Since the middle of March, we have been riding an unprecedented wave of changes and adaptations related to COVID-19. Each week, there have been big and little issues surface, all of which are disrupting systems and work plans. Internal communications has become mission critical. And now, as we move into late summer, people are just physically, emotional and mentally exhausted by it all. We all would love some normalcy, order, and predictability.
Dan Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading Change in Your Organization (Harvard Business School Press, 2005), writes that there are five reasons why change Initiatives slow down. They are as follows: exhaustion on the part of the leaders, failure to see progress, turnover of key change agents, flagging team morale, and things taking too long. When you add a global pandemic to the mix, you can understand why folks are so exhausted and fed up with it all.
So, what are leaders to do when everyone is running on empty?
My answer to this question is for all of us to remember two small but significant concepts.
First, “Be a lighthouse not a weathervane”, writes Robert Cooper in his book, The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential For Leadership & Life (Crown Business, 2001). We, as leaders, can choose to be beacons of integrity, clarity and discipline, or we can be weathervanes pivoting this way and that way at every shift in the weather. Given all that has taken place during the last five months, I believe that being a beacon is an important choice that sends a message that we can and we will weather the pounding seas and battering storms around us.
Second, we need to remember that “People won't put their hearts into something they don't believe in” which is another important point from the above book. We have focused so much on maintaining effective daily operations during the last couple of months that we have sometimes forgotten to talk about the importance of the mission, i.e. the why behind the work. When we are worn to the quick, we need to hear from our leaders, managers and supervisors that our job matters and that it makes a difference.
Some people may think that role modeling and communicating about mission are minor actions in a time period when systems and strategy need to be carefully redesigned. But after decades of helping people and organizations through the world of large and small changes, I have learned that small actions can have huge impact. As Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery, formerly called The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees) (Jossey-Bass 2007), wrote: “... if a manager has any responsibility in the world, it’s to help people understand why their work matters.”
And right now, as pandemic fatigue sets in, we want to know that our efforts have made a difference. When someone notices how hard we have been working and appreciates all the time and energy we have put in to adapting to the relentless onslaught of big and little changes, then we do not feel alone in the midst of it all. We feel like we are part of a team. Our confidence and capacity to move forward is renewed.
This week, I encourage you to be a lighthouse rather than a weathervane and to tell people the following message: I see you; I value you; I appreciate you. Your work matters and it is making a difference in the lives of so many people.
Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change
Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257