After two years of adapting, pivoting, changing, and working in ways we would not have considered possible before the on-set of the pandemic, how do we move forward now that many of the restrictions are being lifted? Not by returning to normal (whatever that was). As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted, “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” There is no going back to the way things were. There is only the opportunity to move forward. And perhaps, as we move forward, we leaders can set the context where the “unexpected” becomes a bit more expected. How does one do that?
• Recognize that change is not episodic, it is constant. We set ourselves up for being caught off guard when we act as if the status quo will once again emerge if we can just make it through this “period of change” or “unexpected disruption.” If you instead present change as a constant, you and your people can start to see it as a muscle you build rather than a difficulty to endure. You gain a confidence in your ability to respond to variables that come your way. You and your people see change as an opportunity to step up and set the example. Change is something you do, rather than something that is done to you.
• Don’t over-dramatize the experience. After the last two years, I would vote to remove the word “unprecedented” from the English language. Words like this only serve to give people the perception that something similar is extremely unlikely to ever happen again. Really? I live along the Mississippi River, where in recent years we have had 100-year floods, 500-year floods and a host of other “surprising” flooding events. Hyperbole may be great for news headlines. Not so much for preparing your organization to adapt to on-going change. Over-dramatization makes it feel like there is nothing you can do to impact the situation. There is always something you can do.
• Claim your resilience. How you and your people see yourselves has a huge impact on your actions. Do you regularly talk to your team about how resourceful, or creative, or adaptable they are? When my boys were little and would fall and scrape their knee, my standard response wasn’t to rush in and ask if they were hurt, but rather to note, “It’s a good thing you are such a tough kid.” Their typical response was “Yeah!” (even if their chin was quivering a bit when they said it). When your people know that you see them as adaptable and resilient, they are more likely to live up to your perception.
There is no magic in finding a post-pandemic path forward. You simply need to recognize that change is a constant, acknowledge that you have choices in how you respond, and know that you are tough enough to take it all in stride. Because it is, you do, are you are.