EDITOR’s NOTE—This is the first ReadTheSpirit column by leadership consultant Craig Lemasters, head of Atlanta-based GXG, a global learning company that helps Fortune 500 executives tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges. Later this year, Craig will launch his first book: Unstuck.
By CRAIG LEMASTERS
We have so many things to worry about right now. Our health, our families, our household necessities. Leaders additionally so. Not just for the future of our businesses but for how that will affect the people who make up our organizations.
I’ve been through cataclysmic crises before—unexpected changes that threaten to upend or even destroy enormous companies. For years, I was the CEO of a $5-billion Fortune 500 subsidiary. Now, my vocation has shifted to helping other leaders adapt to dramatic changes in our world. I own and run GXG in Atlanta, an active-learning partner for professionals who find themselves stuck. I’m going to be sharing that wealth of wisdom soon in a book called, Unstuck: How to Unlock and Activate the Wisdom of Others.
In my career, I’ve been through tragedies as powerful as hurricanes destroying vast stretches of the economy—to bankruptcies that overnight threaten to cascade across an entire industry as technologies and economies transform.
LEADERSHIP IN A PANDEMIC
So, what do we know about leadership in a time of life-threatening crisis?
The first thing we must understand Is: There’s no blueprint for navigating times like these. Forces like hurricanes and global economic crises are out of our leadership control. But—what we can control are our choices as we live through these tragedies.
I define a leader as anyone who is accountable for choices. That’s an expansive definition. Many of us are contributing critically to the continuation and future prosperity of our companies. That means many of us are balancing personal concerns with paralyzing feelings of uncertainty at work.
While I work mainly with Fortune 500 leaders, the principles I’m stressing here—and in my upcoming book—are recommendations anyone can take and adapt to their circumstances.
TRUSTING OUR FOUNDATIONS
My guiding principle right now is: What was important before will be important again.
Read that again and consider jotting that down on a slip of paper near your desk—or putting it on your refrigerator, while you’re working from home.
Of course, any global crisis brings change. But all of the underlying values and most of the important initiatives from before this public health crisis will still be there when it’s over—with an extra emphasis on speed.
The path to growth hasn’t changed—the need to go faster has.
A RARE OPPORTUNITY TO SLOW DOWN
That’s why I’m spending my time right now on the slower pursuits—the things that get neglected because they take too long or pay off too far in the future. If we realize the opportunities we suddenly have before us, we will quickly discover that there we still have valuable resources at hand that we now have more time to develop.
First, I spend all my spare time getting in touch with everyone in my close-in professional network. Especially at the beginning of offices closing, working from home, people appreciated just having some time to talk. If you reach out now as a leader, you have to be willing to put yourself in counseling mode. People don’t have a lot of places to talk about how this is affecting their work life. Keep an ear out for how you can connect people to each other, who may be working through similar challenges.
This is also, surprisingly, proving a great time to make new connections. So many people are experiencing the same moment. If there’s a community you’ve always intended to engage more deeply—now is an ideal time to reach out!
I’m finding people are more open to what we think of as cold introductions, which these days seem to have a higher likelihood of turning into warm conversations and ongoing relationships.
BUILD OUR RELATIONSHIPS
The second thing I’m doing, now that I’ve been able to check in on people, is finding intentional ways to use the new white space on my calendar. Mostly by getting my whole team together. This is a great opportunity for all of us to hit pause and take some time to think about our business model overall. It’s all too common to talk about strategic, periodic reevaluations, but we usually never seem to find enough time. Now, many of us have no option but to make some obvious changes.
My team is also working together to work on soft skills. We’re getting better at how we tell our personal stories, how we talk about the value of our roles, and how we can help each other be productive and accountable.
Finally, take time each day for a personal inventory. You might call it reflection or meditation or even prayer. We have more flexibility in our schedules, now, so our self-evaluation and self-care can become a more regular part of our daily routine.
ASK YOURSELF …
As you are reflecting—as you’re working on your personal inventory—here are a couple of questions to spark your evaluation:
When you emerge from this down time, will you be more prepared for growth? What can you build now with the greater flexibility of time that you can use to move more swiftly as your work can freely expand again.
Are you going to feel energized or defeated? What are your sources of energy? Now, is a wonderful time to rediscover those daily disciplines that define your life and give you strength for the journey ahead of us.
It’s important for leaders that we acknowledge the seriousness of where we are but try to drive towards a positive future. As long as we keep learning from and through this uncertainty, we will be able to build something better on the other side.
My advice is: Use all the valuable gifts we have in our lives even in the midst of this crisis. Don’t let this get you stuck.
My book Unstuck will launch later this year. We’ll be sure to share the news with readers of ReadTheSpirit. Meanwhile, visit my website and let me know you’d like to learn more about the book.