It should not come as news to you that the world has been disrupted. Our health, economic, and social contexts have been completely upended. As is the case in any disruptive change, we long to “go back to normal”. All this disruption is exhausting. Regular routines, with the sense of certainty and control they bring take far less of a toll on us mentally and physically. How can we plan and organize to execute the plan with so much up for grabs? What should we be doing here and now to set ourselves and our companies up for the best possible outcomes as the world around us undergoes such seismic shifts?
Some will look at our current circumstances as temporary, and plan for the days when we can “return to normal”. Others will say that there’s no going back, that some of the changes we’ve had to make (e.g., working from home) will continue, even when the pandemic is over. In fact, the changes we’ve been forced to make have called many assumptions into question.
Rather than return to what we knew before, we have an opportunity to test and learn and evolve. As Winston Churchill is credited with saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
What have we learned?
Remote work: With the right technologies and the right kind of work, it turns out that many people are able to work remotely and are even more productive than when they worked in offices. People quickly became adept at using productivity tools and video conferencing and found creative ways to stay connected – on a personal level – with co-workers (e.g., Zoom happy hours). What has been most challenging for many is finding the right balance between work and life. They’ve had to learn how to set boundaries and when to walk away from work and call it a day. They have juggled with what they’d hoped would be work/life balance and have discovered that it is really about work/life integration. Companies are reconsidering the purpose and value of an office environment and the opportunity to reduce real estate costs, travel and other expenses associated with bringing people together physically on a daily basis. Can we be more discerning about what can best be achieved in person vs. remotely and leverage each context for the benefits they uniquely provide?
Climate change: Air quality was improving as a result of significantly reduced travel, commutation, and industrial activity. It’s been a sort of carbon emission diet. Rather than return to pre-COVID19 activity, we have an opportunity to consider how to grow economic activity while reducing the stress on the planet. Climate change impacts everyone but isn’t experienced in the same way at the same time by everyone. COVID-19 gave us a shared, synchronous experience. In what way can we leverage this shared experience to create the same, collective focus on sustainability?
Leveling the playing field: Systemic racism, income inequality, wealth disparity, injustices due to gender, ethnicity, immigrant status, etc. These are founded in fear-based thinking – that life is a zero-sum game. The pandemic has moved many people. There is more empathy, compassion, and gratitude for those who were taken for granted. How can we take positive action to help ourselves and those around us to succeed?
A Path Forward
Both individuals and organizations can start by questioning long-held assumptions that hold us back, exploring new approaches, and testing out new ideas. We can take a longer-term view by challenging ourselves to view this moment from a future perspective. Years from now, looking back on this time, what would we want this experience to have been for us and those we care about? What should we be doing today to make that happen? How should we be spending our time and with whom? We can use the crisis to focus on what is most important and drive positive change.
Not wasting a good crisis means shifting one’s mindset. Rather than being driven by fear, we can make a conscious shift to apply positive energy and be creative and productive. This mindset shift doesn’t mean not recognizing the severity of the problem you are facing. It means turning the problem into a challenge that you take seriously, with a clear and focused mind. This is the power of Positive Intelligence, which I’ve been practicing personally, and have incorporated in my coaching. It fosters a growth mindset and gives leaders tools to create psychological safety in their teams.
For those of you who are struggling to plan even three months ahead, I suggest that you use this time to “dance in the moment” and explore the possibilities. What does this moment give you the opportunity to do that you might never have considered before? Are there small experiments you can do in the next three months to test and learn? What new leadership muscles are you building? Here are a couple of articles to get you started: