You may know that at the moment, I’m heads-down writing my next book, Curve Benders, due out this fall. You’d be proud to hear that I wrote 38 pages over the weekend.
The process was painstakingly slow, because of a simple challenge: I was trying to write and edit at the same time! It turns out that a completely different part of your brain handles each of those functions. And Curve Benders being book #11, you’d think I’d remember that the goal of the first pass is always to get ideas in your head, from your research, interviews, and the unique lens just down on paper. You come back to it in the second round to clean up, edit, rephrase key ideas, etc.
Isn’t it interesting that we end up taking two steps back to move inches forward when we feel the pressure to act? We forget what we’ve learned, revert to old habits, or get out of lockstep with what we know works.
We’re in the midst of one of those times. You know what to do. Learning, unlearning, and relearning is a crucial growth enabler, and particularly valuable right now. I recently read that the single biggest predictor of success is learning with incredible speed and agility. It’s not just knowing what to do. It’s knowing what to do, even amid the uncertainty, chaos, and no line of sight as to what’s next in any of this for all of us.
I’m coaching several executives at the moment on learning and growing through this time of crisis leadership. We begin every conversation with a simple question:
“What did you learn this past week?”
Similarly, we end every conversation with the same simple question:
“What one thing will you do differently this coming week?”
Their industries cover a broad spectrum, from financial and professional services to manufacturing, healthcare, travel, and industry associations. Similarly, these leaders are responsible for a wide swath of organizational performance, from relatively a small $50M P&L to one of $15B P&L. As such, their answers similar range along a wide spectrum. From managing work/life balance, like what to do now that all summer camps or the big family trip have been canceled, to their seemingly desperate need to get back on a plane to see their remote offices, teams, clients, and incredibly valuable relationships. One is even beside himself, as he is longing for the traffic of his former daily commute!
In over 150 executive conversations over the past four months, a few themes have emerged:
- Most executives have doubled down on their awareness and practice of extreme empathy for their teams, and they’re coaching their direct reports to prioritize the same throughout their organizations proactively.
- The ZERO guarantee of a tomorrow for any of us and how fragile our lives really are. One client exec has had a dozen or more team members pass away from Covid-19 complications. It’s heartbreaking to feel the loss in their culture. She was on Microsoft Teams meetings with some of the same people, just a week earlier! So, they’ve set up a company-wide GoFundMe-type page for those who can to contribute with a company match!
- The sheer grit, determination, and absolute resilience from the field. One CEO shared that he has never witnessed his entire global leadership team come together like they have in the past few months and overcome one obstacle after another in his eight-year tenure. We can’t get that supply from China – no problem, here is another supplier from another region. We can’t get our people into that manufacturing facility because of a government lockdown – no problem, we’ll ship what we need from another plant. It’s awe-inspiring. Will they get a great deal right in this incredible time of uncertainty? Sure. Will they also completely miss the mark, screw some things up, or otherwise make mistakes? You better believe it. But the thoughtfulness, the initiative people are taking, the collaboration, and actual problem solving seems to have been heightened by this global pandemic!
- The fundamental need for all of us to disengage. Our family took a few days to drive to a nearby beach. I’m convinced the Mrs. did this on purpose, but the WiFi signal wasn’t very strong, so I pushed all of my web meetings to when we’d return. It was a God sent, as the stillness of the sun and the ocean, and the opportunity to disengage, practice digital detox, and spend quality time with the family was unbelievably refreshing!
- The unstoppable force of strategic relationships. Not mere contacts or connections. But the real, authentic, and value-based ones. One client shared how a member of his senior leadership team who had already recovered from Covid, had donated antibodies to another member of the team who had been ill. That’s more than a colleague doing something nice to be cordial. That’s love for people you depend on every day!
So, here are three questions to ask yourself and your team:
- Are you learning fast enough? There is never a “good time” to learn. You’ll never be completely ready. The key is the willingness to purposefully, proactively, and, if necessary, painfully learn something new every single day.
- How well is that learning cascading through the organization? What a huge missed opportunity for growth of the entire team, if it’s not. More detrimental, why not? It’s painful to watch disparate groups make the same mistake – simply because there is no bridge between those who identify a challenge or an obstacle and those who have made it through to the other side. What will it take for this connective tissue of learning and growth to thrive in your organization?
- What will you do differently on the other side of this global pandemic? What a brilliant time to challenge the many status quo processes and their defenders. What a glorious time to experiment on the job, learn from others, and create an informal network of learners. It is a brilliant time to learn something new, teach something new, and struggle through a unique learning opportunity.
Struggle, obstacles, aspirations, inspirations, failing, learning, growth, teaching, and sharing are all the perfect imperfections that make us human. At work, we should recognize, celebrate, and reward prudent risk-taking, and as Amy Edmundson, HBS Professor and MG100 friend of mine says, reward praiseworthy failures. Because it’s amazing, just how often those failures become invaluable learning moments.
And that’s the way I see it,