I realised today there are 16 unpublished posts in my drafts folder for this page. It’s been hard to know what to write over the past few months. I’ve started typing a few different times, on different subjects, but I have found it hard to motivate myself to hit ‘send’ simply because sometimes it seems the world is changing more rapidly than my thoughts are. New restrictions, new work practices, new changes to where we can go and what we can do.
Until recently, I have lucky enough to be able to work from home. The only thing that pushed me back to the office is the construction blasting occurring next door. Without the noise, I would still be in my tracksuit pants and ugg boots, embracing the new world work environment. It looks similar… I still write programs, I still teach, I still attend meetings (albeit on MS Teams now). But things are not the same. Despite the structure of the back to back bookings in my calendar, the intent and focus of my work during each day is less predictable. I seem to be more reactive. But then, on the flip side, everything I do has to have a plan. Just going to the coffee shop is a mission nowadays. I have to wonder what that is doing to our poor brains? How is it affecting our thinking? What emotional toll is it taking?
In a sea of uncertainty, when ‘unprecedented’ is now the norm, I think its important to look for the positive you can see in others. You can find motivation and inspiration from how people choose to react to their challenges. I’d like to share two examples I found inspiring last week…
We all know the training environment has shifted significantly from face-to-face delivery to a connected or online approach. Changing traditional, hands-on classroom based learning programs is no small feat, let along trying to do it in a matter of days/weeks. It takes a toll on a teacher, especially when student expectation is high, as is their need for learning support in the new technological classroom. When your skill set is physically building things and you’re now being expected to be a guru in Skype/Zoom/Teams, you end up learning on the run. Think of it like building the plane while you’re flying it, and helping passengers with their in-flight entertainment system all at once. Last week, I watched Leader #1 support a highly capable and experienced teacher when the stress of it all got too much and their mental health was at an all time low. I heard soft tones and calm words, sharing an honest and open conversation about personal experiences of stress and anxiety. I witnessed support and comfort, not judgement and dismissal. I’d like to think we all would do the same, but this level of leadership came naturally to Leader #1 and he put the person before productivity. He shared his own experiences to build rapport with the teacher and show that everyone has moments when anxiety is like an unwanted weighted blanket dragging heavily around your soul. Leader #1’s response was both affirming and encouraging to see.
Responsible for core response operations for a significant portion of the NSW state, including the southern NSW border region, Leader #2 has been fielding questions and requests for decisions at a level that has never been experienced before. Heading up an incident management team, she has support in the form of subject matter guides, but ultimately she is responsible and accountable for the decisions which affect the livelihoods of thousands of people, and the risks to business continuity operations. It’s not a job I would like to have right now. Leader #2 had been asked to approve a small gathering of personnel in a regional NSW town. After weighing up the risks and benefits, she determined she would decline the application request. The applicants were not pleased, escalating the request and Leader #2 was asked by her manager to review her response.
Instead of reacting with frustration that her decision was not supported immediately, I watched Leader #2 ask the question of her IMT. She laid out the situation and provided the background to her decision. Then she asked the group, “What did I miss?” Showing a level of vulnerability and exposure at a time when we look to our leaders for confirmation and decision making would have been scary. But, as members of the group made suggestions on different approaches to the request, and came up with strategies to mitigate the identified risks, I saw Leader #2 take notes. She listened, intently. She asked questions, with consideration. She showed an openness to change and ideas different to her own. And at the end of the session, she said she think on the information and not react straight away. She accepted her initial decision may not be her final decision and to share that with others took courage.
We expect a lot of each other right now. We are quick to judge and make assumptions on the motivation of someone’s actions. It’s not easy when I’m sitting at home staring at faces of people through a screen, but I’m actively seeking pockets of leadership in action in this COVID-19 world. I challenge you – Can you find your own example of leadership inspiration too?