Gloucester, United Kingdom
As a change and leadership partner and coach, my work has all but evaporated in the last week, and yet we are probably about to go through enormous change as a nation. For the last eight days I have been helping paint the kitchen at home, and now, finally, the chance to think and write…
We know what the threats are – the loss of life as we know it, life itself, socialism, economic degradation, environmental destruction and the significant consequences of human uncertainty… not to mention varying degrees of anxiety at a personal level, team tensions, some organisational extinction and a monumental national debt for years to come. How scary and uncertain is that? We do though have a choice as to how to respond, and well beyond the sharing of hundreds of amusing videos and online data we are currently choosing to engage with the topic every day.
So, let us start a movement that accepts the current and emergent reality of Covid-19, but seeks to kick out the virus of uncertainty. Uncertainty and anxiety around here is real but not high. Where is my next fee coming from? Will elderly neighbours conform to the rules? Will a much-loved grandfather ever see his grandchildren again before he dies of cancer? How will my daughter cope as she starts prematurely as a doctor in the NHS in a week’s time… made worse by having missed out on four months in Africa? Is my son taking social distancing seriously enough given that he has asthma and apparently a new girlfriend in London?
Let us stay positive and link in the hearts and minds of family and brilliant people everywhere to create what certainty we can. Of course, the irony of being locked in is that for years globalization has encouraged the reverse. Now we cannot connect physically, it is technology and social media that allows us to connect and become masters of our own destiny once again. Never having been particularly tech savvy my skills have improved exponentially in the last week or so… Zoom is now a favourite, the trusted Whatsapp is working hard and children are now at home to teach me more.
The outcome for us all will almost certainly be new ways of working… more innovation… perhaps more much-needed productivity, whilst also doing the basics better.
So, what is needed to use this new found personal, family, team and brand freedom we have? Perhaps the opportunity is to learn and change more than ever before. Even the doomsters of VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) could emerge as advocates of the new VUCA (Vision, Understanding, Connectivity and Agility).
Conscious and Clear Purpose
Before we put our minds to the ‘How?’ and ‘What?’ of that freedom, we must be absolutely clear and conscious about our own, and the collective, ‘Why?’. Maybe our personal purpose is to stay afloat financially, or to learn more than ever before, or to adapt faster than our competitors to the post-pandemic environment. Or is it simply to rediscover an old hobby, create a new one, or maintain the wellbeing of self, immediate family, friends and community in the short term?
All will drive different behaviours, and there is no doubt that whatever certainty or well-being any one of these creates, the energy is clear- #ItStartsWithMe. For those of us that can, we must first be clear of our personal purpose, perhaps even every day, before we rely on others. The spiritual, mental, physical and emotional value of this conscious clarity is well known. For many, home working will be a pleasure, a relief, and a chance to thrive. In writing this, my own mind has cleared to gain the conscious clarity of purpose needed at this stage.
Are you clear about your purpose through this unprecedented period of uncertainty?
My purpose is to hold myself to account as a conscious and compassionate leader of self and family and for opportunities that emerge within the community. This allows me to live by my values of ‘purpose’ and ‘progress’ and translates into realistic priorities. I am going to change the balance of responsibility at home (do more!), prepare for the worst, stay connected to colleagues and clients, dust off the piano, have the best garden (that nobody is going to see this summer), get then keep fit and be ever available to support the wider community.
The ‘How?’ and ‘What?’ of that freedom is often impacted by unhelpful but necessary constraints; in many cases maybe over-energetic children at home, anxiety around the personal and financial impact of the virus, key worker requirements, social distancing and self-isolation, wifi inconsistencies from home, potential rationing, or just a lack of space. To keep sane through this the rigour and rhythms of personal and family life will need to become much more conscious.
As a soldier, the simple discipline of a proper shave every morning was not there for us to look smart, but to embolden the soul at the start of what might be a difficult day. New personal routines and significant personal discipline are now required. Sadly, many see routine and discipline as an unnecessary constraint. Discipline actually serves as an enabler of freedom to keep us on track and so fulfil what we set out to achieve.
Like discipline, leadership is a word often misunderstood, and a ‘big chunk’ term that means different things to different people and organisations. Right now, leading through Covid-19 is perhaps about self-awareness, clear purpose, data analysis, constant decision making, personal discipline, clarity of communication, and the conscious and compassionate role modelling of ‘trust in the now’ and ‘hope for the future.’ Planning for all eventualities, including if someone gets very ill, might also be tough but necessary areas of focus.
Trusting who and what is around you is more important than ever. I have decided to no longer argue over the colour of the new kitchen with my gloriously determined wife, but rather focus on what is important – checking on how people feel, listening hard to concerns (from at least two metres distance), and volunteering to help deliver food locally. Overall though as leaders let us all help others define what is certain every day, whilst enthusing about what can be learnt and changed for the better over time.
A Chance to Learn
To change any culture at home or at work we need to learn. To learn we need to apply purpose, discipline and leadership to make it important and acceptable for those around us. We need to learn both about what is going on and how best to respond within the physical and online communities we are now locked into. Put simply, we need to get better at learning, and then innovating, in order to survive, thrive and fulfil our short, and longer-term ambitions. When my two daughters arrive home this week there will be a ‘forming’ and no doubt a ‘storming’ to get to the new ‘normal’ way of living at home amidst this virus. We will need to learn fast.
Keeping your CV up to date is always useful, but now is perhaps the time to review and record all the personal and collective learning of this CV (Corona Virus), for use now and at a later date. A daily check-in with yourself and those around you can do no harm, and I am then spending fifteen minutes daily writing down the events, feelings, thoughts, behaviours and processes of the day to ensure we do not lose the essence of this great opportunity to learn from my children, colleagues and friends. For when this is over, how do we avoid reverting back to the old ways and behaviours, both as individuals and as organisations? We must try not to forget the true value of the wartime spirit that may emerge once more.
As well as addressing the current pandemic we could perhaps use the lessons of learning to work out how to save the planet, and so humanity. Lockdown in China reduced their carbon emissions by 25% and a study by Carbon Brief believes that this has only had a small reduction in economic output. In not using my car, my diesel emissions and fuel bill have dropped enormously, and lo and behold the sun is shining once more.
So, there is a lot that can be done to replace the buying of loo paper! These next few months are about stacking the odds in our favour, whilst grabbing the opportunity to create more balance between collective wellbeing, economic progress and respect for the environment. Otherwise the four horsemen of the apocalypse will keep on coming.
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