We’re working but we’re working differently. We’re going to school but we’re not leaving the house. We’re staying in touch with friends and family but in many cases we’re not physically seeing people outside our house. We hear talk of getting back to normal but it’s unclear what that normal means. This current crisis will bring about a new normal. Something that we don’t yet know.
Let’s be clear also that this current situation is not ‘the new normal’. There is nothing normal about what we are all going through. We may be trying to keep things the same as much as possible but life is very different. We carry out our meetings over video conferencing but the relationships we build on and conversations we have feel different. I’ve been surprised by the utter exhaustion of working long days and not going anywhere. My body physically aches from sitting at my desk all day, being on screen, ‘talking’ to people and communicating electronically. Even for someone who finds social situations relatively easy, it’s hard to ‘read’ a virtual room or interpret people’s mood. It’s not normal for me to comfort friends who have been bereaved via WhatsApp, to be hesitant even to drive round to their house to drop food off. To find myself worrying about what might happen if those I care most about needed to have urgent medical treatment and question whether the NHS could cope with any additional burden on them.
This is far from normal, for any of us. Let’s remember also that normal for one is different for another. We can sometimes assume that everyone sees the world and situations as we do. That others will respond in the same way as us and feel the same as us. I’ve been struck by the different ways in which I’ve seen people respond to this crisis.
For some of us, crises like this bring the absolute best out in us. We thrive on the urgency of decision-making and weight of trust and responsibility others appear to throw at us to take control of a situation. This might be in our homes, our organisations or even our country. For others of us, the situation we are faced with fills us with utter fear, anxiety, apprehension and hopelessness. We don’t want to be making decisions, don’t feel equipped to plan, would like things just to be as normal as possible and will recoil mentally and physically from those around us and our environment. Like most things in life and the way I see the world though, these aren’t binary positions. Each of us may have traits of both of these ends of a scale that can slide up or down daily, hourly or even minute to minute. There are, of course, many other responses that we may feel or experience. We are all human and all have our limits of tolerance and control – sometimes even when we think we know what they are, they can creep up on us and surprise us like a jack-in-the-box.
This week brings the festival of Pesach in our calendar. A time when we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, of slavery and freedom passed down from generation to generation. We hold a seder that asks us why this night is different from other nights. A time of marked and purposeful difference in our behaviours. Our sedarim and their customs can bring comfort, familiarity, normality. Normality in an abnormal situation. What does it mean to want to find normality when all around us change is happening? How can we balance what we always do with what needs to be done? The discourse of maintaining the tradition of our practice with the uncertainty we are facing?
We can perhaps look to lessons in leadership at this time. How we embrace the uncertainty of a VUCA (Volatile Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) situation. We can allow this environment to overwhelm and manage us, or we can take steps to try to manage it. To see opportunity to Vision, Understand, find Clarity and embrace Agility. We can use skills we find in Adaptive Leadership to help us observe, interpret and design. To understand and appreciate the challenge we are facing, to make sense and try to bring about initiatives to meet the challenge.
We will need to work together with those around us as individuals and organisations, collectively as a community. This year will be different from other years. This is not a normal year. Our intentions and ambitions can be the same though. Our values can still stand us in good stead to make decisions and choices in how we respond. Our actions and behaviours may need to flex [and embrace things which we don’t yet know] but our core, our values can remain and guide us.