Longing To See 2020 In Hindsight

There's no vaccine for volatility, so, despite the calendar year turning over, CEOs will have to learn to live with ambiguity for a while longer. A few tips.

That’s the common refrain I hear from the CEOs and executives I work with: we all want this year to be over. Unfortunately, turning the page on the calendar is unlikely to change the current situation, at least for now. And there’s no vaccine for business uncertainty or volatility. Business unusual is our current reality.

Dealing with business unusual requires energy. Yet, our supply is depleted from the constant pressures of leading through repeated waves of crisis and grappling with the implications of broader systemic instability. In today’s uncertain economic and health climates, people are also reluctant to take time off to refresh. Many want to preserve paid-time-off, either for a later cash payout or to care for a loved one should they become ill. Others feel they simply don’t have time to take time.

If we are already tired, how will we survive, let alone thrive, over what could be another year or more of turbulence? How do we manage in this time? How do we engage and motivate people remotely?

These are the questions that participants in my Leaders Lunch peer roundtable considered in a recent conversation. Here are three things they’re doing to thrive:

• Do it yourself first. If you expect your staff to take real time off to refresh, leaders must also do this–visibly. Show your staff how you do it: take a week off, extend a weekend, or just capture personal quiet time. Be clear that you are out of the (home-) office, not only physically, but also mentally. No logins. No email. No calls. No delivery of backlogged work at 8a on the day you return to work.

• Ask staff what they need to recharge. While time off may help, there are other ways to recharge also. Many of us are missing the kind of connection that only occurs in-person. These days, even the simple act of a smile is missing from our interactions; it’s hidden behind a mask or technology. Set aside just 15 minutes to check in with staff individually. Ask this two-part question: How do you like to recharge—and to what extent are you doing that right now?

• Listen carefully to what is said and unsaid. You’ll find answers and insights in both. Squeaky wheels do eventually get greased. Silence can speak volumes. Importantly, act on what you learn. Sometimes that’s a grand gesture – like one CEO who delivered a gourmet lunch to every staff member’s home so that they could share a team meal, virtually. At other times, it’s a simple thing – like a shout out on a call or by mail congratulating a colleague on successfully completing a challenging hike. Alternatively, your action may be to change your own behavior. Perhaps you are doing something that consumes energy from those around you.

Soon, 2020 will only be seen in hindsight. Resist longing for the longest year to end. Instead, consider what steps you can take right now to assure your organization will thrive. Business unusual requires a new way of leading. What will hindsight say about your leadership?

Tara J. Rethore
Tara Rethore, CEO of Strategy for Real, works with CEOs, boards and executives to take strategy off the page and into action. Throughout her career, Tara has led strategy development and execution within large global organizations and as a highly valued consultant. Currently, Tara serves on several private and nonprofit boards. She is also one of Chief Executive Group’s CEO Trusted Advisers and a Marshall Goldsmith Certified Stakeholder-Centered Coach. Find more insights on Tara’s Real Strategy blog.