Is Your Thinking COVID Cloudy?
My client – an accomplished, globally recognized executive – described her state of mind over the past few weeks: COVID Cloudy. The pandemic has plunged the entire world into a state of massive, systemic change, seemingly overnight. Like many CEOs, my client quickly responded to the immediate threats to personal and business health. In those early weeks, her thinking and the required actions were crystal clear. She implemented rapidly to both keep people safe and deliver what they promised to customers.
Now, the world is transitioning from immediate crisis to its longer term impacts. This will undoubtedly be a period of sustained uncertainty in all aspects of business and life. There is less clarity, even as we adopt new behaviors, attitudes, and expectations. Our thinking – like our new context – becomes COVID Cloudy.
How do we navigate through the clouds?
Clouds can be beautiful. They are also opaque and difficult to see around. They distort our vision. Uncertainty can have that same effect – making it harder to shape and frame decisions that take us forward. Here are three tips to navigate through the clouds:
1) Step forward.
In the early days of crisis, there’s a strong sense of urgency and the energy to do, move, act quickly. Yet that pace is neither easily sustained nor desirable to maintain. Action-oriented leaders often take giant leaps. And in the heat of a crisis, that can work. However, giant leaps can enlarge gaps, leaving people (and operations) behind. Worse, they may require rework to fill the gaps. Today, when both the speed of change and the level of uncertainty are high, baby steps may be more effective. Smaller steps allow leaders to step forward methodically. They gain time to adapt as the situation evolves.
2) Walk away.
Much has been written about the elevated need for focus when the stakes are high. When the world shut down during the pandemic, it was easy to discern what was important: equip people to work safely and organizations to operate. Leaders could walk away from everything else. As we establish our new rhythm of life and work, many leaders start tackling the old stuff. Yet the old stuff may no longer matter in the new reality. In fact, for many businesses, the objective or vision has completely changed. Take a moment to decide what’s most important and impactful for achieving the new vision. As for the rest? Walk away.
3) Find an outlet.
Leaders are feeling the pressure to be constantly ‘on’ – on screen, on task, on point. Many carry the weight of “not getting everything done” and “if I could just get to that”. These burdens can be exhausting. They also reduce capacity to think or clear the clouds, precisely when both reflection and clarity are most needed. I’ve encouraged my clients to find an outlet – or two. We need mentors or advisors as outlets to share ideas, develop insights, and gain perspective. We need non-work pursuits (e.g. reading, biking, hanging out with family) to release the pressure, refresh, and regroup. (See my related articles here and here.) Find an outlet.
Unlike clouds, uncertainty can be managed. Today, managing uncertainty effectively may also give us the space to reinvent ourselves and our business. We can redefine the way we think and operate so that we thrive through the pandemic, not just after. To do that, first clear the clouds.