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Direction of Travel – the Hidden Fuel of Leadership Impact

Direction of Travel
Posted by: Nigel Girling

Unprecedented levels of political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, and insecurity due to the future of our nation’s place in a new post-Brexit world challenged by social and technological change. The government attempting to recruit and assimilate a generation or two of ‘digital natives’ raised in a very different culture to that of the majority of senior leaders….

To call it a state of flux would be under-selling the level of volatility we all face in the UK today.

Yet our organisations look to their leaders to reflect a calm assurance and confidence about the future. In times of great change, we need our leaders to step up and show the way to a better tomorrow.

Above all, a leader needs to give people hope.

I suggest an important consideration.

Direction of Travel

It isn’t really about how well or badly things are going, it is the direction of travel that matters the most.

When things are bad, but people feel as if they are making progress toward a better tomorrow, there is hope, engagement, and positivity. Conversely, even when things are actually pretty good but people feel, or even just fear, that they are going to get worse: well then there is negativity, volatility, and unrest.

If you doubt this is true, just consider Brexit. Nothing has actually happened yet and frankly, no-one has a clue what the impact will be, yet all over the country, people are getting angry, frustrated, scared and adversarial about it. The UK is a wealthy and sophisticated nation full of opportunity and with a standard of living that is among the best in the world. Of course, it’s also fair to say that this prosperity is not enjoyed equally by every area of society and that the gap between rich and poor seems to widen every year. Even so, most people in the UK live in a privileged world and have a life that many in the world can only dream of. Some aspects of our media though feed the population a constant diet of inflammatory and distorted soundbites, which suggest things are much worse than they really are and which do their best to make as many mountains out of molehills as they can.  In truth – that’s nothing new. Media have been doing that for decades and probably always will.

The headline that ‘everything is actually pretty good’ sells few newspapers and drives little traffic to a website.

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    So, given those things as a backdrop, how does a leader create positivity?

    Back to ‘direction of travel’. As a leader, we need to give people hope of a better tomorrow. We need to accentuate the positive and engage people in the story of where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we are going. Whoever you are and whichever organisation you are in, you are always on a journey. If that feels to people like a journey to somewhere better, then it is absolutely guaranteed to make them feel better about where they are now… and about whatever it is that you need them to do next to get to this better place. You need a compelling and shared vision of this promised land and a consistent attitude and communication about it across all levels of leadership.

    Think about it: the direction of travel is the hidden fuel for leadership, enabling you to gain the commitment of your people, make transformational change happen, and engage everyone in the journey ahead. It can make difficult times feel like an adventure, setbacks feel like something that can be overcome together, and big changes feel like just another step on the road to better days.

    Tell your story.

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