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Leaders – prepare yourself for a post-COVID-19 workforce

This is the fifth in a series of articles on Maximising the Leadership Lessons from COVID-19, brought to you by Symphonia for South Africa’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility.

 

Since the world has been caught in the global grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the emergence of a wide range of coping mechanisms. These are all attempts to adjust to a trauma that is outside of our frame of reference and our ability to control.

Navigating unfamiliar territory

These coping mechanisms have ranged from denial, to “positive spin”, catastrophizing, frenzied disaster management planning, oversimplification and rationalization of the impact of this global nightmare. Fortunately, we are starting to find our centre, and the question emerging for us is: How best can leaders those to whom others look for direction and guidance navigate this utterly unfamiliar territory? What can leaders do to support those within their workforce, during and after COVID-19?

The journey of sense-making

Over the past weeks, our team like many others around the world has been engaging regularly. But significantly, we have tried to focus mostly on supporting one another on the journey of sense-making. Questions are privileged over answers and listening over speaking. During a call last week, these were two of the questions we deliberated on:

  1. What has brought you the greatest sense of calm this week?
  2. Who in your life acts as your “safe space”?

For many leaders these sorts of questions seem “soft”; unnecessary even.

The energy that fuels us

But what was striking to us from these questions was the remarkable consistency expressed about where people’s strength, calm and support are drawn from. Across the board, people expressed that essential elements to them are:

  • • Faith
  • • Family (particularly their spouses)
  • • Nature

This is insightful, especially from a leadership development perspective, because these elements are certainly not what we ordinarily focus on as leaders. But why not? They are the very energy that fuels us, and this energy rises exponentially in people when they are engaged in the things that matter most to them. Leaders would then see vastly different team members arriving at work if these were the conversations they were having.

Practising self-leadership

But such an approach must begin at home. Leaders need to genuinely recalibrate their priorities and spend time focusing on nurturing the aspects of their lives from which they themselves draw strength. Practising self-leadership in this regard is no longer a negotiable that can happen “after I have dealt with the emergencies”. We are in an emergency, and failing to replenish our internal resources will lead to burnout and collapse.

Compassion for self and others is the highest priority of leaders right now: allowing ourselves and others the space for quiet, peace, internal reflection and slowing down. These are the gifts that will become our friends and that will serve us and others in our sphere of influence well, now and into the future.

Robyn Whittaker is a medical doctor and leadership development specialist. She is a board member of Symphonia for South Africa and its flagship programme, Partners for Possibility. The programme is committed to the leadership development of school principals and corporate leaders. For more information visit www.pfp4sa.org

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