ABILITY vs. AVAILABILITY: What matters more in leadership.

There is no question – change has been all around us recently. For some, change has become a part of their daily work lives for the last couple of months. For others, it has been driven by fear of loss. For even others still, it is currently driving areas of long-standing need, as they call attention to the necessary changes & shifts that can positively move all of us as a society forward. ALL of this has been hard on us as humans.


The way we approach leadership *may* have a lot to with our current frustrations.

As a construct of our society, leaders have relied on their innate personal strengths to lead groups or teams of people. These innate strengths (otherwise known as an ability to lead) under normal operations are great – they help the leader and/or team to execute and excel while delivering on their tasks, goals, and objectives.

As long as the leader’s ability adequately meet the needs of the group/team for having a leader, team members were able to “do” what they are both good at and at the same time be rewarded for task accomplishment.


A leader’s ability is what probably got them into their position in the first place. But even more, it is what keeps them and very possibly their teams accomplishing a remarkable amount of goals/objectives during normal circumstances – year-after-year.

In times of stress or sudden change however, this use and reliance on innate strengths – better known as a leader’s ability to lead can quickly turn into overuse. The reason for this is simple and the judgment made by the leader to deploy it is kinda sound.

Think about it. If a leader has been rewarded for relying on their ability to lead, then doing more of that should result in an even larger accomplishment & reward, right?

But during such a transition, what was once a motivation on the road toward accomplishment, can easily give way to burn out and show-up as team members who are unmotivated. First, it affects those on a team that don’t share the leader’s specific set of strengths (which is pretty much most of the rest of us, since we all have our own “ability fingerprint”).

Over an extended period of time, the results of repetitive leadership strength overuse worsens. Left in a state of overdrive, the leader’s strengths becomes a demotivator and may eventually be resisted by some of the team to the point of being a deterrant.

Now knowing all of this, should we be relying upon our ability / innate strengths during the current COVID work life? That depends.

Recent studies suggest that work teams are not as productive as they once were pre-COVID. Some articles I have read suggest the reason for this is the fact that a majority of organizations are still working from home. Though this may have some impact on productivity (trust me, I have two boys – my wife & I have had to do the almost daily work/life shuffle), I would contend that more than likely the impact of the manager’s leadership style & team culture surrounding that have had a lot to do with it as well.

Overuse and burnout are a real thing. The higher the threshold of stress, the greater that capability for it happening in our workplaces. Being faced with literally trying to stay alive due to a COVID-type threat could be a very good motivator for humans to unintentionally inject this level of stress into our workplaces.

Taking all of this into consideration, I submit a thought to consider: Is relying completely on one’s own ability to lead (think technical knowledge & expertise) working right now?…or at the very least, is it working as optimally as it could be?

Could the ability to listen more often to someone else, rather than believe “our way” of doing something was the absolute best way actually help us and our teams to operate more optimially during COVID, and beyond?

To be successful in the coming months, leaders and organizations will have to shift (or pivot) not just their business, but their overall approach to leadership. This shift will require us to re-focus from someone’s ability to lead, motivate & inspire toward their availability. Their availability with & toward their team members, their availability in being not just collaborative but approachable, and their practice of open-mindedness.


People are going through some stuff right now, some of it really deep. In a state of stress like this, where they are continually being forced to use their “reptilian brain”, they may not be able to think correctly.

As humans, leaders are no different. Stress could easily diminish a leader’s ability to lead. With this mind, why not approach being a leader a little differently by:

1.) See your team as humans first. They are not resources.

I am not sure if you have experienced a zoom, webex, or google teams presentation lately, but the ones that are seemingly the most effective to me (from both from a presenter & audience member perspective) are the ones that meet people where they currently are. This means providing social interaction/contact, not just presenter-to-audience, but between the audience members themselves. Being social animals (even the most introverted of us), this makes TONS of sense.

You can apply this “social animal” thought to your own leadership style by in-part: getting out of your own way, asking inquiry (not accusatory) questions, taking more frequent breaks, encouraging team members to virtually “go to lunch” with each other,

2.) Being AVAILABLE. Meet your team where they are.

Approaching team members from their personal perspectives (or innate strengths) can show that you are available for them. This includes using their specific communication style (not your own) to communicate this availability. If you do, I am certain that you will see more motivated results.

WHY? Because you are lessening the psychological stress that is created when team members try to guess at and interpret (many times getting wrong) your thoughts, feelings, and reactions as the leader. Not to mention, it reduces the wasted time it takes for them to convert your desires of them into their own communication style and back again because nothing gets lost in translation. When you meet them where they are, you are already operating in a language that they are very fluent and extremely comfortable functioning within (thus increasing their psychological safety).

If you can understand them better, and reduce their stress (especially during COVID) they will more motivated to try harder and take more chances to achieve even greater results – for both you, the team or the organization.

3.) Show MORE Appreciation.

It is easy as a leader to think everyone is happy (or psychologically safe) when they don’t say anything to the otherwise, but if you take this stance you couldn’t be further from the truth. Showing how and why you appreciate the strengths of someone else changes the game completely. Modeling an appreciation process takes time, is awkward to start, and isn’t easy to maintain. BUT, to keep the psychological safety high, consistency is the key. It is amazing what you can find out about folks (both about their preferences and dislikes) when you implement a “What I appreciate in you” out loud session. What happens is we reflect our own value set because what many times we value is others are things that we ourselves value in our own lives. As an added plus, a process like this doesn’t require a lot of time to allow each individual to feel as if they are being heard, and can be utilized when the stress is highest.

We would love to hear the results of these pivots toward availability for you and your team in the coming days, weeks & months. Please feel free to leave your comments in the section below.

For further ideas and suggestions on how you can add to your ability to lead by being available for your team, we suggest checking out our post: 3 Ways to revitalize your leadership with Self-Awareness and our Resilience Series Workshop: Team Building through Change.

Published by Rob Lockard, SPHR, SCP

I am a certified Talent Optimization consultant that help organizations deliver business results and align their leadership, teams, and culture to their business strategy.

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