Whether you are a loyal royal follower or question if the British monarchy should even exist, Queen Elizabeth II’s ability to effectively navigate countless, wide-ranging challenges during her 70-year reign is a remarkable study in leadership. During times of crisis for both country and family, the Queen was the rock, with unwavering stability that provided confidence and comfort to the British people, who she had publicly pledged to serve above all else.
While many leadership lessons can be drawn from her reign, perhaps the most applicable for leaders today is this seemingly simple eight-word quote: “I have to be seen to be believed.” Commentators during her funeral remarked that even the hearse carrying her casket, which she helped design, was a reflection of this ideology with its oversized window that allowed the adoring public to see everything inside.
Given today’s workforce challenges, leaders at all levels in all sizes of organizations must be more visible than ever before to effectively connect to staff. This critical connection is at the heart of sustainable strategies to drive employee engagement and reduce turnover.
But just being seen, literally, doesn’t cut it. Queen Elizabeth understood what it meant to really be seen in a meaningful way. There were missteps, with the most significant being her initial response to Princess Diana’s death. But she learned. And so must effective leaders in this time of unprecedented turmoil in labor markets.
There are three key principles leaders need to understand to be seen, believed and trusted.
Leaders first have to see to be seen
Aligned with best-selling author Stephen Covey’s foundational principle of “seek first to understand,” effective leaders know that seeing where their employees are – emotionally, professionally and socially – is essential to being seen and connecting.
Underestimating how deeply connected the British people were to Lady Diana was the critical mistake the Queen made following the princess’s death. But reportedly with the advice of Prime Minister Tony Blair and others close to her, she recovered. Her taped public message where she spoke from the heart as a grandmother of boys who had lost their mother was the turning point. And it was one of the most repeated clips played during the days celebrating her reign leading up to her funeral.
Business leaders today risk underestimating the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on employees’ professional and personal lives. Frontline leaders, who literally helped their organizations write a new playbook on-the-fly to cope with changing pandemic conditions, are especially vulnerable. They must be seen by senior leadership as a prerequisite to them being seen by their frontline staff.
Humility, transparency: central to being seen in the right light
To be effective, leadership visibility isn’t just about quantity of exposure. What staff see in leaders is more important than how often they make appearances.
Leaders who only tout the “company line” in their interactions with staff can be seen as shallow, disconnected, and tone-deaf to the real concerns and needs of employees. In these cases where increased visibility seems contrived, more exposure can actually be counterproductive and frustrating to staff.
‘Being seen’ is standard operating procedure
While scheduled events like town halls or regularly released video messages can be effective, it is often the more ad hoc opportunities to connect with leaders that staff find most meaningful and authentic. Truly ad hoc connections, such as visits during an off-shift or holiday where leaders are not typically onsite, can be especially powerful because they are unexpected.
Leaders should also dial-up their sensitivity to being seen during times of crisis, when staff are stressed and working under increased pressure. These visits help answer employees’ question, “Do they really understand what I’m going through here?”
Being seen in a different way was at the heart of Queen Elizabeth’s transformation of the monarchy during her 70-year reign. It can also be one of the most enduring, powerful leadership lessons she leaves to dedicated company leaders who are dealing with unprecedented turmoil among their workforces.