I recall sitting in the front row at a conference in 2019 when the speaker (Rich) informed us, the content he is talking about now may not be relevant in 3 years, because it’s a VUCA world. Little did we know we were all going to be facing big uncertainty in the next year itself.
While we always knew that the virus was serious, we were not sure how a country with such as India, with a big population could have a lockdown, and until the last moment everyone was in disbelief. I remember that evening going out in search of milk at 8pm and realizing everything was shut down. 8pm felt like 12.30am with all the darkness.
You always hear that a true leader is shown when faced with stressful situations, but here we were as humans, challenged as leaders. While some made it easy for employees for work remotely, others would not decide until the government had to enforce office shutdowns. Empathy is a big word, but business runs on money and sometimes while the world tries to hide it, it becomes more evident.
The uncertainty hit a new high with cases rising and no clear picture on how and where things were leading. Leadership around the world was waking up wondering what to do. Some companies laid off people, others stopped hiring, while some continued the way it was needed.
I have a good friend circle across many companies, and I heard stories from people working up to 15 hour days and being asked to work more; to companies asking employees to buy home office equipment which the company would support to pay. There were leaders who were troubled because they preferred people working in the office, while others did not mind as long as the work was done. For companies in Bangalore, working remotely was not really a new concept, but to have no office to walk into was.
Leadership was challenged to an extent whether to consider a possible U/W Recession, or to consider no spending. One thing I feel a lot of people sadly forgot was the fact that we were in midst of a pandemic. Everywhere was told that work should continue, productivity (the big word) should be maintained, and you’d have been surprised, in many companies, work doubled and productivity improved.
We teach a lot of things in Leadership right from Psychological Safety to Emotional Quotient, but I feel the world leadership needs a lesson of mental health. A pandemic is a big mental health issue. While you might feel that most people don’t have the virus, a billion still live in the fear and sit at home the whole day looking outside. The stable minds among us said we’ll take precautions and go out for a walk, and while they might be right, we all know we were not living normally.
Leadership needs to ensure that the people we work with are mentally healthy.
Are they spending time with family? Are they in the right state of mind? Are they just working or doing something else? Are we using work as a distraction to cover sadness and burn out? Are we sleeping well? Are we smiling, or are we crying?
Acceptance is another thing we need to understand. I feel humanity grew to an extent where sometimes people are not ready to accept that this will take time to settle down. Every news report of vaccine was taken as if it would be delivered like a pizza in 30 minutes. I feel the world needs to draw a new meaning of empathy, and accept that we need to assume this will be there for the time it takes it to be. We need to see the people around us and understand that empathy involves understanding mental health and assuming that people are a little troubled in mind, and we need to accept that.
While some sectors are doing fine because of digitization, others are suffering. While we may be eating food properly, others might not be, and sometimes even looking at other people suffer makes you feel sad.
As a leader we need to ensure we ask our teams to stay happy, try to give them time to rest, time to breathe. It’s good to have virtual coffee and virtual hangout sessions.
“Human is a Social Animal” is what we read in our books, and that mere fact is a challenge right now. Some people feel the need of touch, and it’s a big thing for some.
I remember 6 months ago doing an activity of Personal Maps ( one of the practice of Management 3.0), telling the team that Individuals and their Interactions are so important, and so we need to ensure that we know each other well, and we need to find common ground to interact and ensure that we all communicate well as a team to ensure we win as a team. These words were important then, but now they are much more meaningful as we all are at home, and so the right leadership needs to ensure that individuals are in the right mindset to work as a team, get the right time for their family, ensure they smile while working, and still talk to colleagues about things apart from work.
While we say VUCA world, ideally, it’s everything VUCA, so we need to keep learning and adopting and so does leadership. Let’s ensure we keep our teams happy 😊