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The original title for this article was “when things fall apart” as they have done, for so many people, organizations and institutions, in the past six months. However, perhaps that is too pessimistic a heading, because what we have noticed as a team at TomorrowToday is that whilst much has fallen apart, a lot has also been innovated. New ways of ‘doing’ working, new models of thinking, new styles of engagement- be it in the business, health or education sector.

The ways in which humanity has had to adapt and adjust to these incredibly difficult times has led to a degree of hope and insight into our human capacity for resilience. Resilience is its own topic, and I won’t (although tempted) venture into that now. What I would like to share are a few key insights that have emerged through my work as a psychologist, consultant and executive coach, over this time. Perhaps some of these stories will resonate with you too…

1. We all approach a crisis differently

Why were some people frantically purchasing toilet paper and others acting like nothing was wrong at all? Because we all react differently in a crisis, and often we don’t quite know how we will respond until we face it. This is for two reasons: 1. Stressors result in the activation of a different part of our brain. This evokes a classic fright/freeze, fight or flight response. 2. Our perceptions of reality are dependent on our personalities. Think of this as tinted glasses lenses through which we see the world. We all have slightly different shades.

In this pandemic I’ve watched some leaders become paralyzed by their fear – running multiple ‘what if’s’ through their minds, struggling to sleep and concentrate whilst others have seen this as a challenge to be conquered, ‘galvanizing’ their workforce. Leaders who have done their own EQ 

work know this about themselves and know how to engage with others to meet them at their level. They have the EQ skills to recognize they’re ‘wearing different glasses’ and instead of trying to force their teams to do things their way, they have taken a step back, and considered the multiple lenses people are interpreting this pandemic through, then stepped forward to work with people in the manner that best suited to them.

Similarly, you may also have noticed that a change in work patterns has coincided with a shift in your team dynamic…in many cases the most extraverted employee in an in-person meeting isn’t always the same character online. Likewise, the ‘hero of the day’ is now the person with the most IT knowledge who helps get your meeting out of tech-hassles, perhaps someone who hardly ever spoke up in meetings before-hand. Last, you may also have noticed that those  

in authority seem significantly less impressive online especially when they struggle with navigating the ‘mute’ button. Hence, for some teams, the ways in which you and those around you have responded behaviorally differently in this crisis have opened up opportunity to reconfigure team dynamics and may have even shifted your perspective on fellow colleagues or previously held opinions.

The gist of this insight: people’s actions are informed by their personalities and personalities are diverse, they also respond differently in times of crisis and in new contexts. Knowing your, and your team’s personality design will go a long way in helping you manage your team more effectively. Especially in times of crisis. If you have not done any EQ development then now is the time to start and the Enneagram is a great framework to start with.

2. We have learnt something about motivation

People have capacity for intrinsic (self driven, internal) versus extrinsic (stimulated by an outside reward/punishment) motivation and the difference between them matters. What has emerged in this lockdown is the insight that what may have motivated people at the office no longer works at home. External motivators to go to work include opportunity for public affirmation, informal banter with colleagues, friendships, being part of a team and receiving an income (with a bonus for top performance). In lock-down much (and for some people, all) of these factors were removed to some degree, resulting in people needing to draw on their own intrinsic motivational drive to get up, get dressed (even partially) and do their work.

For many this has been incredibly difficult as it reflected how much/little we find a sense of purpose in our work. Our  

‘sense of purpose’ is the driving force for intrinsic motivation, and for those who couldn’t find it, work has become such a lonely slog that may have even injured your mental health over this year. Establishing or reigniting this sense of purpose in your team is crucial, and if your current organizational culture has not built this in as a fundamental, you likely felt its impact over these last six months. Many organizations have shown great ingenuity in rethinking how to keep employees engaged and purpose orientated through this pandemic.

Examples include weekly check-ins on personal health and well being; occasional ‘house party’ activities online using interactive apps; having themed zoom meetings; creating mentor programs to increase work based validation and affirmation; creating opportunity for employees to engage in personal learning opportunities where work was unable to continue.

3. The importance of Trust

Google ‘Trust’ – you’ll see it is not a single entity or characteristic. Rather, it refers to confidence, strength, reliability, assurance, truth, ability, relationship, conviction…the list goes on. Brené Brown writes extensively on this topic, she calls it the anatomy of trust, and unpacks the ways in which trust is made up of seven core attributes.

What lock-down has revealed are the leaders who trust their team, and those who don’t. In several organizations we saw a heightened sense of panic from management desperately searching for how they could monitor and manage their employees working from home. How to ensure they ‘clocked in’ and were doing what they were meant to be. It spoke to an immense mistrust within teams and left employees feeling micro-managed.

The organizations that have come through strongest in this pandemic have been those who displayed the EQ to temporarily put the work agenda to the side, attend to their people as a priority and then equip and entrust their people to do what needed to be done.

These organizations distributed autonomy to their teams, rather than frantically pulling in the ‘reigns’ of authority. As a result, people felt empowered and responsible for their work. Their sense of purpose improved and their overall trust in the organization increased. 

If trust is an issue in your team/organization we can help you with this

There is a great short online workshop that we can do with your team

4. It takes time and intention to build your personal brand…and just seconds to lose it

A lot of work I do in coaching is to help clients think about how they ‘show up’. How they present themselves to others both formally and informally. This is especially crucial if you are wanting to influence others in the work place or climb the corporate ladder.

Interestingly people seldom think of themselves as a ‘brand’, and yet in every meeting, engagement, work day you are either doing things to grow your personal brand or diminish it.

How aware you are of your bodily communication (non-verbal communication) is often something that hurts your personal brand without you even being aware you are doing so. For example, you want to be seen as interested and engaged but you sit in your chair slouched, or resting your head heavily on your arm in meetings. Another example of this, is how senior leadership often want to be seen as inviting and open but keep their door closed for the duration of the day and walk briskly without making eye contact with others when they are not in their office. These bullies of human behavior send a strong psychological message.

Why am I highlighting this as a point? Well, because Covid has done some serious damage to many leaders personal branding and they are going to need to work hard to restore it. An example of this is a leader who advocates for the health and safety of employees but then doesn’t wear his/her own mask whilst in meetings or staff engagements. Due to their seniority, staff don’t feel comfortable confronting leaders to ask them to adhere to the Covid regulations and are left feeling not only uncomfortable in the meetings themselves but also less confident in their leader’s future verbal promises, when his/her non-verbal actions convey the exact opposite!

Regretfully, this scenario played itself out in a team where the leader was then found to be Covid positive. 

Perceptions of  the leader quickly shifted as people felt resentful and annoyed at the risk this leader had now exposed the staff to, especially staff who have existing health concerns and vulnerabilities. What has occurred is a break down in trust, which from a personal branding position is an attribute that will be very difficult for this particular leader to subsequently restore.

The gist: What you say matters. What you do matters more! Especially if you are the person in the room with authority. Think intentionally on how you show up and what you are communicating by doing so. Is this congruent with your verbal communication? How are you intentionally or unintentionally building your personal brand or destroying it?

 5. Screen Fatigue is a real thing…so is Burn-out

If I had R10 for every time someone told me about their exhaustion with screen meetings over these last 6 months, I think I’d be able to live a life of luxury in Bali after this pandemic. The sudden shift to online work has resulted in what one client referred to as being “zoomed out”. This includes, tiredness (beyond what you usually experience), headaches and feeling annoyed.

Online meetings are not nearly as interactive, they lack the ‘pre-meeting/ corridor banter” that de-stresses most people. They require you to sit in a fixed, rigid position so that you are within the boundaries of your camera lens as opposed to being able to move around with ease. In online meetings we also lack the ability to read full body language as cues to what people around us are feeling and thinking, so your brain is working overtime by trying to pay attention to words and facial cues which it isn’t as familiar with interpreting. This mental load alone is exhausting. If that isn’t enough, there is also usually some form of tech disruption/ irritation which is time consuming and frustrating. 

Screen fatigue is a real thing. You are not imagining it…you need to manage it. Why? – because alongside screen fatigue I’ve witnessed patients, clients, leaders and colleagues hit a level of burn-out. That place where you start second-guessing yourself, feel critical and cynical about others/work, experience more intense or noticeably absent emotions and may experience some physical ailments. Here is a link to better understanding this condition and self diagnose.

The gist of this insight is that whilst we might have dismissed these conditions in the past, organizations are now clearly experiencing them, and on scale!

To combat both, personal coaching can be helpful as you’ll come to understand your limits, triggers and releases. For those not in a coaching space, I’d recommend that you consider these three areas: Competence, Autonomy,

Relationship. They are the pillars of ‘happiness’ (believe it or not this is a whole research area in psychology) and during this pandemic I’ve often found myself asking clients to reflect on:

  •  Where do you feel you’ve lost sense of competence? Could there be something more you could do in this area to regain it in another way?
  • Despite the many restrictions, in what ways do you have autonomy? Are there spaces you could have greater independence and control over, even in your daily routine?
  • How are your relationships? Are you feeling connected to people, do you need to take some time out and spend it recreationally with those who make you feel recharged and energized?

Five insights based on the several stories that have emerged throughout this turbulent year.

So there we have it. Five insights based on the several stories that have emerged throughout this turbulent year. Some of which you may find yourself in…all of which, I hope, reflect commonly shared experiences that highlight the challenges and opportunities for new thinking in the workplace..