Survive, Revive, Rise and Thrive.
Leading through the 4 four seasons of the COVID Crisis
by Catherine Ducharme, Director, Smart, Savvy & Associates (www.smartsavvy.com)
What are you learning about your Leadership as you journey through the pandemic?
To say the COVID crisis has been a journey would be an understatement. It’s been more like a high-stakes, un-relenting endurance race that’s demanded agility, decisiveness, grit, stamina, heart, and humanness every step of the way.
Never have our leadership skills been tested to this level. This pandemic has separated the true leaders from the imposters. The passionate from the passive. The transparent from the opaque. And the trusting from the controlling. (I was reminded of the March Los Angeles Times story headline ‘Bosses are panic-buying spy software to keep tabs on remote workers’).
And, it’s far from over. There’s much more leading to be done.
As we map our path forward here at Smart Savvy, our Leadership team took time to understand and define the stages of this journey for ourselves. Frankly, the tension of pervasive uncertainty and the desire to move forward drove our need for some clear context and structure. So, we defined the Four Seasons of COVID Framework and are using it to guide how we think about where we are, how we lead, where we’re headed, and how we make progress.
The framework helps us recognize that each season has its own leadership needs and challenges and requires us to flex different strengths and skills — or lean into new ones — as we journey through.
Each season requires us to shift our mindset, embrace the new realities, seek out new opportunities, challenge people differently and ask new questions.
And if we take the time, each season will give us the gift of self-reflection and learning about our leadership. It’s about taking stock of the strengths we’ve developed, the clarity we’ve gained, where we’ve fallen short, and what we can take forward.
Season 1: Survive
March 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. This season marks our response to the global pandemic crisis. Social distancing, working from home, self-isolation and new standards is how we keep safe. It’s characterized by massive societal impact along with workplace and economic disruption.
The hallmarks of strong leadership during a crisis are visibility, transparency, and frequent communications. This season has also required fast decisions, quick action and adaptability. More than giving people access to the tools and technology to be productive at home, leaders have recognized the important of building trusting relationships, connection and empathy, when leading people through change.
For many organizations, this season established the Daily Huddle as common practice. At Smart Savvy, our Huddles continue to serve to motivate, inspire, engage and inform. Conversations are authentic and caring, and as a result we’ve never felt more connected as a team.
Above all, this season has provided the opportunity for Leaders to control less and trust more. To let go of perfection and embrace vulnerability. To be less distant and more personal, human and compassionate. To learn what it takes to lead with optimism and role model good leadership.
Coaching Questions for Reflection
- In this season, what’s been the biggest personal challenge for you as a leader?
- What have you learned about yourself?
- What have you had to had to let go of?
- What have you learned about your team?
Season 2: Revive
In this season, we catch our breath. The panic has somewhat subsided, and we recognize the need to be solution focused. We accept that the world we knew has changed and yet we aren’t clear on what the new world looks like. As William Bridges discusses in his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, we are in the neutral zone, and our role as Leaders is to navigate our teams and organizations through this time of uncertainty. This season is about pivoting and adapting, reframing and finding opportunities, making tough decisions and having hard conversations.
We’ve become Zoom experts and have embraced new and helpful tools that connect us. Virtual is no longer virtual; it’s the way we do business. We’re exploring how to deliver our services in new ways and paying attention to our brand, employees and customers, because this isn’t the time to be tone deaf. It is the time to be supportive and to learn, adapt and try new things.
At Smart Savvy, we’ve focused on investing in our brand and our relationships. To support Leaders, we are taking what we know about leadership, coaching and recruitment and are freely sharing that through content, channels, webinars, facilitated discussions and Zoom web events.
And, according to the feedback, it’s been welcomed and needed.
As Leaders through this season, the challenge is finding the balance between things that sometimes feel like they are “either or” states:
- Compassion and holding people accountable for performance.
- Optimism and realism.
- Work life and home life in the same space.
- Working hard and managing our energy so we can show up well.
Coaching questions for reflection
- What’s been tough about leading people through change?
- What are you learning about your brand, employees and customers?
- What conversations are you avoiding?
- How are you managing your energy?
Season 3: Rise
In Rise, we emerge. We’re well down the road of adapting to the new world of work.
We’re excited, yet still cautious, about the steps we’re taking in opening our economy, workplaces, and communities. While we’re not sure exactly what’s next, we have the desire and need to forge ahead, explore new opportunities, test out our new business models and build momentum. This season has a bias to action, trying new things, and is about moving forward.
While we are still leading through uncertainty in the neutral zone, there’s more clarity and a sense of direction and purpose. We are more assured that we will get through this crisis. This is the season to delicately seek new business opportunities, encourage creative ideas, foster collaboration, reward action, and embrace failure as learning.
Smart Savvy took part in the Way Forward Workshop delivered by Domain 7. It was the perfect opportunity for our team to dig deep and begin to answer: What now? What next? We came out of the workshop armed with ideas to help us and our clients move forward.
For Leaders, we’ve found our voice and purpose in our habits and intentions which are becoming essential tools to keep with us for the future. We are creating clarity, empowering our people, reconnecting with our clients and embracing our new way of working.
Coaching questions for reflection?
- What does your team/org need to be successful as you emerge?
- What would progress look like for you and your business/org?
- Where do you have clarity? What else do you need to understand more fully?
- What’s a decision you could make today to build your way forward?
Season 4: Thrive
Unless you are in the plexiglass or PPE business, for most of us, this fourth season is yet to be written. It lives in the new normal where we embrace the opportunities the post-COVID world presents. For Leaders, our hope is that we apply all the learnings from the past seasons to set us up to lead ourselves well, coach and empower our teams, build new cultures, redefine our values and establish bold visions.
Our hope is that we emerge as stronger, inspiring, more visible, and compassionate Leaders. It’s our calling, and never before have we had this opportunity.
Catherine Ducharme ACC, CLC
Catherine Ducharme, ACC, CLC, is a career communicator who brings 25+ years communications and leadership experience, in a range of industries. She is a certified coach and facilitator and is currently Director of Smart Savvy Academy, which delivers leadership development and coaching programs to teams. Catherine speaks to numerous audience (now virtually) on topics related to leadership, communications, and coaching. She is also Past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators local chapter and Canada West Region.
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