We have always known how privileged we are to work with exceptional leaders, but never more than now. The conversations we have had with our clients over the last two months have revealed a level of leadership, humanity, creativity and resilience that can only fuel optimism for this country.
Covid 19 has created the greatest level of uncertainty the world has ever known. All our clients are dealing with a once-in-a lifetime event, doing their best to support their teams, their customers, and themselves through the fog of the unknown, the unplanned and the uncertain.
Ernest Shackelton, the Irish explorer renowned for his courage, commitment to his colleagues and achievements against impossible odds listed four characteristics he believed were vital to navigate life well. His order of priority was Optimism, Patience, Idealism and Courage. We have seen all of these, and more, in our clients over the past months. It reinforces our own sense of purpose and belief that although there are no signposts, a safe way through will be found.
We thought it might be helpful to share the themes we are picking up because leadership can sometimes feel lonely. We hope you will find a sense of resonance and solidarity in what you read below.
Here is what our clients have been telling us about their experiences so far.
About leadership of the team..
- Inequality of experience is what comes up most, ad the analogy of everyone being in a storm but in different boats. When this started it was assumed that working from home would be short-lived. Temporary work spaces, a sense of shock and adrenaline. Two months on, the merging of home and work life, neither the same as before, is stressful for some and relatively comfortable for others. Some are missing the commute that marked the end of a work day and feel ‘always on’. For others, the quiet space and lack of commute are increasing productivity.
- Power of connection. Work has lost the ‘water cooler’ or canteen chats that fed the culture and leaders who like informal communication feel less connected to the spirit of their organisation. Creativity is flourishing to compensate with virtual coffee-breaks, quizzes, after work drinks, and getting glimpses of each others’ home life. People are connecting in new ways and some team relationships are strengthening.
- Losing time. All leaders say time is being soaked up in communication. Some are investing time in supportive listening, scheduling non structured time to tune in to what’s on people’s minds. All feel the extra communication is necessary and worthwhile but leaves less time for execution, so the working hours expand.
- Trust and Pride Some have had to put more trust in their people to get on with the job, and have found their trust well placed. Some have had insights into fresh potential in some of their team members and new ways of working together. All leaders we’ve spoken with talk about the pride they have in their teams and the resilience they’ve seen.
About leading the business
- Clear purpose. All say there is a sharp, razor-like focus on priorities now, and more unity of purpose. There is a sense of doubling down on the ‘why’ of each interaction and a greater sense of cohesion. Meetings are efficient as everyone has more ease now with the technology, including the glitches, and how to get through the agenda with engaged contribution.
- Pressure of uncertainty. All are feeling the pressure of the uncertainty. The hope of a ‘V shaped’ recovery has disappeared and what will replace it is unknown. Government subsidies are masking the downstream pressures which people can sense but not yet fully know. Costs are being tightly controlled, in some cases salaries reduced, bonuses eliminated and the spectre of job losses hovers.
- Planning ahead. Creating a new business plan that reflects a balance of confidence, hope and realism is the challenge that most leaders face. They are thinking about how to stimulate growth, examining how customers’ behaviours have changed and wondering what is temporary or permanent. The likelihood of a deep recession is being considered and decade-old strategies are being re-examined. All speak about leveraging the opportunities for change. How to safely and viably manage a ‘socially distanced’ return to the office is challenging, while working-from-home requires robust technology and policies to support this long term changed way of work. Data protection, security, health and safety liability are risk management areas getting fresh attention.
- Rollercoaster. It is exciting and terrifying to be leading a business through a once in a lifetime, global experience, with no signposts and conflicting data. Some days are full of energy and purpose, and others are long and draining. It is sometimes hard to sleep. It is sometimes hard to be calm and considered. It is important to eat and exercise well, but not always possible. It is frustrating. It is exciting. It is energising. It is exhausting. And sometimes all in the one morning!
- Supports The lost options of the coffee chat with a colleague, the long cycle or gym session, the pints/wine/meal with friends were not missed in the early weeks of lockdown, replaced by the adrenaline fuelled challenge of managing a business remotely. As the weeks went on, the gaps were felt. Leadership can be lonely, and never more so than now. People found new ways of supporting themselves, from relating in new ways to family at home (enjoying the company of younger children without pressure of training/evening activities and older children with relaxed conversations over meals, and sharing experiences like cooking, exercise and quizzes) finally taking up the mindfulness practice they had ‘someday’ planned to try (Headspace app a particular favourite!), or drawing or writing (a way of clearing the mind and allowing space for new ideas), reaching out to people they had lost touch with, professional and personal, to ask how they were managing. The universality of experience has allowed people to re-connect internationally as well as locally.
- Optimism We heard optimism in every single conversation, even where the business was facing into an unavoidably tough period. There was determination, courage and humour and a very real sense of compassion for their teams, their customers and the broader community experiencing this pandemic.
We salute you. We share your optimism, and look forward to sharing more of the journey with you.