Leadership and Life Lessons Learned from Six Months in a Global Pandemic
This week marks six months since most of us started shelter in place. Six months ago this week we went into lockdown in San Francisco, and the world seemed to change in an instant.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on lessons I’ve learned during the last six months, and about aspects of this new way of living and working that I want to continue to bring forward.
I want to share with you because they have as much to do with how you communicate with yourself as how you lead in all aspects of your own life.
I’ve spent a lot of time working with my clients the last few months on a variety of these themes, and want to share them with you:
- There’s no “going back to normal.” We are not in a waiting period, life is not on pause — this is real life. We all entered lockdown thinking it might be temporary, and it was hard and daunting at first. But as hard as it’s been I’ve also learned that I’m more flexible and more resilient than even I realized. And if there’s one constant in life, it’s that change is constant. Many of us have been more resilient and more adaptable than we ever thought possible.
- Life and work are like a start up. For all of us. It’s about experimenting, recalibrating, and trying again. The ways we work, the plans we make, the ways we live — are all uncharted territory. The last six months have been about opening, closing, trying new ways of doing things, some work, some need to be tweaked, some need to be discarded entirely. Being comfortable with not getting it perfect, not being perfectly buttoned up, but experimenting, and being ok with failure, and trying again — is the way of the future, and the way of now.
- Reassessing what’s important. There’s nothing like a global pandemic and an existential election season to make you face your own sense of what’s really important in your life and in your work. Stripping away our normal routines brings a sense of real clarity — about what’s nice to have, and what we need to have. As a teacher of mine says, to let what comes come, let what goes go, and see what remains. This goes for our “stuff” as much as for the people in our lives.
- Constraints make us creative. The constraints we are all experiencing are the very things that help bring out our creativity. Teachers and schools have had to come up with new ways of educating students, managers are coming up with new and meaningful ways to recognize their employees for their contributions and to build connection. Understanding how we are more creative than many of us realized is empowering and something to carry forward in the future.
- Work has become all consuming and all hours, and we need to rethink the work schedule. Micro-breaks are really important. Setting blocks of time not in meetings but to do work and to think are more important than ever. A new way of working means a new work schedule, and the need for clearer expectations about what’s necessary and what’s not. It also means really ruthlessly prioritizing. Prioritization is not just a time saver, it’s a competitive advantage.
- We are more apt to compare ourselves to others, and not for the better. The very distance all of us experience from one another is our common denominator. And many of us have turned to social media — moreso than before — to stay connected. That makes most of us MORE likely rather than less to compare ourselves to others. Who is going on vacation and where? Who is working from a beautiful home in Palm Springs? Should I be eating out like my friends or should I stay home? This period reminds us that comparison can be tough for us. But to find a way to feel and know deep down that who you are is enough and what you are doing is enough is incredibly empowering and a relief. I find that when I put the phone down, stop scrolling, and focus more on what I am doing and what I have, my entire approach to work and my family and friends improves.
- Communicating is a top priority. I’ve written previously about the great internal communications renaissance, and how many companies are realizing how important internal communications is for their success, especially in a time of remote work. More of us are having to be more thoughtful and more aware of the WAYS we communicate with each other than ever before, since the contexts are new and different. How do you smile while wearing a mask? Do you wave when you sign off a video chat? When you’re tired and stressed and haven’t left the house in days, how do you talk to your roommate or spouse? All of us are more aware of how we communicate, and it requires a multi-dimensional approach. The Honestly Speaking Cheat Sheet is a grid you can use to help you think through how you communicate in life’s most common scenarios — and is a tool I’ve used more than ever the last six months.
- Kindness has never been more important. A pandemic, a global reckoning with racial justice and economic hardship and worry has a great equalizing and humbling effect. As a consultant working with multiple companies and people, I’ve noticed people are more distracted than ever, and are more apt to be flaky than ever. Professional ghosting may be at an all time high, and yet the benefit of the doubt has never been a more powerful tool. The power of being kind — not only to others but to yourself — has perhaps been under-rated before, and has never been more important. When the stakes are high, with a contentious election season under way, the impact of a kind word, a kind action, even a kind look goes a long way to making daily life better — and it’s so much easier to do than holding on to anger, stress or frustration.
- Step by step, day by day. Like the theme song from the late 1980s sitcom “Full House” suggests, in a time of so much change and so much unpredictability, we are having to get really good at being comfortable in the discomfort. Letting go of our need to predict and control. Overcoming the inertia of planning and doing and achieving. Taking things truly a step at a time, a day at a time and being ok with not knowing what next month or next year will bring forces us to be more in the present moment — and to slow down. In my book that’s a good thing. Imagine how much we missed before by living halfway into some idea of how the future might be.
I’d love to hear what you think. What have you learned, or what are you doing differently in this new world?