As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lynda Folan.
Dr. Lynda Folan is a renowned specialist in the field of Leadership and Organizational Development and has a highly successful record of strategically developing and managing International Human Resource functions. This is coupled with a broad range of consultancy experience in Europe, Asia and Australia. With over 30 years experience working with businesses across the globe in both the public and the private sector, Lynda has considerable expertise in Leadership Development, Organisational Development, Resilience Building, Strategic Human Resources and Executive Coaching.
Lynda is a Doctor of Organizational Psychology, a Registered Psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and a member of the Australian Psychological Society (APS). Lynda recently published her book “Leader Resilience — The New Frontier of Leadership”, which defines a new requirement for leadership and leadership development and sets the stage for a transformation in the leadership arena.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My life, career and studies have spanned four countries on three continents. I was born and brought up in South Africa and started my career in a Human Resources role in Local Government. At 22, I decided to explore the world and moved to Belgium, where I lived for just under two years. The UK was the next stop on my journey, where I lived for just under 18 years and built up my career in international Human Resources. In the UK, I had some fantastic opportunities to grow my career. At 29 years old, I was appointed to my first Board-level Executive position as Vice President of Human Resource for the Hard Rock Café International (responsible for all locations outside of the US). I moved to Australia from London to change pace and enable a lifestyle change to bring up my son. Following a successful corporate career, I set up my own consultancy business, Inspired Development Solutions Pty Ltd, delivering leading-edge organizational development and leadership development to businesses across the globe. Over the years, I have completed six degrees from three countries and, in early 2020, became a Doctor of Organizational Psychology through Murdoch University.
From a personal perspective, I am a single parent of a gorgeous teenage son and l love that I have been able to demonstrate to him that women can succeed in business and academia while simultaneously being a loving and present parent. Personally, my passion is to travel, explore and push my limits. I have had the opportunity to travel to over 100 countries on all seven continents and visit some of the most remote communities in the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Moving from Africa to Europe had some exciting challenges, as did working in a multicultural environment. One very memorable occasion occurred when greeting a new business associate from France. I accidentally went the wrong direction when greeting with what should have been a kiss on the cheek. Unfortunately, he went in the correct direction, and much to our embracement, we ended kissing on the lips instead of the cheek. Another incident that involved a language issue was also equally embarrassing. I spent about 10 minutes explaining the directions to a work colleague, describing how you turn right at the first “robot” and left at the second “robot”, etc. At the end of my explanation, the person asked what a “robot” was. At that point, I realized that the African term for a traffic light — “robot,” did not translate in a European context. I learned quickly from these experiences that it is imperative that you learn as much as you can about what makes other people do the things they do and never assume you can fully understand another culture. I also learned that people sometimes make genuine mistakes, and we need to have empathy for everyone.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had some of the most amazing mentors over the time of my career. One of the things I always do is make sure that I seek out people whose wisdom I can learn from and grow. One of these mentors was first my boss, and then later, when I moved on from that role, he became an ongoing mentor. Roy was the most insightful leader, and I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with him and been able to draw on his wisdom over the years. His insights into people and his ability to work with and get on with everyone was amazing. When I met him, he was the CEO of a major hotel chain in London and an advisory to the Government. One of the key things I took away from him was that he did not tolerate an egotistical attitude or any form of bad behavior that got in the way of effectiveness. He also actively encouraged everyone he worked with to become the best versions of themselves.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Creating and delivering leading-edge developmental solutions that support individuals, teams, and organizations to transform.
To be a sought-after Leadership and Organizational Development Consultancy delivering unique and bespoke solutions that transform individuals, teams, and organizations in Western Australia and beyond.
We will achieve this by:
- Being a valued and trusted partner, supporting clients to discover new horizons.
- Constantly pushing the boundaries to find unique and innovative solutions for individuals, teams and organizations.
- Inspiring and challenging individuals, teams and organizations to grow, develop and flourish.
- Mentoring and supporting the next generation of organizational and leadership development experts.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
In my role as a consultant, I spend a lot of my time guiding organisations and leaders through challenging times and supporting them to evolve their businesses to meet the challenges of our VUCA world. First and foremost, in my role as a leader, I focus on helping leaders to build and manage their resilience levels. If individuals are not resilient, then any team or organizational evolution will fail. The other thing that I focus on is realigning the language used and building an optimistic, future-focused atmosphere. We know that if people are optimistic, then there is nothing that they can’t achieve or overcome. This is key in uncertain times.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
We all have those moments when we think about giving up, and I have had my share of those moments. At those times, I go inside myself and find that inner strength that I have built over the years and reengage with my internal energy source. For me, meditation is vital in those moments, and I will usually increase my daily meditation time significantly. I also make use of journaling and future focus myself out of the present challenges. I also actively think about all the incredible experiences I have been privileged to have over my lifetime and do gratitude activities.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Maintaining your personal resilience and being openly optimistic. When you get on an aeroplane, you are told that you must put on your mask first before helping others to put their mask on. It is the same for leadership, and you must look after your resilience if you want to have the capacity to support your team through challenging times. Once this is in place, then the critical role as a leader is to be present for people and support them while maintaining optimism and staying focused on the vision.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Boosting morale is a challenge in times of uncertainty as individuals’ levels of consciousness around their internal processing varies significantly. If the uncertainty is unconsciously triggering them, then their energy levels will be substantially reduced, impacting their level of optimism and motivation.
At these times, it is important from an individual perspective to:
- Be present with people, help them maintain optimism, and support them in adjusting their internal processing to avoid draining their energy.
- For some people, it is essential to insist they take a break or a holiday to give them space to re-energise.
At these times, it is important from a team perspective to:
- Make time to have fun and lighten the atmosphere.
- Provide the team with as much certainty as possible on issues that can be clarified.
- Maintaining energy is vital, so anything that brings energy to the team will assist, things like team social events or team building sessions.
- Lead from the front and be visible to the team.
- Giving positive feedback that will motivate is essential, but it is also vital to provide constructive feedback. If optimism drops or people become negative, this must be addressed via feedback.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
In my experience, people generally want honesty and transparency. They don’t want platitudes and half-truths, but they do need to be listened to and respected. Personally, my strategy is to be open and upfront about bad news. In saying this, I am also always respectful to the person and allow space for them to process the news in their way and support them to work through the emotional reactions.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Leaders need to plan with shorter timeframes in mind and keep all plans fluid to be responsive to the external environment. Critical to achieving this is to evaluate the strategies and adjust regularly were required. One of the things we are looking at with several organizations is making their organizational structures more agile. Organizational structures tend to be very static, and this is not helpful in the VUCA world. If leaders and organizations want to stay ahead of the curve and not become irrelevant, keeping the strategy and the structure flexible and reassessing regularly is imperative.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
For years we have focused on managing change and defining complex processes and procedures to do this. In turbulent times, we need to stop talking about managing change and focus on building resilient individuals, teams, and organizations to respond naturally to the turbulence. The number one principle is to develop and maintain resilience at all levels of your organization.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during challenging times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- They avoid dealing with challenging issues like restructuring or performance management — these must be dealt with even when times are challenging as the issues won’t go away.
- Becoming Problem-focused — one of the things I see a lot in my work is that people become focused on the problem. It is critical to build optimism and shift people away from a problem focus.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
My personal strategy in turbulent times is to focus on doing great work, building strong relationships with clients and staying attuned to the changing business environment. In my view, if you do this, then the financials and profit will take care of themselves.
For example, when COVID started, I had just completed my doctorate. Although I had not originally intended to the external environment, it clarified that I needed to leverage the research to build resilience in organizations. That is what drove the writing of the book.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Maintain And Build Personal Resilience — this is an ongoing requirement for leadership effectiveness, and individuals need to look after all aspects of their resilience. My book “Leader Resilience — The New Frontier of Leadership” defines the elements of resilience essential for effective leadership and provides practical strategies for building resilience.
- Build Optimism — this must be built into the activities and the language of the organization. People should be supported to focus on what can be done to improve things rather than on what is wrong.
- Ensure Teams Are Focused on the Vision — Everyone should be clear on the organization’s vision and what is expected of them in achieving the vision. In turbulent times people want to see a clear vision and have clarity on the part they play.
- Build your Culture and Manage Behaviors — in challenging times, you will often see organizations being distracted from managing their culture. There is also generally an increase in destructive behaviors and negative attitudes. Critical to leadership success in turbulent times is that leaders openly address these and manage negativity in all aspects.
- Keep Connected to External Environment — In turbulent times, you must maintain optimism. Still, it is also key that you know the changes in your business environment and leverage this knowledge to enhance organizational effectiveness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Leadership is a choice, not a position.” Stephen Covey
This quote has particular relevance for the work I do in working with leaders. What I see daily is that those leaders who choose each day to lead and do the work required to enhance their leadership make a difference to the people they work with. They also contribute to the enhancement of the team and the organization. Those that don’t choose to lead and have a laissez-faire
attitude to the responsibilities of leadership, damage people and, in the end, cause harm to their organization.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.” George Bernard Shaw
This is a very personal quote that I live by. If I don’t like the circumstances, it is no good to complain about them. I take action to find the circumstances that I want and work hard to bring that into my life. And if this is not possible, I will choose a positive attitude even if the circumstances are not ideal. I decide not to look back and regret but simply accept the choices that I have made and change them if I don’t like them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Inspired Development Solutions website is the link to the work we are doing.