When coaching clients review our work, I ask them what is changing in:
- their perceptions, thinking and actions?
- their relationships and conversations?
- their impact in their system?
The inquiry is deliberately wide-ranging. The purpose is to invite clients to take stock and to explore their evolution in the context of coaching, whilst taking into account the effect of broader circumstances and events. This approach recognises that coaching is only one part of their leadership development.
As we begin to move beyond the initial phases of contending with corona virus and Covid-19, a similar process of sense-making may support us to determine how we move forward as leaders and as human beings. The realities of the last few months have been markedly different for those doing essential work and those who’ve had much more time on their hands. However, there have also been shared experiences: the new rigours of physical distancing, a lack of access to services we took for granted only three months ago and being confined to our homes. Now we’re beginning to think a little further ahead.
For some, the easing of lockdown may feel like coming out of a form of hibernation, whilst for others a new emphasis may mean a fresh wave of work. What springs to mind is film footage of those who emerge, blinking, into landscapes ravaged by natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes. As we begin to venture out again, what will we find? What will we have to accept and adjust to? To date, we’ve mostly been occupied with surviving. As we try to return to a more ordinary existence, we’ll be confronted by the true reach of this upheaval.
Yet all is not gloom. I’ve read many articles and been part of many conversations that reveal hidden gems in our confinement. Even some of those working long hours at unsustainable intensity have noticed a sense of relief about not commuting, an appreciation of having their family around them, and/or a feeling that downtime is more relaxed with fewer social commitments. For those not at work, it seems that homes and gardens have never been more carefully tended! Many people are learning new skills or reconnecting with activities they love, but which had been squeezed out by busy lives, such as cooking, singing, gardening or writing.
We have been changed by the challenges and privations of lockdown, and many of us have done some personal reckoning and reassessed what matters. There are potentials in this cataclysmic time.
And so I’m wondering, at the level of our everyday lives and personal leadership, how we might take the opportunities presented by a ‘new normal’?
I believe it is important that we actively make this new normal, and don’t simply try to reclaim as much of the old normal as possible. This means taking time to be discerning about what we salvage, scrap, start or sustain. In reflecting, we might focus on what is changing. However, it’s also important to identify what is unchanging. What have we discovered, or rediscovered, that has always been important but was easy to overlook before we were catapulted into isolation?
My own lockdown has had two stages – dismantling the old normal and then getting a second book to press. With introvert preferences, I’ve been noticing, observing and contemplating. I’ve been cautious about rushing into action, because I cannot yet be clear about what will be of service.
In the murkiness of not knowing, I’m inspired by words from the Chinese poem, Tao Te Ching:
‘Do you have the patience to wait
Til your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Til the right action arises by itself?’
As lockdown gradually eases, a sense of liberation may feel like an imperative to act. If we can keep to small and careful steps, we’ll be able to assess whether our actions stir up the mud or leave the water clearer. And being thoughtful about what we now create may be a mark of respect to those who have suffered losses of loved ones, health or livelihood.
- What is changing, inside as well as out?
- And so…what kind of future will I make?