It’s been said countless times, but I can’t believe we are one year on from COVID-19 grasping its firm, cold grip on our lives and taking us globally on a journey that none of us could have anticipated or foreseen.
For many of us, not only have we been living, surviving, through a pandemic but we have also experienced huge amounts of personal change. Not always expected change, planned or predicted but transformation all the same. Our working lives have been completely tipped upside down. Flipped from side to side, rolled around then delivered back to us in some sort of impossible, messy, hybrid. Part “new world” remote/virtual working and some “other world” where we're suddenly expected to be all things to all people. Cook, cleaner, teacher, parent, partner, friend, co-worker to name just a few. For some, they have been with their families more than ever, no more early commutes or overnight stays away from home, and for others, they have been further apart, and felt distant and isolated.
The one thing that has connected us, that has been consistent in the stories we share, the looks behind the masks, the proliferation on social media is the impact that the pandemic has had on our wellbeing.
I’ve had some real moments of feeling like I am pouring from an empty cup, working in Human Resources felt like working as part of a crisis centre on the front line of a war zone. No joke! Plus, there is no HR manual on this stuff. If there is I haven’t read it? It’s completely new territory. With every day, came waves of angst, new information, new situations, nothing was certain, no control but everyone is looking at you for the answers, expecting you to know what to do next.
Some leaders stood firm, single-mindedly driving for the year-end number despite the chaos and turbulence. Other leaders reflected on how they would need to pivot to meet the needs of their customers and employees. Staff, not only worrying about their health and catching the virus from the person they share a desk/tube/life with, but also the long-term security of their job, and how the hell are they going to work 9-5 and teach their kids full time. I had to think about how we would engage and motivate employees, give certainty in uncertain times to those around me, when I was also feeling uncertain. Then for good measure, you add in not 1, not 2 but 3 lockdowns, slogs of home-schooling, days, weeks, months where we haven’t seen friends or family, limitations on our freedom and even dipping your toe into News and social media can leave you quite literally gasping for air.
I knew I had to change, and taking the step to move away from my HR role was the antidote I needed to get into a different type of stride needed in my life. In some ways, the pandemic and I have co-created this together! Part circumstantial, partly driven by my need to be able to make a greater contribution and impact to a world that has been through 10 rounds with a heavyweight pandemic.
So one year on….what have I learnt…
Great leadership is about empathy and authenticity. Whether you’re a CEO of a large corporate or the chief at your table being able to listen, really listen and demonstrate that you get it, that you understand and that you care is about as simple as it gets. That is why people will want to work for you. It’s not because of your creds, or your black book of contacts, or how many £££ you have in the bank. That stuff matters but it’s not everything. The leaders who care the most get the most out of their people. Coupled with living by your values, being you, no corporate BS, no spin by the marketing department just being you is what creates connection and followship and will ultimately affect whether or not somebody chooses to work for you or not.
It’s ok to find this really hard and it would be kind of weird if you didn’t. I remember (rather naively) saying to myself back in March 2020, “oh it’s a good thing that I am not affected by stuff like this”. I chuckle now, over the last 12 months I have experienced some of my lowest lows…I’ve felt hopeless, felt like everyone was coping better than me. Confused as to why I seemed to be the one finding it so difficult. What we’ve been through is huge, enormous, everything we know, and trust has been stripped away from us in one-way shape, or form, so it’s ok and normal to find this hard. And actually by telling someone else that you are finding it hard will most likely make them feel better, which then makes you feel better because you have helped them! It’s funny how this stuff works but it does!
Being vulnerable is probably the bravest thing you can do. Ousting your fears, your worries, those shameful secrets you keep tucked away not only propels you forward but also deepens and strengthens your connection with yourself and with others. Take the plunge and talk to a friend about what is really going on, tell your manager you are struggling, tell your kid you don’t know what will happen, but you are here for them. It’s much better “out there” than festering inside. That stuff will grow legs, and arms and eat you up if you don’t.
Growth comes at what can feel like the strangest times. I’ve always been the sort of person that has scheduled in “learning” time….things like…having time in my diary time on a Friday for “learn and grow” time! Seriously! I did! Yes, I can read a book, a blog, watch a Ted talk but true learning, true growth, true development comes in the strangest shapes and forms. During times of adversity, through struggles, by sidestepping over your comfort zone into the unknown. By doing something and doing it completely wrong! Growth is unplanned, messy (think about how a toddler learns to walk!) it’s not linear. It’s continuous, ongoing, it doesn’t start and stop. If you are conscious with it, observing those marginal gains you have made, like a gardener would with new seedlings on the windowsill, you will start to see how those small steps, those teeny tiny baby steps become strides, and you are bounding forward into what can be.
The question now is where do we go from here?
Are we looking down the lens of transformational change and new possibilities or are we just going to go back to how we were before? Are we going to let the last 12 months be left to the historians to document or are we going to use it to be stronger, greater, and more purposeful in our intentions?
What are the lessons we want to teach our children and their children about living through a pandemic?
What have been the gifts we have been given from the pandemic?
As Leaders how are you going to use this opportunity to show your employees that they matter? That the slog, the effort, the tenacity wasn’t for nothing? What steps are you going to take to grow from here?
And for you, for each and every one of you that has found this difficult, has experienced shock, change, fear, worry, exhaustion and panic…you are not alone. We all have. If you look back, like that gardener with his seedings, you will see how you have grown over the last year. How you have faced the adversity and come out the other side. Despite it feeling like groundhog day you have managed to keep one step in front of another. And for that you should be proud.
A year ago we were facing this pandemic with trepidation and cautious steps. Now we have the opportunity, to turn those steps into strides. To take what we learnt and experienced and use that to create better lives, to be better leaders, to do better work and to create better communities.
If you want to turn small steps into strides for yourself and/or your teams why not reach out to me at email@example.com