Ok, folks, it is time for some unprecedented thinking about these unprecedented times we are living through. Labor Day is just around the corner and our colleagues – all of our colleagues – are experiencing levels of anxiety that will impact everything: their personal lives, their workplace performance, their community engagement…and their long-term outlook. As most business organizations move into the final third of their fiscal year, which in any other year would be a time of forecasting yearend and beginning plans for 2021, we instead are facing mostly uncertainty.
If your colleagues have school-age children or students in college, they are managing a level of disruption that cannot be underestimated. If you have ‘essential employees’ on the front lines of health care or service industry sectors, they are operating on fumes – and likely have been contacted about efforts to organize to give them more leverage and support in the workplace of the future. Beyond the pandemic, we have a consequential election in two months, likely impacting the direction of our nation on issues from race relations to health care access to how the United States is viewed around the world. And living in Minnesota, I was just reading an article about the emerging dread with which people are anticipating colder weather, when using nature as the balm for these stressful times will be less compelling (that is putting it diplomatically). And as one woman was quoted: “I’ve already told my elderly parents that we probably can’t celebrate the holidays together.” Ugh.
In summary, the need for leadership in our workplaces has never been more complicated or so essential. And the planning processes of ‘normal times’ are really not relevant. How to approach organizational leadership in this next tranche of the pandemic’s hold on our lives? A few key elements come to mind:
We really can’t know how the stresses of these circumstances are impacting our colleagues. So, optimizing flexibility will continue to be essential, as will creating safe spaces for them to share concerns with colleagues and find support from each other.
Much as people are needing to cope with personal realities, they also want to survive, if not thrive, in this time professionally. So, laying out priorities, ensuring that team members can understand how the organization will define success during this experience, is critical. Stressing WHAT needs to be accomplished, while challenging colleagues to help define the HOW, may be a useful construct to keep in mind.
No organizational leader wants to stand up (virtually) in front of their teams and acknowledge that we don’t know what is going to happen next. But honestly, we don’t know what is coming next, so get prepared for that humble confession. We all need to adjust to the notion that plans are tentative and will be adapted to evolving realities. That means changing how we think about risks and reward-systems, too.
We all need to be open to possibilities that might have seemed too risky or too extreme in another time. Undertaking a transformative change or a dramatic shift in approach can have the benefit of feeling back ‘on offense,’ rather than the defensive posture most businesses have had to adopt in the early months of this pandemic and economic meltdown.
Finally, a word on ‘self-care’ for organizational leaders: It is instinctive to show optimism in a leadership role, and your colleagues count on you to bring it. But use some caution in these next planning weeks and months. There is more outside of your control than perhaps any time in your career. So, yes to reflecting those things you can confidently assess; but acknowledge the uncertainties and prepare your colleagues for more challenges ahead. Good luck!