It’s June. Something about the start of summer that requires one to slow down, create space for down time, and recharge. At least that’s what it means for me.
The past 18 months have been a whirlwind, filled with events and happenings that have pulled every emotion out of me. The full spectrum! I know I’m not alone in this. Taking time to think, to create, to breathe, has been pushed to the back burner.
But, it’s June, and it’s time. I wrote in a past blog about the excitement of my upcoming, one year, Extended Study Leave that officially starts August 1, 2021 (big thanks to Okanagan College for this!). I’ve planned for this, looked forward to it for quite some time, and find it hard to believe that it is only two months away! It will be a time filled with learning for me: reading, writing, interviewing, reflecting…repeat. By the way, the focus of the research and inquiry will be on Proximity Equity in Hybrid Teams. I’ll be looking to chat with both leaders of hybrid teams and team members to hear their stories. If you are interested in a virtual chat, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. COVID willing, November will find us heading to Portugal and Spain to fully experience working from anywhere while continuing the research.
So that’s August, this is June. Part of me wants to jump in with two feet, to just get started with the research. But a greater part of me gently suggests that it’s time to wait, to pause, to let transitions happen, to watch, to take in, to let my mind wander, to allow it to create, to write, to reflect. For once I have decided to listen to that quiet voice, to prepare, and be ready to hit the ground running!
This past semester, I had Rowena Hennigan (virtually)speak to my third year business students…her topic was psychological health. Rowena, message heard and received!
So what does this look like? Hmmm, well, it for sure includes making time to read for pleasure, for walking, biking, spending time with family and friends, taking in the beauty of this amazing part of the world we live in, and perhaps even sitting doing nothing! It also means taking a bit of a social media break (talk about FOMO!), but I’ll be there, on the sidelines, just taking a peak at what my colleagues across the globe are learning and experiencing…but more as a spectator than a participant.
So for now, at least until August, I’m signing off. But I’ll be back, full of excitement and energy to start this next leg of the adventure.
These remote work experts know that 3 components or areas of focus are important in this transition: People, place, and process. Of the three, my passion goes deep for people. I will continue to be that nagging voice, reminding organizations of all sizes to stay focused on your people. Yes, where work gets done, and how work gets done is of vital importance to consider and create policies around, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your people who actually get the work done.
We know that the transitions organizations are facing are no small feat, but we also know that individuals and teams are likewise facing incredible transitions. For some, this is an exciting new journey to embrace, for others it is the scariest thing they have ever encountered! Some may even choose to leave their current employment because of an organizational unwillingness to embrace what many are calling ‘the new reality’ (whatever that means).
So I wonder, how are you supporting these valuable resources? What on-going learning and development are you providing for them? How are you ensuring equity exists for each individual within your organization? Have your required competencies for new hires changed to embrace what it takes to be successful in a remote context? (Our research conducted in 2019 outlines specific competencies for success as a remote worker.) Are you working alongside your existing employees to help them grow their remote working competencies? Are you providing specific learning and development for those leaders who are now required to lead teams where some may work co-located, some remotely, and some a combination of both?
What about self-leadership? The responsibility can’t lie totally with the employer. If you are now part of the hybrid workforce whether as a team member or a leader, what are you doing to grow your own competencies and skills? What books are you reading? What podcasts are you listening to? Are you exercising discernment regarding who you look to for expertise in this area? Were your sources working either remote or in a hybrid context pre-pandemic?
The future is exciting, albeit unclear. The amazing thing is that we have been given an opportunity to re-write the script. Don’t get lulled into longing for the day when things go back to where they were…the ‘good ole days’. Let’s take a world event that has been so devastating, and allow good to come from it. Your people have been through unimaginable challenges and heartache, as have you! Treasure those people, build into them, celebrate their greatness, and in return, you will have invested in our most valuable resources, and the ROI will be worth every penny you spend.
I stood on the outside balcony of the beautiful lake front hotel. The sun shone, the lake sparkled, the music volume was at just the right level for conversation, and every one of the 400 people in attendance were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Actually, make that 399 were enjoying themselves. I was not. My heart was racing, my palms sweaty, and I wanted to bolt!
Just the day before, I and four other new business start-ups had agreed to go to the highest attended annual networking event in Kelowna. You know, safety in numbers. None of us were comfortable ‘selling ourselves’ to a crowd of strangers, somehow letting them know that we ‘had what they needed’. So, we set a plan in place. We would pair up, approach the attendees, smile, have our new, shiny business cards ready to hand out, collect all the cards we could. We were prepared, what could possibly go wrong?
So, there I was, right on time, standing on the balcony like the Queen of England waiting to greet her subjects. That’s when my cell vibrated with notification of a text.
”I’m so sorry, but I can’t make it tonight, something’s come up.”
“That’s ok”, I replied “these things happen.”
No problem, three of us can still work the plan, just breath Roberta. Then another vibration.
“I hate to do this, but I just don’t feel good. I need to bail tonight. You understand, don’t you?”
Two down, still two standing. We got this! Breaths are coming almost in spasms. And then the unthinkable happened. You guessed it. “My boyfriend just came into town for a surprize visit! I can’t leave after he drove all this way. Sorry. I knew you’d understand.”
I would understand? Are you kidding me?! I could have come up with a million valid reasons (ok, maybe two or three) for not making the event, but I didn’t. I was there. I was alone. The air had been sucked out of my bubble!
Let me just insert here, that I am truly an introvert. When I teach, or present at a conference, you would never know it, but I am. If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an INTP. (I still have a difficult time getting my head around this tool). That ‘I’ stands for Introverted. If I’m representing something, or someone else, or if I have a task to do at a function, I’m ok. But put me in a situation with strangers and charge me with drawing attention to myself, I’m not a happy camper. I’m in panic mode.
What happened next made me believe in angels. As my eyes scanned the crowd they spotted a lady I had only recently met. Our eyes met; she recognized me! And, she waved for me to come and join her! Thank you God! When I reached the spot where she stood waiting, I quickly blurted out my dilemma, hardly stopping to breathe, and asked if I could hang out with her. Remember, I had only recently met this lady, so I’m sure my emotional eruption must have taken her aback. Her next words were music to my ears. “Of course you can. Let me introduce you to some people and show you how it’s done.” The birds once more started to sing.
For the next two hours, I witnessed what I could only describe as ‘the networking dance’. This lady moved fluidly from conversation to conversation, introducing me, asking questions of each person, smiling, connecting, inquiring of life happenings in their lives, all the while holding on to a glass of wine, passing out business cards, and simply floating. The breath I was holding for so long had slowly released, liked at the end of Seasons of Life during a performance of Rent; I was in awe!
My heart was no longer racing, I could shake someone’s hand without fear of leaving a sweaty impression. I heard myself laughing and asking questions; I was actually having fun.
A discovery, a lightbulb moment, had just occurred worth every bit of anxiety previously experienced. Networking is not about telling people about me. It’s about being curious, listening, paying attention to what others say, hearing their struggles, their joys, their pain. And, if appropriate, offering myself, my product or service to help meet their needs. That’s it.
Being an introvert is actually a strength when in these situations. We don’t need to be the centre of attention or the life of the party. Rather, we get to facilitate others so they can be the centre of attention and the life of the party.
As I traveled to different countries (and yes, I do look forward to doing again), present at conferences, meet new people, I still feel like the ocean undertow is threatening to suck me in. Having a co-worker (or hubby) with me is a lifeline, but not always possible. However, when I remember to take my eyes off me, and focus on others, I have been so gratified to meet many awesome people who are more than willing to tell me their stories and share their experiences. You see, networking doesn’t just happen in huge crowds, but also between strangers standing on the train platform outside of Glasgow, or waiting for a bus in Amsterdam, or having coffee in a local café in Florence. Networking is about connections (I actually don’t even like the term ‘networking’, so it is now nixed from my vocabulary!) Connections bring people together. Connections are like a beautiful symphony performed when individual musicians join their skills and passions together to make harmonious music. Making new connections is worth the discomfort of sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and even fear of rejection.
I can’t wait to build more connections as I journey to places unknown.
‘One size fits all’…really? In actuality, one size rarely fits all in any situation. Interesting piece of trivia, did you know we have been using that phrase since 1975 when Frank Zappa released his ‘One size fits all’ album? For over 4 ½ decades the idea that a product, concept, principle or process could proclaim this phrase as their pièce de resistance is quite astounding.
“Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, ‘I agree, I would never suggest one size fits all!’” Let’s consider an area we might be applying this maxim without much thought, leadership. Most leaders want to get better at their ‘craft’. That applies to both positional and relational leaders. How many times have you found yourself reaching for the newest leadership book, secretly praying that this book will have the key – the magic bullet that will allow you to realize that desire to be a great leader. I know I have! I’m not trying to stir the pot here, at least not too much. Let me assure you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading these books. Even as I write this, I glance at the many books on my shelves on whose pages I have highlighted and underlined words of wisdom and insight offered by amazing authors—men and women alike—who have taught me much about leadership. What I’m saying is that in our pursuit of leadership excellence, sometimes we are unwittingly influenced by mantras like one size fits all. It’s entirely possible to read a fantastic book with amazing ideas that simply won’t fit you, or your area of influence.
At my college, we teach leadership theories to developing entrepreneurs, business executives, intrapreneurs, tech start-ups, change makers, social entrepreneurs… you get the idea. We know that laying a solid foundation is important in creating critical thinkers who take those theories and analyze their relevance in a business world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and the need for great adaptability. We know that leadership is no longer limited to traditional face to face contexts. Leaders are called to lead remote teams, hybrid teams, teams that are made up of employees, freelancers, contractors, and even volunteers. Some of these theories we teach have been around since the 19th century where The Great Man Theory (later changed to the great woman theory) was popularized. Out of this came the belief that leaders are born, not made. This alone is great fodder for discussions that could build chasms between friends!
Back to today and our one size fits all discussion. As leaders we know that people are not clones, we are unique. In the words of King David, ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made’. So this is where leadership theories, at least one specific leadership theory, moves to the top of the pile. Hersey and Blanchard are responsible for introducing the ‘Situational Theory of Leadership’.
“The situational model of leadership focuses on flexibility so that leaders are able to adapt according to the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.“
Read that quote again. ”…leaders…adapt…to the needs of their followers.” There is no one size fits all here. Hersey and Blanchard remind us that we need to focus on those we are leading, to determine what they need then respond accordingly. Our team members come with varying experiences, level of risk taking, knowledge and skill base, personalities, work approaches, cultures; in other words, leaders are responsible for managing and supporting great diversity of culture, belief, value, thought and much more.
Have you ever heard someone glibly say, “if it weren’t for the people, my job would be easy!” The truth is your job IS the people. The Great Person Theory is just that…a theory. The greatest leaders are not those who show up as the hero or heroine to save the day. The greatest leaders are those who show up and ask ‘What do you need from me? What barriers can I remove for you? How can I best support you? What do you think? How can I help?
The greatest gift we can give those we lead and support, is to act on the fact that one size does not, and never will, fit all. This is easier said than done, but it is important. Perhaps the best leadership approach is to start each day, with a posture of humility, intentionally seeking to serve those we are called to lead.
In a previous blog I wrote about liminal space from the perspective of a professor. Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about it from the context of leading in this current work-from-home reality. We know the current state of affairs will not be forever, but we don’t know how long it will be until we can settle into a more stable way of life and living. Thus, the liminal space in which we are living. The rollout of vaccines has certainly provided a glimmer of hope for the ending of our forced remoteness. Until then…liminal space.
“Liminal space is where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space.”
So, how do we take advantage of this period of liminal space, a gifted time where we can rethink what we want life to look like when we are released from the bounds of our four walls? I recently listened to a podcast by Brené Brown where she was interviewing Adam Grant. They discussed how “…rethinking does not have to mean changing your mind; it’s about reflecting and wondering if you should change your mind. It’s about being open to new information.”
For some, the experience of working from home has been a welcome change from the craziness of the 9-5 existance we came to accept. For others it truly has been like a confinement paired with constant negotiations with partners, kids, pets, or house mates for even a tiny bit of space in which to work. Some have already decided that they never want to go back to the office, while others are thinking, “If this is remote work, no thank you!”
The thing is there is nothing normal about how we are working right now. This isn’t remote-working. While some folks are happy with their working from home arrangement , I don’t think this describes the ideal that would cause many of us to say, “I’m loving this set up, I could do this forever!” Perhaps the majority of us would be happier approaching it like a buffet…”I’d like some of this, some of that, but none of those!” Now that makes more sense to me.
So how can we take advantage of this rare liminal space? Let me suggest a few questions to think through as you prepare for your upcoming liberation.
What are you really loving about your current working context?
What about this context do you want to preserve–to hold onto–even after restrictions are lifted?
What are you really hating about your current, working context?
What do you know must change for the sake of your emotional, physical, psychological, or spiritual health? What is simply not sustainable?
What have you learned about yourself and how you work?
No matter which work arrangement you hope to embrace, change is inevitable. We may not be able to control all the elements of change, but we do have control over how we prepare ourselves for what’s ahead. While we are living in this liminal space, why not add value to the time by investing in YOU? Engaging in some, or all, of the suggestions below can start the preparation for emerging from the liminal space with great expectancy and enthusiasm, more prepared and equipped than before we hit lock-down. Self-growth (or self-leadership) may just help you prepare for your desired work arrangement by gaining a deeper understanding of who you are and what you bring to the job.
Learn about and developing the competencies necessary for success as a remote/hybrid worker.
Identify some desired growth areas and create SMART goals to work towards achieving them.
Let me finish with the quote I started this blog with. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” We will get through this pandemic; how great would it be if we emerge with great expectancy for the incredible that’s waiting to be known?
I am basically an impatient person; a person of action. Multi-tasking comes easy and being in the midst of the ‘action’ is stimulating. My mind works fast! I receive information and quickly sort through it to get to a point of resolution. Making decisions is fairly easy for me. However; through the school of hard knocks, I have learned that impatience, action, quickly assimilating information, multi-tasking, and fast decision making is not always a good thing! In fact, it’s rarely a good thing when, as leaders, we are faced with making decisions that impact those we are called to serve and support.
Many people have heard of the concept ‘balcony view’. It refers to the mental (or physical) action of stepping back and gaining perspective. I first heard about it shortly after visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. We had spent a few days visiting places like the Galleria Dell’ Accademia and were moved by Michelangelo’s David, an impressive 17′ statue of detailed strength and beauty. We leisurely walked through the Uffizi Gallery, awed by the magnificent paintings by artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, and da Vinci. And of course, we delighted in the many cafés with their delicious pastries and memorable coffee. We quickly learned the difference between al tavolo and al banco pricing! Exploring Florence was such an amazing experience.
After putting on many foot-miles, our final adventure was to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. The staircase quickly narrowed to a spiral climb – suffocating for a claustrophobic!
However; once we broke into the warmth of the afternoon sun, we were rewarded with the most magnificent view…Florence from 114 metres! We could trace the path of our explorations, see each location in relationship to others, and even notice places we didn’t realize existed. I think you get where I’m going with this.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Florence, but until we made the climb to the top – to the balcony – it was a series of magnificent, but isolated experiences.
Heifetz/Grashow, and Linsky added to the Balcony View concept by referring to the action of – “moving from the dance floor to the balcony“. We love the dance floor. We love being at the heart of the action, enjoying the energy of everyone dancing to the same beat. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away, to step up to the balcony and be an observer rather than a participant. But as leaders, we must. But what are we doing on the balcony?
Heifetz and his co-authors suggest three activities in which we need to engage from the balcony: observe, interpret, and intervene.
If you were to ask what we saw from the top of the Duomo, each of us would have described something different — all correct, but different. This is an important part of observing. We look at things through the lens of our personal experience and bias, so when on the balcony our view or perspective is broadened a more inclusive view of what’s happening in the everyday workings of our team or organization. The authors encourage leaders to then move into the practice of interpreting what they have observed. Once more we need to acknowledge the fact that we interpret our observations differently than our colleagues. In my previous blog I introduced the importance of checking assumptions…this is a perfect example of how the practice of critical thinking will enhance how we interpret our observations. In our human desire to get to solutions, we may tend rush through this interpreting stage. Taking time to consider, to ponder, to reflect, will enhance our accurate deciphering of what our senses take in. This pause and will greatly impact the interventions or actions we put forth. Remember, action is the result of decision making.
I appreciate how John Dewey approaches decision making. Following a close examination of the situation (as noted above), consideration should be given to possible alternative directions in addressing the matter at hand, weighing the evidence, choosing what is deemed to be the best path, and then taking action. But it doesn’t end there. Leaders need to identify when the decision will be reviewed and potentially altered.
We took 463 vertical, winding, narrow steps to get to the top of the Duomo, a very intentional climb. It would have been foolish to immediately do the return trip without taking time to pause and appreciate the view. And, once we got to ground level again, we discussed what we saw, what amazed us, what we missed seeing in our Florence walk-about, and what we would still do. In other words, we didn’t make the climb only to ignore what we observed. We observed, interpreted, and finally intervened with a new course of action.
Leaders of people, are you ready for a Duomo experience? It’s truly worth it.
In my leadership class this week we will be looking at the importance of critical thinking. We hear about it all the time, but fail to realize it truly is one of the most important elements to consider at this time. I began digging by looking at Stephen D. Brookfield’s book, Teaching for Critical Thinking,and it has certainly created a deeper desire to more analytically consider my own ability to think critically. A word I learned during my Post Grad studies was metacognition. It’s a great word that is packed with so much substance.
“…thinking about one’s thinking. It refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning; and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.”Nancy Chick
When we put these two things together, critical thinking and metacognition, something really important begins to emerge. Consider these questions as you continue reading:
Do I engage critical thinking during these times?
What assumptions influence my decisions?
Am I clear on my values?
Who am I focusing on?
So let’s put this in context of what leaders are facing in our current leadership ethos. Not only do they face the challenge of guiding their teams through uncharted waters, but in the process they are expected to learn new tools, new terminology, new ways to motivate and measure performance…I could go on! However; perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of leadership today looks at preserving culture within an organization. Or possibly the question is more about whether there is a culture worth preserving? Or maybe the realization hits that it’s time to consider the health of the culture, or to examine if what was believed (stated) as being the organizational culture is in fact what teams and customers are experiencing?
My intent is certainly not to address organizational culture in this blog (perhaps at another time), but to look at what critical thinking skills a leader needs to employ when examining such matters.
In his writings, Brookfield suggests the purpose of thinking critically is “…so we can take informed actions…not just to survive, but also to live and love well”. Beautiful. In order to do this he states that individuals need to discover what assumptions influence the way they think and act. He then encourages the checking of those assumptions as to whether or not they are valid and reliable. Finally, Brookfield urges that time is taken to envision our assumptions from others perspectives and points of view. All this before any informed action is taken.
But (and there so often is a ‘but’), the ribbon that must run through all of this is: values. What values actually inform our critical thinking As leaders, do our values encourage critical thinking that leads to decisions and actions that truly are in the best interest of those we are entrusted to serve?
Back to leadership ethos. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethos as “The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.
Moving that into the realm of leadership ethos, we learn that:
Leadership ethos is associated with actions which add value, honour commitments to stakeholders and society…leaders…choose service over self-interest.”Dr. Ken Kalala Ndalamba
Getting back to those guiding questions, let me once again ask, as leaders do we:
Take time to think about how we are thinking critically when navigating and guiding our teams through uncharted waters?
Do we stop to consider what assumptions are influencing our decisions?
Are we clear about, and committed to, the values that guide our actions?
Does the leadership ethos we create result in putting those we serve over self-interest?
Interested in talking more about this? Please feel free to email me, reach out via LinkedIn, or simply comment on this post.
Have you ever been on your way to an appointment, perhaps with a client, or for a social event and were met with unexpected road construction causing you to be unfashionably late? Or perhaps you were set to make a presentation to a client only to discover the Internet gremlins had done their worst somewhere in the cyber space around your computer and caused the connection to be less than adequate? I have, and it was not a pretty sight! Adjustments, re-arrangements, rescheduling, and great apologies had to be made before things got back on track. Things happen, things outside our control, that call for change. It takes time to get our head into a different arrangement, to get over the frustration of the disruption, to recalibrate, to settle on what appears to be a less than outcome. But is it always a less than outcome?
Several years ago, when our kids were much younger, we set out on a family trip to Disney World where we would meet up with my brother and his family. We were all so excited! Our family was travelling from British Columbia and my brother’s family from Ontario. These times together were precious, and so much fun. Everything was packed, we boarded the plane, we were good to go. Until ‘it’ happened. Hurricane Gordon.
Our flight path was interrupted and forced an overnight stopover in Denver, Colorado. We were not prepared! Being the eternal optimists and dearly looking forward to the feeling of the Florida sun on our winter white skin, we were dressed in shorts, t-shirts, light jackets, sandals, and no access to our checked luggage (another reason to fly with only carry-on!). The excitement meter plummeted from extreme high to extreme low in a matter of minutes. Even though this turn of events was totally out of our control, the disappointment was palpable. Sitting in our hotel room, gathering our hotel supplied hygiene necessities, it was hard to fathom the ‘less than’ outcome could be anything but gloom. Until ‘it’ happened.
A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. That’s when I was introduced to Casa Bonita the most exciting Mexican restaurant I have ever experienced. Food, cliff divers, mariachi band, caves, and sopapillas just waiting to be drenched in honey. Why I hadn’t thought of introducing this adventure to my family is beyond me! However, Rob was on it! Before long we left the warmth of the hotel, tip toed through the snow in sandals, climbed into a taxi and journeyed to Casa Bonita. It was amazing…maybe a little cornier than I had remembered, but well worth the thrill of sharing my former life with my family. And they loved it!
So where am I going with this. Some changes are totally beyond our control. Right now most organizations have been forced to make a change to their SOP. Life in the office as we know it is no more, but not because we chose it…the decision has been made for us. Some may think that the outcome will create a ‘less than’ result, however, I beg to differ. To be sure, a disequilibrium has been created in which we now need to live, but until ‘it’ happened, many organizations, or employees, would not have considered the opportunities provided by a work from anywhere concept. My intent is not to go into the many proven benefits to all involved with WFA, but rather put it in the context of change. To bring attention to how we, as leaders of people, have been handed a mulligan, a do-over. We have an opportunity to do business differently, to adapt rather than mourn the loss of how things used to be; to take advantage of an unplanned change and re-write the next phase of how we work, where we work, when we work, and what work we do.
I’m not saying any of this is easy…far from it. In fact, leaders are called to be the pioneers in this journey of discovery and transition. As leaders we are called to practice adaptive leadership. In other words,
To practice adaptive leadership, you have to help people navigate through a period of disturbance as they sift through what is essential and what is expendable, and as they experiment with solutions to the adaptive challenges at hand.
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky
On November 27th, at 11am, I received an email from the President of our institute that brought such joy and excitement I was stopped in my tracks!
Dear Roberta, regarding your Proposal for an Extended Study Leave, I am pleased to advise that your proposal has been approved as follows:
August 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022, in Europe, for the purpose of conducting research that will examine what it takes to lead successfully in a new, uncharted context that has been coined a “new normal”.
It took quite a while to peel me off the roof, and needless to say, my eyes glistened with tears of joy. What this means, is that for a full year, I get to focus on an area I am very passionate about: remote work. My first research, conducted with my son Nathan, focused on Competencies for Success as Remote Workers. That initial learning introduced me to so many amazing people both in North America and Europe.
Since the publication of that research early 2019, our world has changed in ways none of us could ever have imagined. We all became remote workers, or more accurately, ‘workers from home’. In a matter of days, even hours, organizations had to do a whirlwind pivot. No time for preparation, no time for analysis, no time for decisions…the move was pretty much instantaneous. Being thrown into the deep end (so to speak), has the tendency to result in either sink or swim; sadly we have witnessed both. Many organizations made the switch with reasonable success, but others were devastated. And we are still transitioning. It’s no longer organizations who operate remotely vs co-located, but rather we are seeing a growth in a hybrid option for work. Working from anywhere has become a concept organizations are getting their collective heads around as both employers and employees have witnessed the great benefits of a move from traditional co-located workforces. The narrative around remote work has changed, and continues to change.
I have always felt strongly about the role of leadership. I take it very seriously, and highly respect those who take the posture of a ‘reluctant leader’. Psychologist Dan B. Allender authored a book back in 2011 entitled Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness.For the past year, many leaders have realized the way they have always done leadership no longer works. They have found themselves leading with a limp. And I greatly admire them. They have had to hit the ground running, limp and all. These are the leaders I want to learn from, and thus am super excited to meet them, chat with them, glean from them, and then share what I learn with the myriad of individuals out there who find themselves leading in an era of continual change.
As I continue to learn about Adaptive Leadership, Appreciative Inquiry, and Design Thinking, I want to once again take an approach that seeks to integrate evidence based research with stories and examples from industry…I want to hear your stories, stories of how you have transitioned from co-located to working from anywhere leadership. I want to learn what you have found to be effective, and what just doesn’t work. I also want to learn (and share) the why behind what works, and what doesn’t, in leading work from anywhere teams.
I truly believe we are meant to live in community; to share life with others, to laugh, cry, learn, explore, and journey together. I have journeyed so with a dear friend and colleague and have learned so much from her. For this blog, I invited Candace to share some of her personal journey and learnings with you regarding mental health–I know you’ll benefit from her story. Please enjoy…
“I care about you…and I care about this place. You aren’t yourself and I need the full ‘you’ for the work we have ahead of us. Take the rest of the week off, then on Monday, we’ll check in and I want to hear from you what your plan is to get well …and what you need from me.”
This conversation happened about 7 years ago but I can recall it like it was yesterday. I remember how embarrassed, angry (at myself), relieved, and determined I felt. I knew I wasn’t well, but what I didn’t know was that it was affecting my work. Well, I knew it was affecting my work, but I didn’t know that the covering up, compensating, and hiding I was expending energy on wasn’t working as well as I thought it was.
My work provided meaning, a sense of control when a great deal of my life was feeling out of control, and was a huge part of my identity. The message that my performance was not up to standard and that I was letting my Executive Director down was terrifying and triggered the fight response I needed at that time.
We’ve come a long way in our view of and approach to mental illness in the workplace. Historically, we just whispered behind people’s backs, marginalized them, and believed that stopping work (i.e. going on a leave) was what they should do. Thankfully, campaigns to increase awareness and reduce stigma are part of our culture now, and there are champions for mentally healthier workplaces in every sector. Many workplaces and leaders have come to understand that people who live with mental illness can be healthy, functioning contributors on our teams and in our workplaces, and it’s the workplaces who have provided flexible work arrangements who have often been the most successful in retaining and engaging employees with less visible disabilities like mental illness.
While I’ve heard many workplace leaders express concern about the mental health of their employees (and rightfully so) these last several months, I wonder if this may be the time for people with lived experience with mental illness to shine and contribute in new ways?
Struggling with figuring out how to be well when it feels like any minute the world might crash around you? A person with a chronic and persistent mental illness will say, “Been there.”
Wondering what the right rhythm in your work/personal life is to effectively manage all that has to be done when you just feel tired and scared?Yup.
Feel like your brain is exhausted from managing all the scary thoughts running around?Uh-huh.
Following are a few thoughts to help us promote mentally healthy workplaces, when we’re working apart:
· Wondering how your staff are doing? Ask them or create opportunities for everyone to check in and respond to one another. For many, working from home has meant disconnection from their work friends and so loneliness has added to everything else that’s hard about this time.
· Provide a lunch and learn that addresses some of the challenges of balancing work and caregiving pressures or just work and life!
· Learn about people who live with mental illness and have learned to be well at the same time. Search for stories of resiliency and learn from people’s lived experience. I have been well for years now, but know that I am more at risk than maybe others are and so need to be vigilant in employing strategies that help me be well. Want to learn more about this? Click here to access some great resources that can help you learn more about resiliency and mental health.
· Behave your way into being. Every day I get up and start doing the things that I know promote health for my body and brain. Trust that doing these things will make a difference even if you can’t feel the results right away.
· Add a WWW practice to the end of your day. Martin Seligman, author of “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being” recommends a practice of writing down What Went Well each day. He suggests identifying three things that went well plus reflecting on why they went well. This exercise has been shown to positively impact mental health.
· Book a bit of worry time when you need it. Adam Grant in his Work-Life podcast describes this suggestion in more detail, but in short, he suggests that if your brain is worried about something, a strategy to help can be to set a timer and let it run. Worry, think about what might happen and then identify a step or two that you can take to address the fear or worry.
· Ask for help. You are not weak if you reach out for help and you don’t need to wait until it’s “bad enough.” If your mood has been low for more than a couple of weeks and the normal things that would help you feel better don’t seem to be helping, reach out.
Work can and does play a critical role in most people’s wellbeing. One final suggestion? Take a few minutes to reflect on how *you* are doing at managing work-life wellness and lead by example. Notice and give permission where people are attempting to set boundaries or when they need boundaries relaxed. You’re not alone. We’ll work through this together.