The covid 19 virus crisis puts at risk many aspects of our personal and working lives. In response, both immediate action and an unusual passivity have been called for – and all points in between. We are responding by exercising our leadership in various ways. This is teaching us, not for the first time, that what seems like doing nothing, is in fact a way of taking the lead. Staying at home requires self-leadership. This is not an obvious leadership act in many peoples’ view.
Both the home and workplace have become places where leadership qualities and skills such as vision, the ability to organize and reorganize people and resources, manage resources efficiently, staying calm, behaving with integrity and dignity and continuing to do the right things, are so important. As the tasks at hand take over, people’s roles, training and common sense come to the fore. The chain of leadership is more closely observed. We wait for daily and periodic government announcements – more-so than before. Some of us feel confident that ‘the science’ is visibly leading us as well as the politics. Some of us are aware that across the world, there are many sciences informing decision making. Our confidence in so called ‘high-level’ leadership takes a knock as some words and behaviours do not seem right. Some people are flaunting the science led advice. We spend days raking over rights and wrongs, what to do and who to trust. Our hope for a turn for the better co-exists with our anxiety about the present. We realise our real need for trust of course lies with our trust in ourselves as well as with each other. Exercising that is what will make the difference.
One of my clients – a front line leader who talks to me about her work, perceives and describes a current parallel process between the workplace and the home. She reflects on her experience of covid 19 so far, as a series of phases. She has given her permission for me to summarize her account:
Phase one – acute phase.
We are locked down. We have to change how we work and how we live at home. It is ‘all hands on deck’. We both over prepare and are underprepared. There is too much stuff and not enough of some of what we need. There is no panic as we all know what we’re doing. When people are asked to do what we need them to do, they just do it – no question – save some clarification. There is definitely no panic – just palpable and purposeful action. Everyone is just getting on with it. There is belief that we will innovate the means to do whatever needs to be done, despite some external narrative to the contrary. There is a confidence amongst us that we will create the capacity needed.
Then comes the second phase – or adjustment phase, as she called it.
The emergency response has happened and is in full swing. There is a confidence that things are stable. At the same time, there is a knowingness that ‘it’ is not going away yet. There is a collective realization that we’re going to be working alongside covid 19 for months; some acknowledgment and some acceptance of that plus a determination to succeed. There is also acknowledgement at his point that is not safe to return to old ways and that it will not be possible to do so for some considerable time. The conflicts about PPE and social distancing seem like fodder for the media while we get on doing what we have to do. The media prods and probes for an emotional response. Some people give in to it and see it as means to an end for the sake of others and our own. Social distancing at work and home plus the patient backlog gains our full attention. We are trying to get our heads around it all. The emergence of new language is observed as we find inventive and expedient ways of communicating. IT skills develop faster than ever. They cannot be avoided now – haha!
The third phase.
Versions of rationale for the situation and strategies for what to do about it are emerging in spontaneous meetings. There is blame in the air and some relational difficulties are showing – signs that although we have been coping, more stress is around than we’d noticed so far. People’s needs are being expressed and there is a sense that a new aspect of our leadership is required. The needs of some personalities are exposed. An even more human response is sought as anxiety, a little hopelessness and some despair is expressed. Status, roles and previous routines are replaced with new leadership responses and new purposes. Adaptability is required of everyone and this needs to be made clear to all, as well as the offer of support, to make it so.
Our subsequent conversation went on to try to make sense of a fuller picture.
A leadership challenge now is to capture what is being learned from the crisis. Specifically, to continue with all that has worked well in our response and all that is good for us as people, our places and our environment. Those who can capture all that is learned and use it to enhance our situations are true leaders. Leadership is about the ability to learn well from experiences. This means being appreciative about all that is before us and changing all that needs changing.
A lifelong friend recently reminded me of the age-old maxim that says that history shows us that the human species does not learn from its mistakes. He cited the fact that our ongoing choice as groups of people to create wars at global level and our inability to form trusting and peaceful relationships at any level, are evidence that we don’t really learn. I found that sad but heard his truth in it. We went on to consider the idea that some people are perceiving and describing the covid 19 crisis as a war against an invisible enemy and as such, we are presented with a common enemy for the whole human race. We wondered if this might bring us closer together as a species – as we watched some countries continue to insult each other and bicker. We also observed that my friend is very much a realist. He is an artist and paints with a literal eye – realism is his thing. He is not inspired by the impressionists let alone the cubists or surrealists. He sees the facts as they literally present themselves to him. Some people see the possibilities and not so much the facts. Seeing the possibilities alone does not create change. New realities are needed for the grounding of possibilities. Combining our realities with the possibilities and processing through good decision making, is how we learn from our experiences and co-create change. That is potentially happening on a significant scale right now across the world. The leadership challenge is to make that effort sustainable and apply it to all that is good for us as people, our relationships, our places and our environments. That would be leadership learning in action.
At Headscape Counselling and Therapy Services and Appreciative.org.uk we are committed to helping you identify what is causing you the most stress at this time and what you can do in support of yourself. This can take the form of therapeutic or coaching based interventions. We are also able to help you spot signs of stress and discomfort in your personal and working relationships as well as those you perceive in others – even when it is just a feeling in your bones – with a view to helping you make any changes to enhance situations. We are keen to support people and organizations to stay safe, psychologically and socially, and to remain healthy and productive. We are keen to support leadership learning.
|HeadScape Counselling & Therapy Service|