I have the good fortune to live in a place with usually glorious fall seasons – this year included. We’re mostly famous for our winters, even though they are not as long or as cold as our reputation would have someone believe (really!). But in a year like this one, when each coast of the United States has been battered first by drought and then by horrific rains, we are feeling grateful for our weather reality: after a beautiful summer, we are enjoying a fabulous autumn…all in preparation for the winter season we know will come. We know not only how to survive it, but how to thrive through it.
I belabor this setup to make a point: having the benefit of predictability is something we have now learned is not guaranteed. The pandemic has upended the rhythms of retail, of work life, of entertainment. Climate change is upending our seasons, our real estate and our infrastructure. So, for me and others in the upper Midwestern United States, experiencing our usual seasonal realities feels like a particularly valuable gift, at least for now. We are experiencing life as we have come to expect it.
But we only need to watch the news or scroll our preferred social sites to be made aware that so many people here and around the world are grappling with challenges fueled by dynamics beyond their own control—even beyond their imagination. It is one thing to have made decisions that undermined your own security: bad career or educational choices. It is something entirely different to have your context create catastrophic damage all around you, whether via climate change, pandemic or political disruption. And once people have recovered from devastation, how to prepare for a changed sense of opportunities going forward?
At the very least, I hope recognition that predictability is slipping away causes each and every one of us to consider our capacity for empathy and for granting grace to others. Can we reclaim our collective inclination to catch people when they fall, have people’s back when they most need us there? The ongoing debate about the role of government causes me to be pessimistic.
But even beyond that instinct to offer support, we also need to find the collective courage to re-imagine aspects of life – and then double down to move forward, innovating to ensure success in the future. How will our economy change faster than we might have thought possible just a few years ago: what work is valued differently? What work is valued less? How do people transition through those changes? How will use of space be changing as we move forward: in housing, in commercial workplaces, in retail? Which sectors of our society will be changed only modestly? Which sectors will be transformed?
I find myself appreciating this late autumn time even more than most years. For me, winter is the time to hibernate: to slow down, reflect on the year ending and then on the year ahead.
This year, it strikes me that organizational leaders need to be digging deep to think about leading their colleagues through a period of extraordinary disruption. Helping people adapt to the loss of predictability will be key: without effective leadership, it will too often be experienced as loss, rather than opportunity. And there IS great opportunity in this time, if we can rise to the challenges around us.
Enjoy the falling leaves; take advantage of the time to reflect; be ready for spring!