Along with the rest of the world, I have spent more than a month observing global events unfold in ways that are at the same time overwhelming, confusing, and often unbelievable. While I am hopeful that in the very near future we will be able to look back on this pandemic and clearly evaluate what went right (in the handling) and what went wrong, the skeptic in me tends to believe that there are too many people involved and too many agendas being pursued for us to ever really know why all of this has gone the way that it has. We will do our best, of course, but few will ever know the truth.
Unfortunately, this is where most of us live most of the time. We like to believe that we are in control and that we have a firm grasp on the things happening around us (that’s why right now everyone is an expert on Epidemiology, global politics, the history of China and the Constitution), but the truth is that we are much less in control and more in the dark than we like to admit. Humans fall within structures, often called political systems, where resources, information, and truth are closely guarded by those who have the most power. I believe that the American political system is the most transparent and power distributed system in the world, but it would be extremely ignorant not to suggest that our system, too, is controlled by some very powerful people with agendas that supersede their concern for fellow man. None of this means that we have NO control, only that we need to be honest about what we CAN control. This is one of my life’s mantras:
Control what you can and leave the rest alone.
Most of us are anxious and fearful because we are trying to control those things that are completely out of our control. We have a responsibility to work as hard as we can, do as much as we can, and leverage the resources that we have in a way that that will produce the greatest result. That is our RESPONSIBILITY! Do everything that you can possibly do while keeping in mind that there is an awful lot that your best efforts will never change.
Which brings me to the reason I am writing this post: After we have done everything we can possibly do with the resources that we have, there is still one thing left-
I may not be able to control all that is going on right now, in the current pandemic or in a thousand other situations in my life, but that’s no reason to close my eyes and pretend like they aren’t happening! So many among us have concluded that since they cannot control the government’s response to this health crisis, they will simply bide their time until they are told its safe to go back to work. Playing games, watching movies and eating more Doritos than previously thought possible have replaced, and extremely quickly, the drive to accomplish anything meaningful. While rest and diversion during a government-mandated shutdown are not inherently evil, when those become our focus because “we just can’t do anything else until this is over”, a virus worse than COVID-19 has infected our population: we are wasting one of the greatest moments in a generation to Learn, Observe, and Document the best and worst ways to manage and lead through a crisis that few saw coming!
We all have a front-row seat as the best and brightest grapple with how to manage, communicate, negotiate, and lead in the midst of a situation with no playbook. What a tragedy to waste an opportunity, one largely out of our control, to learn how to deal with the next pandemic! Although there may never be another global health crisis (there have been several so…) there will be another crisis in our country, community, home, work or personal life. There will inevitably be times that we find ourselves standing in the middle of something that we never saw coming also without a playbook. We all do the best that we can in those moments, but now is an opportunity to see, in real-time, what does work and what doesn’t when what is needed most is leadership.
And, so, for my personal benefit and perhaps yours as well, I am going to take the next few days to record some leadership lessons that I am learning in the midst of this “unprecedented” time. (For the record I do not believe that this is truly unprecedented. Just different than other moments of crisis.) The next overwhelming situation will look different than this one, but the principles needed to get through it will be the same.
Here is lesson #1: Never Stop Learning
If you have read the very long introduction to this point you probably guessed that this would be #1 on my list of “Leadership Lessons from a Global Pandemic.” Unfortunately, many will never get to the other Leadership lessons because they have already determined that there is nothing in this to learn. They have either gotten frustrated because they feel unheard or unrepresented, or they are just waiting to be told what to do next. Never Stop Learning! All examples, good or bad, provide lessons that can be learned to lead through the next crisis. Who are you watching, what are you learning, and how will you apply what you are learning in your life? No event is a wasted event unless we fail to learn.
Over the next few days, I am going to give some thoughts on the lessons that I have been learning, but I would love to hear what you are learning as well. I know that I will face another “crisis moment” in my life and I want to prepare now for when that time comes.