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True Colors

“This past year has been the hardest of my professional career and my company has shown its true colors.”

This is the one theme that has consistently shown up in my coaching work with executives, as well as their colleagues up and down the org chart, over what has been perhaps the most challenging twelve months in a generation.

Some executives I’ve worked with since the pandemic began have expressed praise for their leader’s ability to provide security, comfort and direction. Or gratefulness, for how their leader’s words and actions have aligned to inspire both extra effort and community. More often, though, I’ve heard about misguided, reactive or self-oriented leaders who have focused on their own safety, security and comfort at the expense of the people they have been chosen to guide and represent.

The Impact of Character

Nowhere is the positive or negative impact of leadership most clearly realized than at the functional levels under senior management: “N-2” or two levels below the CEO and “N-3” or three levels below.

Many senior managers dismiss dissatisfaction and dissonance from employees at these levels because they mistakenly believe that the employees are replaceable. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Why so? This is where much of the institutional knowledge is concentrated. This is where organizational culture and connection is most clearly visible. This is where much of the day-to-day “real” work gets done.

A Mass Exodus… or Worse

As I’m witnessing, senior executives are not only creating the conditions for a mass exodus from this critical, core part of the talent pool once general business conditions improve, but also for organizational decline.

Imagine that over the next six to twelve months business increases at a steady, or even dizzying, rate. Imagine that at the same time, 15 to 20% of N-2 and N-3 employees leave. As a result, senior leaders will be so focused on replacing, onboarding and coordinating new employees with little to no company experience that they’ll miss out on:

– Getting the day-to-day “real” work done

– Maximizing opportunities in the market

– Delighting customers

– Implementing new technologies

– Creating new products and solutions

– Healthily competing with their rivals

This short-term, siloed thinking may even prove terminal. It doesn’t have to be. Here are three tips to help leaders show their true colors in a positive and constructive manner:

#1 Look Up

Great leaders don’t step away from adversity, they step into it. They think about how crisis situations impact their teams rather than them, personally. They look at the big picture, they harness dissonant forces, and they define the future rather than react to it.

How have you made sense of the changing and challenging circumstances?

How do you constructively redefine the situation?

How do you ensure that you’ll thoughtfully respond not simply react?

#2 Reach Out

Connection is one of the single biggest differentiators in how an employee perceives their company and its leadership. It is not enough to just comment on challenging circumstances and then move on to the next agenda item. Great leaders know to ask, “How are you feeling right now?” or “What can I do to support you?” rather than “What have you done?”

Have you made the time to talk one-on-one with your teammates to see how they are coping with change? How about your peers?

#3 Follow-Up + Follow-Through

The simplest acts of kindness can go a long way. Great leaders empathize with others. They make sure their teams have what they need to feel energized, motivated and in control. And when teammates are comfortable enough to share what they need, a leader’s role is to go and get it for them—then follow-through to make sure it is enough.

Have you stood, really stood, in your teammate’s shoes? What does it look like?

What do they need? And how can you provide it for them?

Retention of a highly motivated and capable workforce is a competitive advantage at all times but in these challenging times, it may be THE competitive advantage. As with any crisis, our courage, compassion and community as leaders defines our success. Or not.

Your team is watching. Your organization is counting on you. Show your true colors.

Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting ( A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.

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