Covid 19, this tiny something that is not even known whether it is a living being or just a trigger of chemical reactions, for the first time unified the whole world at the level of the context in which we live, think, work, educate children, make decisions, buy, sell, create, connect, breathe. Am I wrong in saying that the situation in which we find ourselves is similar to jazz?
Life showed up in all its complexity and unpredictability. Circumstances demand our focused attention to what is going on around us and at the same time to the essential things. They awaken thorough reflections before responding, testing our flexibility and ability to improvise. They call for overcoming superficiality in order to be able to recognize emerging new forms and values somewhere deep in the chaos. This is jazz and this is the opportunity I am uncovering in this column.
Although the question of whether the time after the pandemic will be merely the period before the next one, as we are already reminded, currently Covid 19 is out of breath. Thus, we stand at the crossroads between a return to pre-pandemic practices AND the transformation of past practices on the findings of current experiences into the future.
The truth serum
I bet those who will consume the threat of Covid 19 as a serum of truth about the consequences of past actions and decisions and will be able to recognize emerging progress in constructive crisis responses and will choose to consciously translate them into new practices, values and mindsets.
The philosopher Slavoj Žižek reminded us that every deep crisis leaves behind a story that, with its narration, shines far into our future. It is up to us to ‘shine’ into the future with optimism and excitement or to tell stories of a bleak future imbued with fear and a desire to go back.
he future will be shaped by organizations where leaders will capture lessons learned from their own mistakes, recognise and build upon the strength of individuals and teams that have bravely combated with the crisis and root these findings in ways of (co)operation, resilience and (new) values which always float to the surface right in times of crisis.
The leaders I kept in touch with during counselling hibernation are united in the reflection that the crisis has cleared the fog that creeps into relationships between people, between levels and between departments. They now find it easier to identify people’s real qualities, real problems and lived values.
So, what are the insights and what are those actions and attentions that the current crisis has sharpened and given them a chance to shine into the future?
Trust under construction
Most organizations recognize trust as a core value of effective interpersonal relationships, employees’ collaboration, and engagement. The current situation of breaking the stability offers an invisible measure for the level of actual trust and at the same time an invisible trampoline that can catapult trust to potency.
The currency of success in overcoming crisis situations is not of a monetary nature! The currency is depth of human connection, woven from quality of trust, which the current situation gives the opportunity to be proved, expressed, and consolidated.
The leadership qualities found on the crisis trampoline are empathy, transparency, and perspective.
Empathy, which for many has so far been understood as too soft a virtue for heroic leaders, the current situation has automatically triggered the possibility of manifestation. Leaders who were virtually invited to the homes of their co-workers in a given situation inadvertently entered the family space and privacy. For the first time, many people got to know the situation in which their colleagues and their families live. They could observe the circumstances from which they contributed their share to the operation of the organization. The door to opportunity to meet at the human-to-human level and not just superior-subordinate has opened. It offers possibility to lean into each other’s lives, to truly understand and empathize with one’s fellow human in his reality – as it is, without judging or projecting.
Those who have opened to empathy in a given situation have been already paving the way to enhanced trust. When a person is heard, when he knows he is understood, he feels accepted and safe regardless of the uncertainty of the situation. Trust is sown.
In crisis circumstances where power is inevitably redistributed and flowed between levels and teams due to the situation itself, and in which the levers of control are replaced by (shades of) trust, transparency in the work of leaders is critical. This is expressed not only in the flow of important information or inclusion in decision-making but also in the disclosure of one’s own humanity.
There is probably no leader who can be completely convinced of the correctness of his decision at the time of adoption when the going gets tough.
The principle of operation in crisis situations is similar to juggling on the dimensions of test-if it does not work-change.
The fact is that there is no certainty when experimenting. Therefore, leaders are faced with a situation where they have to admit mistakes out loud, point out the consequences, and build a better decision from experience. Human vulnerability is expressed by acknowledging that ‘I simply don’t know everything’ and unfortunately ‘I don’t have verified recipes in stock’. It is this kind of transparency that has the power to strengthen the currency of trust.
危機 With these Chinese letters, the Japanese write the word CRISIS; kiki is pronounced. In addition to the fact that kiki certainly sounds more friendly than the crisis, these two letters also give us a completely different perspective from conception of the crisis in Western world. The first letter means danger while the second an opportunity.
Our opportunity, rising from the given situation, is to make sure that our findings, insights, and good practices are captured and coded into future behaviours and attitudes.
The time of broken stability is a time of revaluation and is an opportunity to weave a new, better future, which some months ago may have been clouded by various occurrences of clutter or even stuckness.
Leaderships now have the ideal opportunity to translate un-energetic and ‘safe’ visions and strategies into ambition with character and a perspective imbued with hope, courage and determination that will give wings to the entire team, sharpen identity, boost community awareness and market stance.
There is no absolute security. It is merely an experience category. But something is certain; an organization that has clear ambition, leaderships that have empathy and act transparently, and collectives that are connected by trust, are ready for a new crisis as well as for the time in between. “The world as we once knew is disintegrating and no one knows the face of the ‘new normality ’,” German publicist and futurist Matthias Horx summed up the current situation. Let this face simply be kinder, more authentic, in sync with the heartbeat, and let it be imbued with the insights we (re)discovered in ourselves and around us during the time of isolation.
The reading of this column is accompanied by the song TAKE FIVE by Paul Desmond, composer and saxophonist of the famous Dave Brubeck quartet. The release of Take Five in 1959 set a milestone in jazz as it escaped from established tactical modes into exploring new possibilities. This is also the reason for this selection. Let it be a reminder and encouragement to explore new ‘tactful ways’ also in leadership and in life in general. I chose a performance with Carmen McRae, which adds an extra layer of meaning trough lyrics … “Stop your busy day and take the time out to see if I’m alive” … Enjoy it!