Way back in March, the beginning, when we were only beginning to suspect that things might be a wee bit different in the future, we thought we had it figured out. OK, we didn’t have much figured out, but there was a sense to how the world worked or didn’t work for us.
I had a schedule, my kids went to school, and we bumbled through flute lessons and drawing lessons and ballet and whatever else was on the calendar every week.
Now it’s all changed and everyone is scrambling. Here in the Netherlands, we are well into week 3 of kids and parents at home. Parents trying to work. Kids trying to learn. Ironically, we all have the time together now that we used to have to go on vacation for. But let’s be clear, this is not a vacation.
I spent the first couple weeks of this drowning. Drowning in my own emotions of shock and fear. The constant onslaught of news, fully facilitated by me obsessively reloading the news sites and social media, formed a strong current that threatened to pull me under. Meanwhile, my kids needed to be held up, we needed to start homeschooling.
And I think everyone went through the same. It’s a funny thing about crisis. When things are calm, we want to be individuals. We want to have our own story, one that stands out. Come crisis time, we start looking for stories that match our own, stories that help us feel like we’re doing the right thing, making the right choices, not weak if we’re feeling overwhelmed. The individual narratives will emerge later after we’ve had time to process this.
Personal stories work that way, they need time to marinade, time for their meaning to become clear to us, time for their significance to crystallize so we can polish them up and show them off.
So let me tell you about someone else’s story.
While walking circles in the woods across from my house to try to meet my 10k steps goal (don’t’ worry, they are fairly large circles, I haven’t lost it entirely – yet), I listened to Amy Porterfield and Rachel Hollis talk about how to pivot your business to work from home. Rachel mentioned a book she loved, The Hard Thing about the Hard Thing by Ben Horowitz.
The lesson she took from the book was that organizations need peacetime leaders and wartime leaders. Peacetime leaders consult with their teams and plan together. Input matters, consensus matters. Wartime leaders made decisions, tell their teams what is going to happen next and let them figure out how to get there.
My business is me. Yes, it’s sometimes me talking to me, but there isn’t a team to lead. So you’re wondering what I got out of this, right?
I have turned into a wartime mother. My children got sent home from school and drafted into the “we are in this together” service. They now put away dishes from the dishwasher, clear the table after dinner, and do things like roll-up carpets and put out mats so we can do yoga in the morning – and then put it all back when we are done. And we aren’t negotiating. I tell them what to do and they go do it.
What strikes me every single day is that my kids are happy to go along with this. There has been little to no protest. They look relieved to have a task. They feel proud of being able to contribute. Underneath it all, I think it gives them a feeling of security. The world may be falling apart, but someone seems to know what we need to do in order to navigate this and survive.
The thing is that when we take charge in a crisis, we are also taking responsibility. We are telling our team, “I’ve got you. I’ve thought about you, I’ve thought about the options. I’ve thought about the consequences. I’m taking responsibility. Now let’s go.”
My team is small and underaged for the moment. But I’m becoming more and more convinced that by giving them a clear structure and some more serious leadership than usual in this moment, I’m also giving them space to let a lot of things go. I’ve seen them go back to creative projects and get along with each other remarkably well. They’re learning to support each other and to manage work together.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the kind of thing leaders can do to give their teams space to create a positive narrative, a growth narrative in a crazy situation. When they don’t have to worry about fighting the bad guys, they can have a different adventure.