Thursday, April 9, 2020

Being the Eye of the Storm

The last several days and weeks have been unlike anything we have ever experienced before.  The reality of COVID-19 and our need to respond to its challenge on a personal, organizational, community, national and global level has been compared to the Great Depression, the total war effort of World War II, and even the Black Death.  At this point we don't know the full scope of what will transpire in the short-term (much less the long-term) with such timeline being measured in hours, days and at best weeks.  We have seen models and projections both in terms of lives that may be lost, economic havoc to be visited and being visited upon employment and business survival, and time over which COVID-19 may be with us.

The challenge to leadership - your leadership - has likely never been greater than it is now or may ever be through the rest of your career.  In some cases you are being called upon to make decisions - right now - that you believe are going to make the difference to the survival of your business or organization.  You also may be juggling issues of how those short-term survival decisions will impact the long-term viability of your business as well.  You are walking a delicate tightrope of short-term and long-term decisions and impacts.  For some of you, particularly in healthcare, you are also making decisions which literally have life and death consequences.

So what truly are you called upon to be as leader at this time?  This metaphorical hurricane is upon us and the winds are tearing away at the fabric of our shared reality.  Your role as a leader is not to pull yourself from the storm, nor always dive in amongst the lashing winds and rain, but rather to be the eye in the storm for those you lead and serve.

This is going to call upon all your reserves, courage and discipline that you can muster.  And you do have tools to make that happen.  But you will need to create a plan, hold to a plan and create some supports to help you execute that plan.  Here are my thoughts on the kernels of a plan to support your personal leadership so that you can effectively lead in and through this storm we are in.

Get CRYSTAL CLEAR on the REAL Priorities - in the walls of the storm there is a lot of flotsam and jetsam being thrown about.  It will be easy to get distracted by everything coming at you and being thrown at you by your the full range of your stakeholders.  Get focused on what the true critical priorities are at this time and continuously reinforce and uphold those priorities for yourself and your team.  Calm the waters as best you can.  When new requests or initiatives come up come back to the priorities you all agreed had to guide you to begin with.

Clarify and Hold to Your Values - what is going to guide your personal and organizational actions at this trying time?  Solidify your understanding of your true north.  Understand what tradeoffs you are going to have to make right now.  Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  Appreciate and own that you and your team are making the best decisions you can with the information available to you right now.  If staff and client/customer safety is #1 your actions need to be so guided.  If economic viability is #1 make it so.

Take Time to Breathe - despite your belief that your presence and insight is required 24/7 over the next number of days, the reality is that such effort is not only not sustainable it will actually become largely counterproductive.  Maintaining or trying to maintain such a high adrenaline pace will progressively diminish your mental, physical and emotional capacity.  As you maintain the sprint effort during the course of this marathon you will falter.  You will need to exercise the discipline to disengage - even on a daily basis - to maintain your balance so that you can maintain the balance the rest of your team is going to need. Go slow to go fast if you wish to finish this race.

Self-Care - Beyond taking time to breathe on a regular basis, you are going to have to ensure the basics of proper sleep, nutrition and mental distraction for the duration of this.  Failure to take these necessary steps will continue to erode your leadership capacity.  If your health erodes you will be in no position to serve or save anyone else.

Stay Connected - it's lonely at the top.  And these days - with spatial distancing - its lonely in the bottom and the middle as well.  One of the very real challenges in leadership at the best of times is believing that we have to take on the challenges we face alone.  This is a leadership fallacy from the "good times" and is a critical failure waiting to happen if we carry gallantly and alone now.  Find a way to stay connected with your team, with a confidante, with other leaders - or even your executive coach.  Our mind is a dangerous neighborhood to go into alone...

Sustain Hope - as hard as it is to believe now, this too shall pass.  The storm will subside.  One of your critical roles in leadership will be to provide a sense of balance, hope and optimism for those in your charge. You can only do this if you develop and maintain for yourself a positive vision for the future post storm.  You can only do this if you don't allow yourself to become overwhelmed and exhausted in the current fight.  Give yourself just a bit of space to imagine a world that is calmer, if different, after the storm clouds have broken and the sun shines once again.

I leave you with the poetic verse of Rudyard Kipling.  While the first verse seems to speak most strongly to the calming presence required of leadership right now, I believe there is strength in its entirety.  Stay well, stay well, and stay sane.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all ... doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with [Royalty] - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all [people] count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a [Leader], my [love]!” 

- Rudyard Kipling...

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions 

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

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