There’s no going back, but a better future is possible
It should be clear to every leader at this point: there’s no getting back to “normal.” The pandemic has unalterably shifted the economic landscape and business operations. The racial equity movement sweeping the world underscores that “normal” wasn’t working. There’s no going back, but together, we can co-create a better future.
How Leaders Can Help Us Co-Create a Better Future
Whether you’re rebuilding to face new business realities or doing the hard work to create a more equitable world, you’re not going to do either one overnight. It takes time. The emotion of the moment gives way to the daily slog of showing up, doing the work, and making it happen.
If you aren’t aware of that shift in gears, it can sneak up on you and steal your motivation, cause depression, and stop the work before it starts.
Give yourself a few minutes each day to acknowledge the work ahead. That you’ve moved from a sprint where the world is flying by, to a steady jog that doesn’t have the same adrenalin, but will chew up the miles if you maintain the pace.
Get comfortable with discomfort
Have you read the manual on how to lead your organization through a global pandemic, the greatest economic upheaval in one hundred years, and a global racial equity movement?
We haven’t seen that one either. These moments are filled with incredible opportunity to make a better future, but there’s no playbook. There are no easy answers.
There is only showing up every day, learning uncomfortable truths, acknowledging what’s not working and working together to find a path forward.
Let’s be real: for most people that’s painful or scary.
As you try new strategies to be more relevant and add value to your customers, some of them will work, some of them won’t.
If you’re white and actively listening to the experiences of people of color, it will be uncomfortable (it should be).
If you’re leading a team of people who are working remotely and balancing a sick parent, stir-crazy kids, and an out-of-work spouse and figuring out how to be compassionate and also move your business forward – it’s going to be uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable, but it’s okay. You don’t have to solve everything. Show up. Sit with the discomfort. Acknowledge it. Shake hands with it and welcome it on the journey to a better future. That discomfort is a sign that you’re heading the right direction. Remember your past moments of courage and let them fuel your next steps.
Return to Why
As you and your team face uncertainty, you can regain clarity and focus by returning to your purpose and values. Why do you do the work you do? How have you committed to treating one another and serving your customers?
As you reconnect with your why and your values, you may see them in a new light. That commitment to your customer is still true; how can it guide you now?
You’ll restore your confidence and energy when you can say, “The world is changing, but this is who we are and this is why we’re here.”
We’ve been so inspired by the ways leaders across industries are working hard to connect with their people. Keep at it. Leading through uncertainty and change requires a tight connection with your team. It can feel challenging to stay connected in the press of so much activity, but it’s an investment that pays off with trust, results, and the ability to move quickly when you have to.
You will not build a better future on your own. You may have a vision, but you won’t have all the answers. The future is one we must build together. Whether you’re working on how to add value in new ways or trying to build a more just and equitable workplace, courageous questions will help you get there.
Courageous questions aren’t milquetoast “how can we get better” efforts. They require confidence and humility. They acknowledge improvement is possible and get specific. They invite genuine answers that people might not otherwise be comfortable to volunteer. For example:
- What’s the number one way we could improve our customer’s experience right now?
- What’s the greatest obstacle to your productivity right now?
- What’s sabotaging our success in building a more equitable workplace?
If you’ve done the work to get comfortable with discomfort, listening as people answer your courageous questions will test it. You may feel attacked. It’s okay—everything you’re hearing is feedback and data you can use to build a better future. Work on separating the message from the messenger or the way it was delivered.
Acknowledge what you’ve heard. Thank people for sharing—especially the hard truths. Then find the principles that will help you and your team move forward.
If you defensively want to ignore what you’ve heard because “they just don’t get it”—be careful. These moments represent a wide gulf between you and your people. You don’t understand one another and that lack of understanding quickly erodes trust. How can you rebuild it?
If they’re missing critical business data, give it to them and invite them back to the conversation. If you don’t understand where they’re coming from, do the work to get there.
Find Your Focus
“It’s just so much.”
We’ve heard this over and over as we talk with leaders—and it is. Our emotions don’t do well with huge orders of magnitude. But you can take all of that emotion and focus it. What is the M.I.T. that you can do today to build a better future for your business? What is the M.I.T. (Most Important Thing) you can do today to build a more equitable world?
No matter how big your vision, you can break it down into next steps. We invite you to find your focus with one business M.I.T. and one personal M.I.T.
It’s natural to look at massive upheaval and wonder “what’s next?” But there’s also a time to stop wondering and start building. Your team needs your leadership. You need the voice of every team member. And to build a better future, we need each other.