In just 90 days, what began as an isolated virus outbreak has since spread to almost every country on the planet and dramatically altered lives, economies, organizations, and social norms. The routines and beliefs which guided how organizations function have been altered in ways that are, for some, unimaginable.
Many leaders are looking beyond the pandemic and planning on how they will lead their organizations through the pandemic recovery and shape their strategies for life afterward. And while it is always important for leaders to look to the future, envision possibilities, and focus on future aspirations, what they are experiencing right now offers valuable insight into what that future might be and how it can be realized.
All periods of disruption and uncertainty are unforeseen opportunities to learn, and during this current crisis, I offer a few questions for organizational leaders to consider as they respond to the present and prepare for the future:
Where has leadership unexpectedly emerged in your organization?
Far too often, we equate “leadership” with someone in a formal position of authority, yet periods of disruption often reveal surprising acts of leadership, occasionally in places where you least expect it, and usually well outside the boundaries of any org chart. Who are those people in your organization who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership, fortitude, and empathy during this crisis? Take the time now to identify them, learn from them, and engage them in the process of remaking your organization into a better version of itself.
What practices, policies and beliefs that were your guiding forces have been rendered irrelevant? Put another way, what sacred cows can be permanently put out to pasture?
We know of a number of organizations that insisted that remote work would never work for them. Faced with mandatory social distancing and quarantine orders, these same companies suddenly found themselves facing the choice of moving to remote work or shutting down. Unsurprisingly, they shifted to a remote model and are now discovering that their teams quickly adapted. While some teams have made this shift faster and more effectively than others, the sacred cow idea that remote work would never work for them has been resoundingly disproven.
Look at how you’re operating now and consider which practices and policies that you once considered non-negotiable no longer apply.
What workarounds have your teams developed that yield a faster response or more effective result and can become part of your “new normal”?
The upending of most organization’s operating models has yielded some surprising, new, and innovative practices. Look for those that have suddenly become the “new normal” for your operations and which have proven to be particularly effective. While the practices and concepts are themselves important, the deeper insights come from looking at how they were developed and implemented. Where did teams break out of their usual boxes to work with each other in ways they had not before? Which changes were “fast-tracked” instead of getting bogged down in the bureaucracy that might have doomed them just 90 days ago? For those teams that had been frustrated with their inability to innovate, look at how you responded to the pandemic and use those same processes to reinvent your innovation engine.
What have you learned about yourself over the past 3 months?
This question is the area where leaders could learn the most, and yet, is likely the one to be to get lost in the tumult of daily crises. Yet, we know that the best leaders routinely take time to reflect on themselves, so try to carve out some time, even just 15-20 minutes, to think about what you’ve learned about yourself over the past 90 days. Here are some questions which might help:
- What have been your biggest successes?
- What have you found most challenging about leading in this crisis?
- Which habits and practices that you used to rely on suddenly became obstacles?
- Which relationships have been most helpful to you?
- What have you learned from your team?
- What new habits have you adopted and how can these help you through the recovery and beyond?
I’ve heard some commentators beginning to talk about “getting back to normal”. I think it’s safe to say that whatever “normal” emerges from this crisis, it will be different from what it was prior to it, and in some ways, remarkably different.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is known for this often-quoted aphorism:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
Whatever emerges from the Covid19 pandemic, we will not be the same nor will our organizations, nor the environment in which we will be operating. What we learn now will be key to our success tomorrow.