Professor William Purkey recently wrote about the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906 which destroyed nearly 3/4 of the city. In the aftermath city leaders completely changed their views of building construction codes. Going forward they rebuilt the city with stone, brick, and steel mostly replacing wood. New structures were more resilient and fire resistant. His implication was clear: today’s leaders will need to rethink their assumptions in light of all the changes in our daily personal and professional lives promulgated by the corona virus.
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” T. Roethke
I’ve often thought life and especially leadership is the opposite of school. In school, we get the lessons followed by the test. In life, of course, we get the tests followed by the lessons. We don’t have our lessons yet from this crisis but we will. Let’s face it, in the middle of real adversity, job number one is to get through it. Reflections and lessons come later. What remains pretty clear though is that we will be forever changed. Someday, when people return to buildings, they will not be going back to the same organizations they left in March. People, out of necessity, will have developed new ways of thinking, working, and coping. How leaders respond will be our earthquake moment. And remember, often what you see is what you look for.
Will working at home ever be viewed the same as it was before the corona crisis? How will virtual learning, virtual meetings, and virtual socializing play out in a world where people can touch and see each other again? Will meeting in person ever be viewed the same again ? POLITICO Magazine interviewed 30 macro thinkers about the lasting ways our current crisis will reshape society. A few of their views include:
- Tom Nichols, professor at the U.S. Naval War College, suggests America will return to having faith in serious experts. People want to hear from Dr. Anthony Fauci. And going forward we will now return to seriousness about issues of importance to our country and experts who know something about those challenges.
- Sherry Turkle, founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, believes what will emerge on the other side is a healthier digital lifestyle. We will use our devices to rethink the kinds of communities we can create through them. She suggests a new kind of alone together. Concerts. Yoga. Lectures.
- Lilliana Mason, professor of government at UMaryland and author, says government service will regain cachet. We will see a rebirth of honor from serving and working for the government. Why? Because we see that functioning government is crucial for a healthy society.
Still others suggest electronic voting will go mainstream, stronger domestic supply chains will be created, and we will see a revival of public parks. Are they right? We don’t know. As a leader though you have to begin thinking about the right questions to ask, how our context will forever be changed, and new ways to move forward. Before it just happens to you. While we all have been globally impacted, we still live, learn, and lead locally. Now is the time to begin asking questions to your staff about what’s working, what’s not working, and while we all being forced to give everything a little time—- even things we don’t like that we may eventually end up liking.
“It’s better to be one step ahead and leading than two steps ahead and being chased.” Roy McKinley
Perhaps now is the time to start your own leader’s journal. What are you seeing? What are you learning ? How might your mission best be served or even changed in a post corona world? Leadership is often best executed not by the solutions we offer but by the questions we ask. It is not too early to begin thinking about our future because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives.