Leading in Uncertain Times
Like you, this past week has transformed my world. Imagine a single strand RNA genome could create such havoc. Actually, it is not very surprising. We are an interconnected global ecosystem and COVID 19 has put that to the test.
There are so many leadership lessons to observe. Some commendable –visible examples of presence, calm, focused communication, clarity, and others – well, let us just say questionable.
This week, I have watched shoppers in grocery stores acquiring supplies and daily consumer goods arguing with each other, hoarding precious commodities (okay, code for bath tissue) while others offering to share what they have secured with perfect strangers. It has been curious to me why we suddenly decided that a COVID 19 pandemic would cause a shortage of that particular product!
Yet it goes deeper than that for me. What is it about human nature that causes us to have a scarcity mentality? Is it because so much is at our fingertips? For most of us, we never have to worry about acquiring the necessities we need when we need them. The ambiguity of the unknown becomes scary, reduces our world to what is just in front of us; in short it becomes limiting in our minds.
How does this translate to leadership I wondered? Over a cup of hot tea on this snowy day, I reflected when I was leading in challenging times; when the key question for me was “how do I know what to do when I don’t know what to do”. Some musings came to mind….
Think with abundance not scarcity
When faced with change, most of us focus on what we are losing, what we do not have any more, what will be different, less than or sub-optimal. It causes us to clutch onto our beliefs, our “things” and ways of doing our work. As leaders in times of change we are best served to acknowledge what is going to be different, what may be lost or changed, and then gently, firmly and with realistic language switch the tone and narrative to seeing opportunity, finding abundance in the midst of chaos and driving innovation. Some of our greatest thinking comes when we think and act “out of the box” and make do with what we have instead of what we are used to.
Avoid rumination: “Stay safe in our imagination “
Our brains are wired for “flight or fight”. We are constantly scanning the environment for threat, danger and insecurity. It is part of being a human. When our senses constantly are bombarded by social media and 24/7 news feed, it is easy to lose perspective. As leaders, if we can help our colleagues “stay safe in their imagination”, we can help them stop ruminating; the act of continuing to replay what concerns us repeatedly in our minds. Let’s communicate good information, pragmatic and digestible data and facts, mixed with a healthy dose of support and empathy while working in uncharted spaces. Like the moment a trapeze flyer leaves one rung to grasp another – the space in between can be both fearful and exhilarating . Keeping perspective creates forward movement which leads us to new frontiers.
Apply past lessons to future challenges
We have a rich history of human lessons of experience in our society, our work, and our lives. Making meaning of these experiences is critical. We owe it to ourselves to make sense of our lives- to look inward and use our lived wisdom in new situations. We owe it to ourselves to ask the hard questions that have no right to go away. “What did I learn from this, how am I different, what has shifted in my thinking, what skills or capabilities did I gain, how can I make sense of what I’ve never experienced before”. As leaders, we certainly do not nor should we have all the answers for the challenges we face. Don’t go it alone, call in your resources, solicit input from others who have had different experiences yours, put yourself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes- even if it is for a brief moment. Only then, can you make decisions and guide the way with greater sense of certainty and confidence.
Let’s all stay healthy and safe and use this experience to help us “next time”…because there will be a “next time”.
P.S. Do wash your hands, and don’t hoard bath tissue…please!