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Triggers for Adaptive Leaders to Avoid


In my recent article, “Reimagining the World at Work,” I discussed how the pandemic is speeding up changes in the way we work. Today, I’ll talk about how leaders are being forced to rapidly shift their mindset and focus points.

Transitioning from fully or partially onsite to remote in order to continue operations has quite literally put most people in a new on-screen digital box. Leading our organizations through upheavals and uncertainty has always required innovation, but 2020 is throwing much more than that at us and our best offense and defense sit in those digital boxes that currently contain the vast majority of intellectual property and value for your entire organization. 

This is somewhat easy to forget when we face rapid shifts of focus and strategy — for example, for many, it’s shifting from productivity goals to hopes of mere survival. Every organizational leader is working through a process to shift their focus and make decisions in an unraveling economy plagued by fear wrapped in a global pandemic. The decisions and strategies we may have made in the 2009 recession don’t fit for what is unfolding now. 

On the global stage, our priority must be to end the pandemic. On the local stage, our priority must be our people. To make the best decisions possible, we need to remain focused on the short term, but more in the context of how that gets us to the longer term.

"On the global stage, our priority must be to end the pandemic. On the local stage, our priority must be our people. To make the best decisions possible, we need to remain focused on the short term, but more in the context of how that gets us to the longer term." – Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork


Three Issues That Are Bound to Trigger Even the Best Leaders

Consider the following three issues that typically trigger leaders. These are self-induced pitfalls to sidestep as they may actually move you away from effectively navigating through this crisis.

  1. Focusing on Economics. You may be tempted to look at your 401(k) balances each day to assess the damage. Yet, that likely will do little except add to your anxiety. In reality, the number in your 401(k) isn’t the bigger picture and neither is your current revenue forecasts.

You of course want to remain viable, but are you willing to prioritize your people’s longer-term health over your organization’s short-term health? Shifting your focus to your people now will be key to surviving in a world post-coronavirus.

The good news is that there will indeed be a world after this pandemic, and it will require us to be a lot more human. This is a very real and unique opportunity to demonstrate that our organizations have a greater purpose than making money.

Actively protecting the job and health of people, customers and employees is the current role of a leader. I encourage every leader to not get triggered as you start missing revenue goals. There is no question they will take a hit, but if you’re able to remain focused on the longer term, it will greatly impact how successfully and quickly we all come out of this crisis.

The best leaders will be those that genuinely care about the world and the people in it. They will meet fear with resolve and when given the chance, they will do the right thing for their people.

  1. Foregoing Humanity. Although she did not do it all that well, Madonna tried this past week to talk about how COVID-19 is going to have a leveling effect on the world. She wasn’t wrong in her belief that things will change, but I’d redirect her point to be more about a reset of humanity.

CEOs are not currently leading organizations; they are only leading people. There isn’t any other agenda more important. COVID-19 leadership requires deep understanding and acknowledgment of people who are highly concerned about their families, health and jobs. Motivating people who are in a reactive mindset means maintaining a proactive leadership style. Our ability to create actions that send the message we care about people and we care what they are going through fuels this new level of leadership.

We are at the center of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and in a world where everyone is watching. Future generations will look back upon this very moment to try and understand our leaders’ intentions and who took the opportunity to do the right thing for their people. Being empathetic with what our people are experiencing such as fear for their health, their jobs, and even immense grief, will ultimately make the difference between the good and the great.

While small businesses in the hospitality and culinary industries have been forced to shut their doors, entire communities have come together to help each other. Some corporations have already begun layoffs of people who have been hard working and loyal for many years, right now, in the middle of the storm. This is a crisis, but it’s also a moment to demonstrate that we don’t have to forgo humanity for the economy.

  1. Pushing Productivity. The more time we spend addressing the human side of our organization, the more our people will be in the right mindset to respond with the agility, creativity and commitment needed to succeed. Many leaders are worried about their workforces being productive while working at home. Yet, I think workers are equally worried about being productive working at home and having a manager with an intense focus on performance isn’t only ill-timed, it is also ill-advised.

We know productivity may be impacted, but it won’t be solved by forcing more productivity pushes like performance reviews, clock watching, or how much time is spent in the digital box on the screen.  Leading in COVID-19 will require us to reevaluate how we approach both organizational and individual performance management.

Traditional performance metrics as we know them were already obsolete and this pandemic may be the last straw. Suspend your traditional notion of metrics you normally use to demonstrate success (e.g., profit, margins, units of sale, quantity of production). Divert most of your resources and focus your attention on helping your people be productive as individuals in the middle of a global crisis. These actions will do far more good for your business and the world.

A Greater Purpose

Part of our job now is to become adaptive leaders, including how we cultivate performance. Perhaps in the longer term, this will end up being an opportunity to redesign and implement a more fluid and adaptive performance system that sets up both employees and organizations for a greater purpose.

Visit WorldatWork’s resource page for more info and planning on COVID-19.

About the Author

Scott Cawood Bio Image

Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the president and CEO of WorldatWork.

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