Either we heal as a team, or we will die as individuals

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Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday (click here for the movie clip)

Motivating your team in a crisis

The way in which coach Tony D’Amato (played by Al Pacino) speaks to his team during half-time of an important match is remarkable. The team are on the point of losing and have come together in the changing room. The mood is downcast and dejected. D’Amato takes the floor. “We’re in hell right now, gentlemen.” He describes how he dealt with times in his life that were painful and challenging. How he became alienated from others and, ultimately, from himself. He talks about the lessons he learned and how he got back on his feet. How he rebuilt his life. And that is how he motivates his team: We can fight our way back, into the light.

The uncertainty of the new reality

We too find ourselves in a place that demands a great deal of us. A reality that has made us reliant on ourselves and our loved ones. We are facing existential questions about who we are and who we want to be. And with those questions comes uncertainty, anxiety. But perhaps hopes and expectations too. To nurture this hope, leadership is necessary. Leadership that connects, generates trust, encourages, as well as challenges in a reality that may offer little more than uncertainty and which feels unsafe.

Control of the situation through rituals

Many of us are at home. Alone or with our loved ones. We are looking for ways to deal with the new, uncertain situation. We are searching for a rhythm that enables us to feel in control. Others are at work out of doors every day. In all those scenarios, it is necessary for managers to create room to start the day or the shift and to end it again too, in spite of the challenging circumstances. The necessity for such rituals is greater than ever, and their power all the more impactful.

The leader who truly listens

Imagine: a team like the one in the changings room with Tony D’Amato. All together. And a leader who starts the day by giving others the opportunity to share something relevant to them. Not pressuring, but inviting. ‘Who would like to share something? What do you need in order to cope with this crisis again today?’ The leader invites and listens. Paraphrases what he hears. ‘Have I heard and understood you correctly?’ And by doing this, he sets an example for all team members to follow. A team scoring a goal together.

The leader who paraphrases ensures that people feel heard and understood. Practical experience and research show that managers rate their own listening skills substantially higher than those they lead. Paraphrasing – tangible proof of a connection – provides an existential contribution to the prevention of trauma in crisis situations. Even a crisis like the present one, a crisis that literally concerns life and death.

Leadership and psychological safety

If a leader provides an opportunity for people to (briefly) reflect on what they want to share at the start and end of the day or shift, he or she creates psychological safety within the team, within the organisation. And if leaders also make sure everyone is given an equal opportunity, this feeling of safety will increase further, and people will feel empowered and encouraged to do what they need to do as a result. They then may experience room which is necessary for performing their individual or collective task with focus.

Cultivating resilience by focusing on learning

This crisis is challenging us, testing us and our resilience to the limit. Coming together (physically while maintaining the necessary distance, or in whatever digital format), listening to one another, expressing ourselves, and doing what needs to be done, generates energy and learning. We can therefore keep helping one another by asking: ‘What do you need from me?’ and keep challenging one another by asking: ‘What did you learn today?’

“We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Let’s fight our way back into the light.”

By: Klaartje van Gasteren, Marnix Reijmerink and Jakob van Wielink