Are you chasing the secret sauce, too?
This pandemic put an end to many businesses while catapulting others to unprecedented growth. Most of us are all still trying to shake off our COVID hangovers and find a way forward. Without question many have suffered, but all of us feel the impact. Forever the optimist, I view the world through a lens of humanness and potential. Amid the grave challenges and polarization, I see an incredible opportunity coming out of our collective suffering. The beauty in the ashes is to see that life is an evolutionary process. This pandemic has created breakdown in every system, pushing us to go deeper inward for our resilience, empowerment, and discernment than ever before.
We are all on the same starting line
Every one of us on this planet entered the pandemic around the same time. You, me, our neighbors and colleagues, our country, and our world launched into chaos eighteen months ago. None of us has the upper hand of being in it longer or having more experience. Folks, there is no guru. We had become so reliant on the next guru to tell us what, how, when. In my mind, that makes this pandemic a great equalizer and a powerful tool for business. This equalizer is forcing us to look closely at our long broken, outdated systems of business, education and of life to figure out a better way. It forced us to change nearly everything in our lives, to simplify and innovate. But as I talk with other leaders, I am fascinated by their shared fear of a return to the way life and work was before the pandemic.
We are all asking the same questions
For the businesses that survived, consider what entrepreneurs and leaders are all asking right now: what are we going to do with our office space? Are we going to stay virtual? How are we going to create our culture in the virtual workplace? How are we going to create engagement with our people? How are we going to address evolving employee wellness and mental health concerns? No one has the upper hand in knowing the right answers to the questions of our new reality. But we all have the ability to switch off our autopilot thinking and be intentional. We can choose how we are going to be and lead coming out of this pandemic. I believe it will require tapping into an energy that lies beyond our five senses and autopilot thinking, to activate our imagination and intuition.
We all need to be human first
To me the formlessness of our current reality is exciting. This unknowing is a gift. It is time to ditch ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ and redefine the way we are as human beings. It will require a fresh approach in which we must put aside our egos and abandon the need to be right. We must redirect the energy we used to waste on being right into being human instead. I believe being united in the energy and vision of what is possible and staying in that imaginative space is when our world will become a better place. Will it mean giving up some of your power? Absolutely. Was my ego attached to having that big corner office? Hell yeah, as CEO it was, but moving forward I am choosing to be out there with my team. Would I have chosen this approach without the pandemic? Probably not. We are all in our own crisis of defining who we are and who we want to become. We all have freedom of choice and control, whether or not we are aware of it. It goes back to intentionality, to deciding how we are going to come out of this pandemic and determine how we are going to think, act, and lead differently. Being human first means listening to and honoring every person’s point of view, even when you may not be in alignment with them.
Is this where you get off the bus?
There are two ways that you might respond to this concept of being more human. This concept might compel you to want to know more about how it works in business. Or you might get part way through this article, decide this is a bunch of bunk and move on. Either choice is fine with me. Personally, I am choosing to leave behind the need to be right and choosing to focus my energy on authenticity, vulnerability, and curiosity. The decades old heavy-handed style of hierarchy is broken. I think it has always been broken. We needed the rise of the pandemic, the virtual workplace, and these challenges to realize we have been on the wrong bus for quite a while now. Our long-standing dogmas and systems function in a right-wrong framework that no longer works for our businesses or our people. Brene Brown recently labeled this outdated style as “armored leadership” of being a knower and being right, jumping into self-protect mode when we feel uncertain, fearful, or vulnerable.
We all want the secret sauce
Many of the CEOs and leaders I talk to are looking for an easy answer that keeps them from having to do the hard work of change. There is no new gadget, scorecard, metric, or shiny new thing we can bring in to create a deeper connection with our people, only to check it off our list. Everyone is looking for the secret sauce that effortlessly transforms our workplace cultures into places where people thrive, innovate, and love to work. Well, that secret sauce is not out there somewhere, it lies within each of us. The secret sauce is our being human. When we see our people as individuals who have incredible gifts and ask how to support them in bringing out their best, that is when our people will tap into higher levels of energy and creativity. It’s about putting our people first in a brave new way.
Fear blocks and paralyzes us. We lived the last year in deep, unrelenting fear that created obstacles and blockage of damn near everything. Overlay that onto a blame and fear-based work environment led by armored leadership and you can kiss the brightest and best workers goodbye. Reality check: my staffing firm is seeing a significant first quarter spike in the number of people looking for new jobs.
What is rising from all this fear are glaring polarizations, uprisings, and a magnitude of breakdowns. Extreme polarity only serves to magnify the uprisings, stress, and breakdowns and creates even more polarization. Judgment explodes because we all want to be right, and we are trying to outshout each other. What our situation shows me is that a deeper root needs to be pulled up. It lies in awakening to our deep fears and sense of disconnection with ourselves first and foremost. When the system breaks down like it has, we become fearful and we clench, we go into our judgment blame-game which only creates more resistance. The solution is counter intuitive; to return to self, and clearly define the self.
We all have to go deep
Our old, patterned thinking is to work harder, longer, and faster. The trendy new word for this dangerous habit is efforting. We fall back on these comfortable patterns out of years of unchecked habit. Instead, we should consider making a shift to slow down, be present, and listen more. It is not about having more meetings to micro-manage your team. It is about having better meetings that build connection and go deeper to build relationships and trust. I believe it is time to pay attention to the engagement culture and to our people; putting relationship first and integrating empathy in a balanced way that allows us to run and grow our businesses. I think this pandemic is challenging us to stay in conversations and stay curious. We need to be open to the fact that our point of view is not the only valid point of view. There might be a better way to run our companies, and now is a perfect time for co-creation and partnership with our people to figure out that new way forward. This awakening process, born out of the pandemic, is both a self-introspective and collective introspection process. Leaders must look honestly at themselves first, then to their departments, their teams, and entire companies. Otherwise, there will be an imbalance that will easily revert right back to a right-wrong blame game.
Leaders must set the stage with a sense of curiosity and create a blame free, non-judgmental space for idea exchange. Encourage your people to bring their authenticity and bold voices without fear of judgment or retaliation. As leaders, we must ask deeper questions of ourselves and others to build this connection. We are born for deeper connection, and we need connection now more than ever.
We may understand what needs to change, but it is the how of change that will separate the extraordinary organizations from the pack. These organizations will tap into a fresh way of being and of doing business. It is not another strategy, another metric or spreadsheet. It is an opportunity to cultivate and deepen what already lies within each of us. When we get rid of the armored self-protect mindset and embrace the self-worthy mindset, we will outperform last year and create an extraordinary workplace culture.
In my next article, I will tackle the topic that many people at every level are battling: proving your value in a virtual world. It will involve taking a deeper look at that secret sauce of being human.