👩🦯 Define the desired outcome and boundaries
Delegating doesn’t mean throwing away. If you are in a position where you are privileged enough to have people to delegate to, make sure you delegate while providing a clear outcome on what you are expecting.
An outcome is a destination; it tells your people what to do but how to do it. Moreover, when it comes time to express your outcomes, it’s also essential to define your boundaries, what is not acceptable for you, and understand what is not suitable for them.
📈 Measure, review, and adapt
For your delegated responsibilities to benefit from your experience and guidance, you will need to devise a way to measure progress collaboratively. This is defined mutually.
Once you’ve defined a way to measure progress, understand that as the “delegator” you MUST follow through and commit to review and correct course as you go.
A common mistake I’ve seen (and still make from time to time) is delegating responsibilities and leaving the people to their own will, without guidance and without proper methods to measure and correct the course as you’re going.
📡 Establish feedback loops at the start
Once you’ve established how to measure, review and adapt to the outcome being delegated, you need to establish from the start what your feedback loops will be. How often will you meet, how will you communicate failure, etc.?
Anyone will tell you, whether management or not, there’s nothing more stressful than receiving this “Can we talk” email/message out of the blue after a period of silence.
Not unlike the "Framework of We", you must agree to an open feedback loop from the get-go.
🙏 Be grateful, publicly and profusely
This is the hardest part of all for many managers. If you’ve ever found yourself micromanaging, you will get a very visceral reaction to this statement which I made earlier in the blog post: From now on, you will own none of the successes and failures of your teams. Repeat this a few times; it’s a hard pill to swallow to become better.
When your team successfully brings an outcome to term, you must publicly thank and congratulate them.
If your team screws up, look inward. In 99% of the cases, you will have failed at one of the steps above.
Finally, scaling organizational commitment
By establishing tools and communication frameworks in which people are free to express their creativity, you will scale your organization and your organizational commitment.
Stop treating people like children, remember... they have good intentions, are capable and resourceful, and are unique. If you don't, you are artificially limiting the potential of your professional relationships and you will not only miss out on great opportunities, you are likely to lose them to better leaders.
You can find our template to the "Framework of We" here.