• Mark Topley

Four Critical Elements of Q4 Leadership

With no end in sight - although thankfully with slightly more freedom to operate - the challenge of leading a team through COVID-19 is a constantly shifting scenario. In my contribution to Chris Barrow’s Regeneration 2.1 Client Call last week, tiredness, loss of direction, continuing anxiety and unease among the team was a common thread. Many owners were seeing this leading to squabbles, disconnection, and just at the time you need the team to step up the most, they are ‘checking out’. 

In times like this, I think there are four elements of leadership that are critical to practise systematically that are crucial to maximising the chances of your team continuing to buy-in and show up.

Of course, everyone is going to have bad days, including you. One thing I am observing continually is the way the current situation affects people differently. Some will clam up, some maintain their composure (most of the time) and some are divisive. Whatever their response, a negative vibe impacts everyone - other members of the team, for whom it creates tension, and your patients or customers, who can sense whether there is a positive atmosphere waiting for them the second they are greeted at the door.

The stakes are high - consumers are voting with their feet like never before. They have so much that they can’t control in life that any decision they can control attracts in extra scrutiny. I’ve personally jettisoned three companies in the past fortnight who failed to communicate during lockdown or have shown a lack of delivery in the time since. If you do nothing, then you’re a rudderless ship. You need your team on-side and fired up. 

I understand the challenges and have been there in my leadership journey (too many times!). I get it - you’re working long hours, the pressure is huge, the operating landscape is constantly shifting. And you’re meant to help your team feel engaged and appreciated as well??!!

Yes my friend, because that’s what a leader does. In spite of how you’re feeling, in spite of what you’ve got on your plate, when you bring people in to your organisation, you assume the responsibility to lead them well, especially when it hurts.

What I have learned is that a systematic approach is critical - you simply can’t leave this to chance, and so if that means a daily leadership checklist to follow for yourself, so be it. You have to show up every day and emphatically answer two unspoken questions that your team have:

How are you treating me?
Where are you taking me?

The Four Critical Elements


I’ve long believed that motivation doesn’t work. The efficacy of extrinsic sticks or carrots pale in comparison to internal drive. And the way you create that intrinsic drive is by inspiration. The derivation of the word literally means ’to breathe’, and you want to breathe some key things into your team through your words and actions:

  • Optimism - Google ‘Stockdale Paradox’ You can thank me later. Leadership gold.

  • Humility - being prepared to do everything you ask others to do will inspire them to do the same

  • Clear vision - simple, clear, memorable, repeatable. You must have a mantra that sums up what you expect from your team and where you are trying to get to in the next 3-6 months.

  • Consistency - make sure you follow through on expectations and commitments. If you don’t, you will undermine trust, and when that goes, well...

Show you Care

’No-one cares what you know until they know how much you care’ - John C. Maxwell

Caring has to be demonstrated, and it has to show your team that you’re aware of the things they do. ‘I notice….’ is a powerful phrase:

  • I noticed the way you welcomed that patient

  • I noticed the way you cleared up that mess without being asked

  • I noticed the way you took extra time to listen

Follow it up with ‘You matter’ or ‘It matters to me’

  • It matters that you shook off the way you were feeling earlier - thank you

  • It matters that you took responsibility and owned the problem - thank you

  • You matter to me and the team because you proved a great example of how we do things well - thank you

As a rule of thumb, think about the number of times a day you should be appreciating people, and double it. Then you’ll be approaching the right amount. Different studies state that you need a ratio of between 5 and 7 positive encouragements for every one correction to maintain a healthy balance, so you simply cannot do this too much.


The temptation at a time like this is to grab control. But as L. David Marquet shows in his excellent book ’Turn the Ship Around - A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules’, empowering your team is the best way to get their buy in, and improve performance. Yes it must be structured. Yes, they will still make mistakes. But if you want to create a set of leaders in your business and achieve your potential, you have to delegate authority, not tasks. Micromanagement will exhaust you, and switch everyone off. As Craig Groeschel says - ‘You can have control, or growth, but you can’t have both’. So define the outcome, make yourself available to support and delegate authority, not tasks.

‘You can have control, or growth, but you can’t have both’.

Show Courage

Finally, you need to demonstrate courage. This isn’t just the posture you adopt or the words you use, it’s about choosing to be authentic, open and kind in every situation. On the flip side, courage also means having and maintaining high expectations, working hard and expecting the same from everyone. Demonstrate integrity - avoiding ‘do what I say, not what I do.’ Crucially, it also means having inter-personal courage - the willingness to keep short accounts with your team - nipping problems in the bud and addressing poor performance and behaviour quickly. Use EDAP - Empathy - Discovery - Authority - Plan to structure your conversations.

When you work systematically at this, you generate goodwill, team spirit and encouragement. And the investment will pay you back. You can look forward to your people taking on more responsibility and feeling more engaged. 

Contact me if you would like support - a systematic approach to leadership is one of the things we cover as part of the CSR Academy - caring for people, environment and community.

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