Can We Talk? Can We Be Honest? We Have a Tough Road Yet to Travel
[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates. Brian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
At first we thought this might be more like a sprint. If we do the right thing and shelter in place from March to May, then we can reopen our society and get back to our lives as we recall them. Then it became apparent the virus may ebb but it doesn’t disappear. Instead, it remains quite contagious. This is when we started to consider this to be more like a marathon than a sprint. Six months in, and now this seems far more like an Ultra 100 mile race. We better recognize it for what it is.
In an Ultra, the person pursuing this feat must have a belief, a vision they can make this long trek. The people on such a trail need to be able to imagine themselves crossing the finish line. They also need to have stamina, the ability to persevere through the inevitable exhaustion in order to complete their quest.
As a society it appears we are only in the early phase of this Ultra quest to get back to the world as we knew it. Tragically, this virus will continue to plague our country and the world until we have a vaccine or herd immunity. The best case is a vaccine or several vaccines will be developed in 2021. Even if there are several vaccines tested and available in early 2021, it will take months for these to become available to a sufficient number of people that we can believe COVID-19 is no longer a threat. This scenario is only part of the passageway our country and the world will need to navigate to get back to life as we knew it.
Unfortunately, the virus isn’t the only challenge we face. The economic fallout accompanying the virus has resulted in millions of people in the US collecting unemployment. Millions more across the globe are also facing similar hardships or worse. In addition, the revenue losses to states, universities, and businesses haven’t yet taken their toll on the economy. Yet they will have a domino effect making it harder to recover from this downturn. There will be devastating consequences for people who lose their businesses, see their college become insolvent, or experience long-term unemployment. Despite the Federal government’s efforts to bolster the economy, these well-intentioned actions are only short-term infusions for what may well be a long-term recession.
As if leaders don’t have enough to contend with, we are also challenged to confront systemic racism and the inequities in our country. This is something we have to come to terms with if we are to achieve our aspirations as a just society.
In the face of all this what are we as leaders to do?
Let’s start with four cornerstones upon which we can build: Commitment, Courage, Confidence and Compassion.
Commitment - the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity. Much like long distance runners, leaders need the commitment to persevere to ensure our organizations and their purposes are fulfilled in the long run.
- Keep people focused on the mission, the purpose we are working to fulfill.
- Create a rolling 30 day plan to spotlight the time frame people can focus on. This can be connected to a longer term view, yet most people believe things will change sooner rather than later. Short term milestones seem more achievable when there is widespread uncertainty.
- Communicate regularly so people know when to expect the next update.
- Consistently message what you want people to do in the near term.
Courage - the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. The mental or moral strength to be steadfast even in the face of uncertainty. To persevere, and to withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Despite the uncertainty and layers of problems, leaders need to have the fortitude and courage to move forward.
- Continue to lead, to take initiative, and ensure people are doing the right things.
- Reassure others we will get through this, even though you may have your own fears.
- Communicate the good and the bad news. Be realistic yet share some optimism, people need to be hopeful. Don’t make things sound better than they are though, for when they take a turn for the worse you’ll lose credibility.
- Consult with other leaders, develop the most likely scenarios.
- Consider the worst case scenarios, face into them and question if they are likely to come to fruition.
Confidence - a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something. Leaders have always benefited from having confidence in their ability to make the best decisions and to communicate the vision and goals that will help us achieve the desired future state. Leaders need to find credible ways to reassure people that we will persevere and get through this crucible.
- As a leader, you need to convey the confidence that will help others weather this difficult time. Your mood and your tone will ripple out.
- As a leader, acting confidently will help your mind reinforce this approach. Our behavior influences our thoughts, our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings influence our perceptions, as well as the perceptions of others.
- As a leader, confer with peers when you need an outlet.
Compassion - a sympathetic consciousness of distress, together with a desire to alleviate it. People are experiencing various levels of anxiety, stress, loss, exhaustion and isolation as they travel on this path. It is a path littered with potholes and challenges. Leaders who can readily connect and empathize will provide the support many will need to get through this long trek.
- Be considerate of others and the challenges they may be facing.
- Be empathetic, listen to the concerns, anxieties, and stresses people are experiencing. We can’t fix these worries, yet we can let people share them and let them know we care.
- Be supportive if people need to take a leave to attend to themselves or family, or they can’t perform at the level previously expected. Be kind and people will appreciate this for years to come.
- Be compassionate toward yourself. Stay healthy, stay balanced, take the time to step back, take a break, get outside, and otherwise make a point to do what you need to stay grounded.
This is a long run we are on. Remember that people are dependent on their leaders to help them get through the tough stretches so that we can collectively complete this journey. Keep in mind what one runner shared with those contemplating taking a 100 miler:
“Is running an ultra marathon easy? No it’s not. It’s a rather challenging experience….But it is doable for you? Yes, it is. You are capable of more than you could ever imagine.”
President, MOR Associates