If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that a major disruption to your organisation can be very revealing. Throughout the last two years, leaders in organisations have had no playbook to follow. We’ve had to course correct as we’ve moved through the pandemic and those course corrections haven’t always been smooth sailing. What’s emerging is a more people-focused approach to leadership.
Jac Peters built a 17 year career with Coca-Cola Amatil (now Coca-Cola Europacific Partners). She was the Head of Leadership and Engagement. She is very highly regarded in her field and a passionate leadership practitioner.
During her time with Coca-Cola Amatil, Jac saw the business go through many ups and downs and was an integral part of the leadership shift. She helped to create a culture where people feel safe to bring their best and be their best everyday.
I was excited to speak with Jac about her views on leadership and how organisations can better support their leaders to rise to the challenges that have come about as a result of the pandemic. We also discussed how we can support our leaders to navigate difficult conversations more skillfully.
How can organisations better support their leaders at a time when we’re asking so much of them [due to the pandemic]?
[Jac:] It’s not so much a question of leadership or creating a new policy, the real question is ‘how do we connect back to the communities we operate in?’. What issues are coming up in society right now?
People really don’t want to say the wrong thing, particularly when discussing cultural issues like racism or gender equality. There is a lot of fear, particularly when someone isn’t necessarily well educated on a particular cultural issue, so much so that they simply don’t know what to say or how they should be responding.
For me, it’s just about supporting our leaders to have those difficult conversations. It’s more about gaining insight over having all the answers. It’s about letting our leaders know that part of their role is having the courage to speak up, and being vulnerable if you don’t know what to say. Leaders don’t always have the answers. The best leaders ask the best questions.
What can leaders do when they are afraid to speak or feeling ‘out of their depth’?
[Jac:] Start by digging into why you’re feeling nervous and what you’re hoping to gain from the conversation - and how can you reframe that conversation? The best thing may be to simply ask your team questions and listen to what they’re concerned about.
It’s less about showing up and delivering a beautiful speech and more about being vulnerable and acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers or a solution but you’re willing to listen.
Let’s say for example you’re a male leader and you’re feeling nervous about talking about gender equality. What you could do is start by educating yourself on the information that’s out there already, talk to your wife, talk to your female colleagues and explore those different perspectives. Take some time to figure out what those different perspectives really mean.
If you can do that, that's when you’ll be able to articulate yourself more authentically and connect better with your team.
How do we support managers so they’re better prepared to have difficult conversations?
[Jac:] It’s about building your self awareness and having a really strong sense of self. You can’t be a great leader if you can’t lead yourself.
In order to build that self-awareness start with reflection. So I would say to a leader, reflect on your early career experiences, think about times when you’ve experienced challenges and how you can utilize those experiences now.
“Know who you are, what you stand for and what you bring to your organisation. People will naturally follow that.”
Last year is a good example. We were asking our leaders to take on a huge responsibility, to lead their people through a global pandemic where there was no playbook to follow. The only thing we had was each other. So I would say to our leaders (if they’re preparing to have a difficult conversation) ‘Who is it that you’re talking to?’
We do find that people benefit a lot from reflective practice. Even just taking a few minutes at the end of each week to ask yourself, ‘What could I have done differently this week? What have I learnt?’
Where are our leaders ‘missing the mark’ in the current organisational landscape?
[Jac:] I think we still have leaders that are very focused on outcomes. They’re still managing their teams in a more traditional way. They’re less candid with their teams about decision making and less open to those broader conversations and welfare check-ins.
“Challenging times are going to reveal the truth, especially around leadership.”
Leaders that did really well 10 years ago because they were really results-driven, are now missing the mark in the current climate with Covid. I don’t think you need a global pandemic to point this out, but sometimes an organisation needs some kind of disruption to be able to actually see what’s happening inside the business.
Nowadays people want more than just a job inside a successful company and a pay cheque each month. People want to feel connected to something that’s bigger than them. Leaders would be better served having a people first mentality over a results-first mindset.