What a year it has been, a year that we are all still struggling to finish. I don’t think that any of us can say that the year has been “normal” or that it has been the same as usual. Still, most of us still entertain thoughts like “If only things could return to normal” or “If everything could just normalize.”. Most of us had to adapt and learn to work from home with electronic meetings on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet. It is something that we all knew was going to happen at some point, but we did not expect it to be forced on us so quickly. The so-called “new normal!”.
This made me think about all these leadership books and models that we know and have, for years, been trying to implement in our workplaces. There is even some use of the newer research on personalities and the Enneagram theory. Yet, in this year we saw that we might have to return to the basics. Some of us were privileged enough to be able to continue with our work. Most of us worked harder than ever before. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t drop the ball; we did everything possible to keep our jobs. With all of this we had to learn to communicate telephonically and virtually. For the first time both husband and wife were working at home together and many times, most mothers also had to help their children with their homework. This created an amazing new work dynamic within the home. It is something that has never before been experienced. That then brings me to the first thing that most people had to say about this: I miss my colleagues and I miss my friends. Something that we used to accept as a matter of fact became a necessity. Even those of us who are introverts and who can get along on our own, started to long for human interaction. Even though we saw each other virtually, it just wasn’t the same. Recently we put in a little bit of effort and had a year-end function at work. It was noticeable how people were suddenly more tolerant of each other and how they enjoyed each other’s company. In some cases they even managed to resolve previous issues. At one point I thought, “Maybe this was worth all of the effort.”
Something else that we need to learn is to trust people more. I too had to make peace with the fact that I could not see people or check whether they were working. I had to trust that they had received proper training, that we have good people, that they are loyal and that they have the company’s best interests at heart. After all, their jobs depend on it. Even though proper resources and electronic access is important, the old saying popped up again: A company’s biggest asset is its employees. I think that most of us have in this period also gotten a very good idea about the quality of said employees. Most people functioned very well with their newfound “freedom” and the trust that was placed in them to work from home.
The last important thing that I learned during this period is that people should sometimes just have grace with each other. It was, and in some cases still is, a very difficult time. Nobody knew the future. There was, and still is, lots of uncertainty. People were trapped in houses. Everyone had to stay home. Schools were closed. Everyone tried to do their best with the facts that they had. Even though work had to continue, the last thing that people needed were employers with unreasonable expectations. People were going to make mistakes. Most mistakes were not intentional, but rather as a result of all the things that had to be managed simultaneously. We all rode very emotional waves. Besides for that, there were many other emotions in the house that needed to be managed. During the year end function that I mentioned earlier, it was also evident that one of the biggest fears that people had was what would happen if they made mistakes? How would they be treated? Will they know what I am struggling with? During the hard lockdown period I tried to speak to each employee at least once a week; to just listen to the challenges that they are facing, to ask where I can help and to thank them for their hard work along with providing comfort where needed. Hopefully that showed a little grace and brought a little more comfort in an otherwise difficult work environment.
Although these are not the only important things, it was just something small and simple during abnormal or “new normal” times. I am a huge supporter of, for example, Andy Stanley and Graig Groeschel’s leadership books and podcasts. During this period I have, however, realized that maybe all we need is a simpler approach without all of these complicated models.