One of the best books on Leadership that I first read a long time ago is “Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment”. I’ve even got a copy signed by the author, Bill Byham. Zapp! was named the number one business book of the 1990s in a survey of CEOs. I’ll save you the trouble of reading it (or Googling it) and cut to the main theme that runs through the book: every time you have a conversation with someone, they go away either Sapped or Zapped.
With Zapp! conversations, people go away feeling energised, enthused, and motivated. Sapp¡ conversations do the opposite; they suck the energy out of people and make them feel there is little point in having a conversation with you, asking for your help, or making suggestions for new ways of doing things.
Zapp! is particularly relevant at the moment, as we begin to emerge from the Coronavirus lockdown. So many things are uncertain and that, inevitably, makes many people feel uncomfortable (at best) or incredibly anxious (at worst). There is a real danger that people fall into conversations about what we can’t do, rather than what we can do.
Crowdsourcing great ideas
In the various communities online, there are numerous conversations about how businesses and events could get up and running again, when government advice permits, of course. One of the potentially good things about social media is that it is a great way to crowdsource lots of ideas in a short space of time.
While there are plenty of great ideas, many of the online (and offline) conversations seem to be filled with Sapp¡ comments:
- “People wouldn’t be able to…”
- “Nobody would…”
- “It would be impossible to…”
- “The staff would never…”
When I am running leadership development programmes and innovation workshops, I often talk about the importance of “Yes, and…” responses. All too often, people respond with “Yes, but…” and the result is Sapp¡, not Zapp! I’m not saying there shouldn’t be disagreement or challenge, it’s just a matter of how that is said or written. It wouldn’t take much longer to say or write something like “Yes, and we would also need to work out how to…” or “Yes, and we could also…”, or “what if we ask the staff if we could…”, all of which leaves people feeling rather more positive and hopeful.
As we move out of lockdown, we are entering a phase of “restore, rebuild and recreate” when we can set out new directions for our sport. Airline pilots refer to “constructive turbulence”, recognising that a bumpy tailwind can get you to your destination much faster. We have that opportunity following this pandemic. The easy option, however, is to follow the urge to return to what we previously knew as normal. As we get back into post-lockdown routines, the temptation will be to restore things to what existed before. For example, do we really need people travelling for hours to attend meetings that last only a couple of hours? Online meetings are currently the norm, both at work and with family and friends; the technology is free and (mostly) reliable, so why would we not continue to apply this? People have been running webinars on all sorts of topics and even carrying out consulting projects. Do we still need to “go to” workshops?
Changing culture when there is a longstanding way of doing things is never easy, particularly if people are desperate to hang on to what they were familiar with. We can start the constructive turbulence process by recognising what has been achieved during the crisis period. Many businesses have, for example, moved online or to a home-delivery service.
Pushing an agenda to transform things is hard enough during the good times but doing it against the backdrop of a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic is even more of a challenge. When leaders are up to their necks in dealing with the impact of the current crisis, finding the time or energy to even talk about the future is a big ask. They should also bear in mind that worst-case scenarios very rarely materialise and should not be used as the basis for policy-making. It’s too easy to get anchored on the unlikely worst-case scenarios that result from Sapp¡ conversations.
Those whose livelihoods depend on keeping their customers engaged and happy are already innovating and adopting a “can do” approach. We are seeing that in the private, public and voluntary sectors, and I hope the Zapp! conversations, online and offline, continue to outweigh the Sapp¡ ones.
I’ll end with a quote from astronaut Chris Hadfield; “You can’t change the bricks, and together, you still have to build a wall”.