Pivotal leadership: A side-by-side proposition

Many words have moved to the top of the popularity list in 2020. The word “pivot” is one of them.

I was first introduced to this word in junior high school when I played basketball. My patient coach taught me how to pivot when I had the basketball in my hands. Keep one foot glued to the floor while I move the other foot forward and behind my body. I could move my body in a complete circle if I moved my foot in the same direction. According to Google, “pivot” means to rotate, turn, spin, twirl.

To further understand a pivot move I realized that it does not mean I would throw the ball in the opponent’s face or plow through to get to the basket, knocking down anyone who gets in my way. It means that I would turn in an unexpected direction and surprise the opponent with a successful move.

My mentor, Mark Cole, CEO of The John Maxwell Company, has partnered “pivot” with “leadership.” This is a new approach that leaders should embrace in 2020.

The old way of leading is for the leader to be ahead of the team. Leaders see more and they see before their people do. Leaders are visionaries. Their job is to see possibilities, share the vision for success and take their people to victory. Pivotal leadership is to move from being ahead of the team to leading side by side, showing transparency, with their people.

Another popular phrase in 2020 from leaders is “I don’t know.” Leaders are giving this answer for two reasons:

Because they are unknowledgeable of the answer. For example: “I don’t know when COVID will be over. “Because they have not thought of or do not want to think about the answer. For example: “I don’t know what we will do to keep the office safe when we do reopen.”

The first “I don’t know,” is factual. No one has the answer. The second is unempowering, yet it is authentic and transparent.

This is when leading side-by-side is important to embrace. A side-by-side leader could pivot and answer like this: “I don’t know what we will do to keep the office safe when we do reopen. What have you heard? What do you recommend? Would you please help us figure this out?”

My son works for a manufacturing company that, since day one of the pandemic, has been open and honest about the status of the company. Weekly updates are communicated to all employees.

At first, the employees heard that everything is OK. Projects are continuing as normal. They will not be affected unless they lose a big number of their contracts. When that did happen, and they did lose most of their projects, then the leaders continued to communicate with Plan B.

The company was creative with work schedules and grant money. The leaders increased their communication with their team members and as of today the company’s project load has increased back to normal, there have been no lost jobs or income and the leaders comment often that this is the best team they have ever had.

The leaders embraced side-by-side, pivotal leadership and are blessed with a stronger, loyal team.

To pivot our leadership does not mean that we throw the ball in our opponent’s face and suddenly raise our prices. It does not mean that we knock down our employees by downsizing or furloughing them. It means that we take an unexpected turn and surprise our opponent with a move that will strengthen our company in the long run