We won’t miss one of the largest pandemics in history. But there were silver linings in parallel to suffering, isolation, and heartbreak.
Leaders bent, flexed, and almost broke trying to catch all the changes we experienced globally.
Every leader was given at least two gifts during the COVID 19 pandemic. Using both of these gifts is a game-changer in how Leaders move forward to create the enterprises, teams, and impact we always knew we could.
You are doing your best to create meaningful clarity in what to do now…with the information we have at this moment. No other time has the saying, “if you don’t like it, wait 5 min and it will change” been more accurate.
How do you lead a team when you don’t know where you’re going yourself?
The owner and M.D. of a medical clinic specializing in the latest therapeutic approaches and advances in inner and outer women’s wellness treatments described her experiences dealing with the pandemic. She saw a revolving door of staff that were either sick, scared, quarantined or transitioning, and worked double-time trying to keep her business open.
“There were times I had to come in to do the accounting and appointment bookings myself. That’s not the skill I’m best at in running my business.”
Picture the way Playdough reshapes, stretches, comes back together, imprints with different ideas to reflect (albeit sometimes backward!). Oddly the more we played with Playdough, the more soft, warm, and malleable it became. Have you become more soft, warm, and malleable? Exactly the opposite??
So, what are these gifts??
Pre-pandemic you might have found yourself saying…
“I wish my people would just tell me what they really want (vs. complaining).”
“Everyone is going in different directions. What are our priorities?”
“We are too focused on the bottom line and staying alive to really thrive.”
“I’m not sure I trust my team if I can’t see them.”
“We don’t have the infrastructure to provide a work-from-anywhere team.”
“Are they just here for the paycheck?”
“Is this what I signed up for?”
“Everything seems fine, let’s just keep doing exactly what we’re doing.”
“I’ll never get off this hamster wheel of hustle trying to lead this team and run this business.”
If any (or all) of these resonated with you, you’re not alone.
Think back to January 2020. The world remained unchanged. Drive fast. Optimize schedules. Get the job done. Pack it all in. Go to sleep. And, do it again the next day. We were barely surviving in some ways, perhaps thriving in others. We were more productive because of everything we were juggling. Or, so we thought.
Did we know what we really wanted or were we just numb to the hustle?
By April 2020, one of two things generally happened. The pace went up as you tried to do what you were doing before in addition to managing uncertainty, change, and fear. Or, the pace neared a full-stop as work postponed around you, went completely virtual, and/or indefinitely paused. Feelings of scarcity skyrocketed. Just as a circle eventually comes back to the same place whether you take the right path or the left path, we received extreme clarity of what we wanted and what we could no longer do in our lives.
What were your clarifying points? What do you really want now? Are you still getting clarity today?
A research professor and chair leading over 200 faculty and staff at a well-known, best-in-class hospital described her clarity from the pandemic this way.
“I realized I’d been leading a change in our culture ever since I moved into this role. I just hadn’t said exactly what it was, to myself nor my team. Now I’m clear. I’ve been trying to create an environment where people love each other and love working with one another. I can’t really control whether they love it, but I can impact how we behave to enable trust, connection, feedback, and collaboration.”
Maybe your clarifying points were you know why you work where you do. Maybe you are aware you no longer want to work where you currently do. Maybe you feel why having your co-workers near each other isn’t just about efficiency in communicating with each other, it’s because they actually liked seeing one another.
What is clear now that wasn’t before?
- To flesh this out, use a blank sheet of paper and your favorite pen on a sunny walk outside. Make a list of the things you know you’ll never do again, and the things that absolutely kept you going through the pandemic. Turn the volume up on the things that kept you going! Turn the volume down on what didn’t.
Gift number 2: Everyone on your team got clarification, too.
I hear so many leaders saying, “I wish my people would just tell me what they want.” Often this is after a coaching conversation about an obfuscated discussion involving complaining about something they didn’t want.
You may realize the error in assuming people know what they want if you did not exactly know what you wanted at the start of 2020. But just as you navigated the layers of figuring it out, often through trial and error, your team is, too. Is your working environment conducive to them not only considering what they really want but sharing it?
If I’m not sure what I want, I can’t expect my team knows exactly what they want all the time.
What do you mean, is the environment conducive to my team figuring out what they want AND sharing it? Unfortunately, our role of leading employees in organizations is further complicated by a significant communication issue.
We want our people to come to work authentically motivated, autonomous, self-driven and committed.
We often create exactly the opposite response we want by saying things like, “well, we don’t work like that here” or “we tried that already and it didn’t work” or “I need you to just do it this way even if it doesn’t make sense to you.”
Is it at all surprising someone might say “whatever” and wait for you to tell them what to do instead?
In the late 1950s, a Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Berne, put a label on this dynamic and called it Transactional Analysis. He didn’t just theorize this was happening, he observed transactions or conversations between hundreds of people over multiple years (which is really cool because if we can see it, we can change it).
He noted that in the course of a conversation we show up in various states: as a parent, as a child, and as an adult.
Sometimes it makes sense that a parent-trigger in a transaction (a.k.a. conversation) would create a child-response. Such as a parent asking, “did you do your homework”, and a teenager replying, “Of course! Can I go out now?”
The way we start a conversation considering the words we use, our tone and inflection on those words, and our non-verbals creates a complementary response. If I initiate a conversation as an adult, I will generally receive an adult response.
Be very honest with yourself here. Are your words, tone and inflection, and non-verbals communicating from a parent, child, or adult perspective in the way you’re communicating with your team?
Replace “Parent and Child” from Dr. Berne’s theory with “Employer and Employee”. We tell our people they’re valued, we want their feedback, and we hope they’ll feel empowered, while simultaneously telling them exactly how we want it done, by when, and (here’s the kicker) what will happen if they don’t do it. This is a veritable mirror to what we all experienced growing up with our own parents. If we’ve been employees for too long, we begin to expect other people will (or should) figure it out for us.
When both leaders and employees changed the working rhythm in 2020, we were forced to trust each other.
And, it turns out we’re really good at being adults…well, most of us. Many leaders found their people were able to accomplish just as much if not more from the freedom, autonomy, and trust leaders were forced to provide while navigating trends of the pandemic. As the layers of hustling started to fall away we were able to see what it was we really wanted and what we no longer did.
We can all figure out what we really want, have conversations with the people that matter, and make decisions about how to go for it. Have you asked your people what they really want, what they’ve learned, and what they need going forward? So many leaders have defaulted to an old pattern of figuring out what we need and then telling the team what they’ve decided. No more! That’s a fitting leadership style if there’s an urgent task, but when you are considering shaping the future of OUR team, organization, and communities, we want alignment with what we really care about.
Have you considered sharing your own experiences?
Did you let employees figure some of it out on their own last year (vs. hand-holding them)? How well did it work?
Were you surprised by some of the results of who clearly wanted to make it work and who didn’t? Aren’t you glad to have the clarity either way?
Here are steps you can take right now to further refine your gifts of CLARITY.
- Find out what you want! Try the Barrett values assessment (individual and for teams).
- Ask others what they want (maybe have them take the individual assessment linked above, too).
- Understand the relevance and accuracy of your enterprise’s strategy/vision/mission. This is important for so many reasons.
- Does your company even have something like this?
- If they do, does it resonate with you (and why)?
- How do you think your team fits within this vision?
- Do you want to create your own team vision statement based on all this new CLARITY?
- Get support during your transition so it’s transformational.
We’re here for you.