Nearly two thousand years ago, Marcus Aurelius said something I find true even today: “What stands in the way, becomes the way.” Impediment to action, when closely examined and carefully approached, advances action.
The impediment or interference came to us this time in the form of a virus and the global pandemic that it caused. It had us look inside ourselves and our organisations in a way that has never been done before. We have taken action and adapted on a global scale only humans are capable of, particularly when facing an existential crisis like this. In many cases, not by our choice, we were “forced into” resilience and adaptability and into admitting, albeit kicking and screaming, that we don’t know the solutions to this challenge.
And yet, something happened during Covid-19 that resonated with us on the deepest human level. It had us seeing there had to be a different way of working, relating to each other and thinking about our priorities.
So, let’s take a look at what was unleashed during our quarantine and physical distancing time that helped us review our priorities, stretched our understanding and consciousness so far that there is no returning to thinking, feeling and perceiving work and life the same way as we did prior to this pandemic.
First and foremost, the fact that we have been facing an adaptive challenge, the type of challenge to which there is no clear and known solution (sometimes even not a clear causation), made it possible for everyone to put their “knower” shield down and admit that we don’t have the solution – to realise that neither does anyone else in the world. This put the leaders of organisations on the same level as everyone else. As many of them responded in this way, it made them seem more human, authentic and more relatable for the rest of the organisation.
The pandemic made it clear as never before, that we are all in this together. Since no one individual had a viable solution, it opened up the only way forward: the power of collective intelligence. Some senior leaders started listening, listening humbly and with purpose, listening to hear and understand. When you open up your listening in such a way to let another person “in”, to have them feel “heard”, you cannot help but empathise and care for one another. Those leaders who listened, heard that people were anxious, that they needed constant and consistent information and reassurance. With some clarity around what we know and what we don’t know, what they can and what they cannot do. When leadership lets people know their concerns have been heard, this makes them feel cared for, valued and trusted. Being listened to like this lowers the level of people’s anxiety enough to get everyone’s brains from “fight or flight mode” to being able to use their rational brain and get into action around how to respond to the new world and new working conditions.
In the Covid environment the best of leaders started seeking solutions from their employees, they started engaging with them more, bringing more questions to the meetings where they would previously have only been bringing solutions, instructions and rules to be followed. Consequently, the majority of employees got more engaged and involved. When employees were asked to participate in finding the solution, they owned the direction the leaders called for, and because “people tend to support what they helped create” little effort was required to implement the solutions that the collective intelligence put forward. People working from home experienced being more trusted as there was less micromanaging of their work and that felt good.
A lot of this got created by the circumstances, not as a result of an intentional effort. We were reminded again that when you have a common goal and the right approach to achieving it – trusting, caring organisations emerge.
Now we have two options: build on what became apparent during Covid-19 or prepare for a massive fallout.
People in your organisation now know that mountains can be moved, when there is organisational will. People know what it feels like when senior executives show they care, listen deeply, give them autonomy, flexibility without micromanaging and when they include them in creating solutions. They know. They have experienced this and it creates a win-win.
Our minds have been stretched by the experience we are going through. When the mind is stretched, there is no going back to previous perceptions. It’s impossible. So, going back to business as usual and old practices without examining their validity is simply impossible without massive organisational upset.
To build on what is being created and becoming apparent during Covid-19 requires the following actions on the part of senior leadership:
Let’s not scramble back to our workplaces and continue as if nothing had happened, or hope that it will return to ‘normal’. COVID has let the genie out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back in.
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