I’ll admit it. I’ve never led a company through a global pandemic. Neither has my informal advisory board of business mentors, girlfriends, my hairdresser, or that guy who delivered the toilet paper I ordered on Amazon. And neither have you. We are all at a loss. Every day brings a new statistic, a new response, a new revelation. We watch. We wait. Or we scurry as if just doing something will insulate us from a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous situation. A month ago I smugly thought I knew what VUCA stood for. Funny how a little perspective can change everything.
The word “unprecedented” is suddenly in the spotlight, appearing on the news, in social media, and in corporate communications so often it has started wearing sunglasses and refusing to sign autographs. If you are a leader (and I would argue that all of us are, if even of our own twitchy, anxious selves), you may be wondering how you can lead without a GPS. Fair enough. Me too.
Maybe we need to return to that word, “perspective.” We can focus on what we don’t know, or we can rely on what we most certainly do. You know what you’re good at. That has precedent. Rely on it. You know what others are good at. Rely on that, too.
I know my strengths. I’m optimistic, for one. I believe in the human capacity to change, learn, and grow – even in the most challenging of circumstances. I believe that applies to all of us. Even Justin Bieber. I am also a hell of a problem solver, know more than a little somethin’ about virtual workforce development, and bring my whole heart to everything I do. I care about people, their well-being, and their professional success. Yes, of course, I could make a long list of the things I’m not good at – just ask my 15-year-old. But that’s not the point. The point is: although I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future, I know how I’ve been successful in the past. I can use what I know to help. And you can too.
Maybe you can rock a pivot table that helps evaluate financial impact. Maybe you understand how to rework the details of a project plan so your team stays productive. Maybe you know how to leverage social media to help communicate during this crisis. Maybe you have the empathy to recognize when someone is in pain and needs a virtual shoulder to cry on. You may be the person who responds first. Or who wheels an elderly person up to a window to see her son through the glass. Or who keeps the peace.
Each of you, all of you, we need your strengths to lead us.
I hope something salvageable comes out of this misery, some transformational insight or growth. My heart aches for those most vulnerable: the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the jobless. I hope we will learn to protect them better. I hope as we shelter in our homes we recognize that to be able to do so is a luxury and that it deepens our capacity for gratitude. I hope that, in honor of those courageous people who are swabbing, testing, treating, cleaning, delivering, restocking and otherwise keeping the lights on, we develop a new level of appreciation for the strengths of others. And, I hope that all of us struggling to navigate in the dark will take a moment to remember that our strengths are our strength and that we each decide to use them in unprecedented ways, to lead one another toward the light.