The mind, once stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions. – Oliver Wendell Holmes
All of us have had our minds stretched in the last year. Things we might have been sure would never work, actually did. Ideas we had been talking about but hadn’t implemented fell into place much more smoothly than we might have imagined (nothing like a crisis to reduce resistance to change!). We learned that expectations around what was “required” to do our job perhaps weren’t really quite as non-negotiable as we thought. And the creativity, oh the creativity and adaptability we have witnessed in the past 12 months . . .
So now that people are beginning to talk about a return to “normal,” how should you as a leader go about guiding people toward something that, for all practical purposes, will never return to its original dimensions?
Recognize that “business as usual” won’t be. Those clear parameters no longer exist. This may trigger a sense of loss among those craving the seeming stability of “normal,” and enthusiasm from those who don’t want to give up the perceived benefits of new ways of working. No matter where they fall on the continuum, people will be looking to you to define the new normal.
It is the leader’s job to navigate divergent expectations. How can you provide predictability while also capitalizing on the positives of new-found flexibility? Where do your own desires or expectations fall in the mix? Is it necessary to have consistent expectations across the board, or can you have different “rules” for different roles? There is no proven best path on this one, and you still have to pick one.
Keep talking. Many leaders dramatically increased their communication and transparency during the pandemic. Your people have come to expect it. Don’t stop just because you are moving out of “crisis mode.” Everyone benefits when you keep the dialog going. Yes, it takes an investment of time. It is time well spent.
Don’t forget the human connection. In person, absolutely. Nothing replaces three-dimensions and spontaneous interactions . . . and yet, there was also a human side to the glimpses we gained into each other’s lives by zooming into make-shift home offices. How can we maintain that connection with, and appreciation for, the whole person we would hope to lead?
We have all been stretched. There is no going back. That also means you have a rare opportunity to provide a new dimension to your leadership, and your organization. How will you shape them?