What Is Covid19 Teaching Us?

We are in a state of emergency. Our friends and families are far away even if they are just round the corner. Most of us don’t leave the house beyond essential trips. All meetings are virtual. Working from home is the new normal. And we are addicted to COVID19 updates, which only serve to increase our anxiety.

Today’s newsletter is about learning from this situation for the future. Taking our collective experience and using it when we are next faced with a personal or work-related crisis.

Photo by Aniket Bhattacharya on Unsplash

Lessons COVID19 teaches us about alcohol, connection, resilience, friendship, pulse oximeters and toilet paper…and in dealing with crisis in your daily business

My calendar has been rewritten. The business trips I planned are gone. An event I was to co-chair at MASC20 in Anaheim is postponed to 2021. A work-shop with trailblazer Bessel Van der Kolke has been postponed. The only loss I cried about.  All workshops must transition from face-2-face to virtual. And I miss yoga, badminton, lacrosse, ping pong and dinner parties, and, above all,  touching and hugging friends and family. Like all of you, since COVID19 became part of our life, instead of teaching, learning, seeing people I love and getting fit playing lacrosse I have been cancelling stuff.  

My initial reaction? Sadness

First, as a promise for the future I bought Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook for post COVID19 dinner parties.  Then I excavated my stethoscope and ordered a pulse-oximeter. Both more useful in an emergency than extra toilet paper…
Then the data started pouring in.
The news-feed from the International Society of Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations, of which I am a member. Scientific, non-scientific and conspiracy theory articles from friends. Newspaper article recommendations on sterilizing your shopping bags. Creative songs and videos of people keeping their spirits up in quarantine. The Italians pretending to be on holiday, the Brits dancing, drinking and frequently naked. Friends and colleagues from across time and geographies reached out with messages of love, concern and support. My sadness was joined by a feeling of gratitude and intense curiosity.
Why are the Brits naked in the videos? Why are the shops in Switzerland emptied of cleaning products and toilet paper, but fully stocked with condoms and alcohol? Why are the Australians stock-piling booze instead? What about the Swedes, who are out and about as though nothing is happening? Are there truly national differences in how we react to a sense of impending doom?  
As a coach and a consultant I support teams to manage global transformations and individuals to achieve internal transformations.  I am fascinated by what scares us. By what motivates and excites us. But mostly by how we can use that knowledge to grow and to perform.
We are currently experiencing a collective and crucial lesson about our humanity. We are being taught about the importance of connecting to others. About creativity and what we need to do to maintain resilience. This is not a situation any of us would have wished for but despite the trauma, the anxiety and the lock-down, it also provides us with the gift of knowledge on how to master a crisis, both in our personal and work lives.

What was safe, is safe no longer. The people we turn to in times of crisis, the people we love, could now transmit a potentially deadly virus to us. The touch we took for granted is suddenly forbidden. The few things we truly need to have and do to feel calm, productive and effective are clearly highlighted. The nice to haves have been stripped away.  
So what can this situation teach us about dealing with other situations where a safe environment becomes threatening?

At a recent conference I asked audience members to stand up if they have experienced a reorg or an M&A situation. 80% had.  Workplace transformations affect us much like COVID19. Our environment is no longer safe. Managers we trusted might have to tell us we are losing our jobs. Our team-members may suddenly be competing for our jobs.
While we might think the pandemic is worse. In some ways I think it is not. Before corona we are all equal.  Fear is permissible. Irrational behavior is on some levels universal. We feel we can take some steps to minimize the risk. During organisational change the situation is different: the environment is unpredictable., uncontrollable and showing fear is a weakness.

This pandemic reminds us about the key things humans need to manage high pressure situations: good leadership, trustworthy data and transparent communication, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose, and as much clarity as possible on what is and what is to come.

Additionally we need to feel connected. Within our teams, with our managers, to the larger goal of the organisation, to a sense of being in something together. This is critical for mastering transformations together.

In recent weeks the more we have been disconnected the more we have sought connection via whatsapp, sharing funny videos, singing on balconies etc.  

When we are scared and worried and isolated, and we cannot connect,  we seek to control our environment. For example by hoarding toilet paper….

If you are leading a transformation or supporting teams through a reorganization you can do well to take these lessons into account. Acknowledge that your team is feeling insecure, even if they are not voicing it. Interpret behaviours with compassion in the context of your current situation.  Be transparent, be honest, provide clear direction, where possible. Provide timelines for when you will give direction, if you are not in the position to do so immediately. The only thing worse than uncertainty is the fear that your team leaders , or politicians, are not telling you the truth. Act with speed and with compassion. Remember that teams feel connected whether the team works well or not. There are connections to those who are leaving. There are connections between those who stay. Celebrate and acknowledge that connection where possible in both situations. Ignore this at your peril.

And remember to take care of yourself as well. A nation or a team without a leader, or with an incapacitated leader, is a nation under pressure, as we can see if we look across the channel. 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday weekend.