Summer Check-in

Summer 2020

Summer 2020 - like none you’ve ever known! Speaking with clients in recent weeks, we have been struck by some common themes of experience. We are sharing these with you because, although they’re not all upbeat, often just knowing how you and others are, can feel good and give encouragement. So, whether at your desk at home or in a socially distanced office, we hope you will find a sense of resonance and solidarity in what you read below. We did.


Lassitude There’s a tiredness for many, a sense of lassitude that sleep is not easing, and the sleep itself is not what it was. The normal Summer easing - with children off school, holidays changing the rhythm of meetings and deadlines, a lightening of pressure and a space to think - is not happening for everyone. It’s hard to stay motivated and energised without getting a break, a decent holiday. There are ‘green bridges’ but exhortations not to take them. Staycations are encouraged and patriotic but they are expensive and often wet. Children are transitioning from couch and screen to friends and camps with different levels of enthusiasm for sanitised footballs and social distancing. Masks, temperature taking and perspex screens reduce the pleasure of engagement with the world. Work continues and, for many, is settling into a tiring form of normal. The question ‘Is this it?’ arises. Some leaders are questioning their role, their relevance, their lives, but the energy level for these fundamental questions is also low.

Summer forecast: Uncertainty

At home, the virus threat seems largely controlled but opening up the economy has stalled and the ‘R rate’ fluctuates. There are second spikes internationally, both in countries who took strong measures to protect public health and those who didn’t.

With bored young adults back in pubs, loose controls at airports and borders, confusion around the meaning of ‘essential’, a permanently pressurised health system with deepening backlogs, and a scramble to get schools ready for socially distanced learning, there is continuing uncertainty.

Are we nearly there yet?

Like a long journey with a toddler, living with uncertainty is fraught, and more so when the length of the journey extends and multiplies. There was clarity in lockdown, a universal experience that generated, amongst other things, a sense of energy and novelty. Now with partial opening up, solidarity is softening as many continue to work from home while some return to offices, some embrace re-connecting and others resist. Commuting involves masks and distancing, meeting for coffee is a takeaway and a walk, and having a pint means making a reservation and having a pizza with it. How do we manage difference and newness? With difficulty, because it’s tiring. Difference and newness demand energy at a time we’ve little to spare, and even more so when it is to a background hum of avoiding danger and ‘staying safe’.

Control manages uncertainty, doesn’t it?

Organisations are feeling the anxiety of uncertainty and responding in different ways. Some are increasing the levels and layers of control, measuring and monitoring to increase and improve output. An understandable reaction to ‘not knowing’, but creating the opposite to intended effect, reducing creativity and innovation when they are urgently needed. Excessive control also tires people who are individually dealing with the challenges of living through a global pandemic. Tightening the screws can break the connection rather than strengthening it. Braver, adaptive organisations are putting more trust in their people, encouraging collaboration and innovation to find new possibilities, leading with a blend of optimism, compassion and pragmatism. Easy to say, hard to do, especially when you still have the toddler in the car and the destination has changed to Donegal, just as you arrive at Cork. It starts with each of us - how can we each find optimism, compassion and pragmatism within and for ourselves at a time of deep ‘unknowing’ like this?

A step at a time..

Acknowledge how you are is the first step. Our minds perceive threat when conditions are novel, unpredictable, uncontrollable and threaten our physical safety. Anxiety is heightened when we feel powerless or lacking control in how we can meet the threat. Covid ticks all the boxes. This is when we snap at the people we live with, become quickly angry at strangers, find it hard to get a good night’s sleep and sometimes struggle to feel well. If you’re feeling any of this, just acknowledge the absolute normality of it.
Acknowledge what you have achieved. Look back over the last four months and know what you have done for your immediate and extended family, your team, your customers, your company, your friends. Take a few minutes to really understand what you have achieved over four months of a global pandemic which has upended life across the world. If you are upright, you have achieved something remarkable! Consider what you would feel or say about a good friend who had done what you have done, and know it for yourself.

Decide what you most need now.There hasn’t been much time in recent months to really consider how you are, or what you might need. You have been firefighting and managing through chaos. People forced out of work may have had time to rest or try new things, but those keeping their businesses running are working harder and longer than ever. The release valves of the gym, time with friends, weekend breaks, have all been closed off. What do you really need now, and how can you get it? If you’re not getting away from home over the next few weeks, are there any elements of a holiday you can give yourself – a lie-in, reading a bestseller, having special meals, going for a pint (in a planned way!), meeting friends and talking about how things really are? Decide what you need and find how you can give it to yourself, even in small parts.

Mindful or Move. Do you need to rest or run, or both? We all know there is a wealth of evidence on the benefits of practicing ‘mindfulness’, a practice which strengthens our ability to focus attention at will and to develop a greater ease of mind. As with many things we ‘know’, we don’t always practice – but what better time to start? Even five minutes a day can make a positive difference to your energy and focus. It can be particularly helpful in breaking up long days of screen meetings. (Useful apps are ‘Headspace’, ‘Buddhify’ and ‘Calm’). And sometimes you just need to move. To get up and go, rather than sit. We can atrophy at our desks with long screen days and limited movement unless we physically compensate for the lost activity. Our bodies can hold the stress of our thoughts. Tightness in our shoulders and stomach, shallow breathing. What form of movement will help you release that tightness, deepen your breathing and strengthen you? Bootcamp for some, yoga for others, running or walking. Do the one you enjoy the most. And even small physical movements at your desk can help, straightening your back, taking a few deep breaths, noticing the feeling of your feet on the floor, the chair at your back, relaxing and dropping your shoulders. Bringing yourself back into your physical self, even for moments at a time, can shift mood in a surprising way.

Put your oxygen mask on first. To be able to lead with optimism, compassion and pragmatism, you need to first find them within, and for, yourself. Know what you have achieved. Give yourself what you need. Be kind to yourself. You may need to come off the road for a bit, to give yourself a break, before resuming the journey.