While we are by no means in the COVID clear, we have enough perspective at this point for some self-analysis of our leadership during the throes of the pandemic, some prescriptive treatment, and inoculation to prevent recurring issues.
Some leaders are humble bragging all over LinkedIn about how they mightily rose to the challenge, wearied only slightly from the heavy pandemic crown they have bestowed upon themselves. The rest of us, however, are still reeling as our leadership gaffes become visible in the harsh light of a newly vaccinated reality.
For those of you who would decidedly not give yourselves an “A” in Pandemic Leadership 101 those of you who are well-intended in the discomfort of your perceived “F” for the ways you managed (or blundered) these last months here is what you have to gain from your less-than-stellar pandemic leadership:
- You modeled vulnerability in real-time. It might not have been pretty, but your team undoubtedly viewed you as a relatable human when you didn’t have a perfect pandemic plan in place by Day Three of the first stay-at-home order. Being candid about not having the answers can counter-intuitively build your credibility; if you asked for help or solicited honest feedback in the last year, you demonstrated the very thing people appreciate in leadership: authentic vulnerability. It is never too late to be “real;” who do you need to gather feedback from today? Where do you need to admit uncertainty and consult with your team for additional collaborative help?
- Fortuitous failure. Your pandemic failures likely boosted psychological safety on your team, because if you fail, it makes it easier for others to stumble and not feel like they will be promptly asked to leave. If you humbly admitted your mistakes, you indirectly encouraged your team to take risks to solve problems and express new ideas. Where do you need to “fail first?” How can you invite your team to put themselves out there without fear of failure? Do you need coaching to bust you out of your comfort zone in this way
- “I was blind but now I see.” Those blind spots you were ignorantly blissful to before March 2020 like your indirect communication style, your biases, or that short temper you thought was well under control, they all became transparent in the spotlight of the pandemic, didn’t they? Many leaders received the gift of self-awareness during the volatile peak of COVID-19, and now just need to activate that learning. What skills do you need to work on what you thought you had under control? What areas have you been overcompensating for, that are now out in the open? Who can help you uncover your biases?
- The blind leading the blind. Chances are you weren’t the only leader struggling within your organization; you likely identified other people managers who felt particularly ill-equipped like a client of mine who was doing just fine in his Director Role until his team began working from home. His communication lagged and his remote team suffered in silence. Now is not the time for damnation, it is an opportunity to provide support. What managers need additional training and coaching to do the big jobs they have been given? What team members need a little developmental love to be successful again?
- Ripe chance for reflection. Most leaders dwell on what went wrong (cue the negativity bias, alive and well in the heyday of the pandemic), and you likely had a lot of material to work with. Let us shift your rumination to reflection, shall we? Revisiting missteps without a shred of defensiveness to mine them for lessons learned is a hallmark of great leadership. The healthiest organizations are the ones that aren’t just effective and supportive, but also reflective without judgment. What is your relationship between learning and doing? What did you and your team do well? What are your top three learnings? If you could do it all over again what is the first thing you would do differently?
There were no fire drills, no MBA classes to prepare for this kind of crisis; it is our first pandemic! This isn’t about blame for our slip ups. The only finger that needs to be pointed is at the leader who doesn’t leverage the lessons into a better way forward. We have been granted a rare opportunity to see ourselves, our teams, and organizations in a different light. The light isn’t all that flattering, and yet at least we now know where to focus where a little learning, a little coaching, and a little humanity can go a long way. We can’t unsee the ways we handled the last year, but we can be grateful for the broadened perspectives we have been granted to be even better tomorrow.