If leaders can (re)learn any one thing from Pandemic Time, it is that the proverbial house is always falling down. Leaders are foolish to step back and say “There, that’s done,” or “Whew! That’s over!”
This moment in history is not unprecedented and will happen again in future lifetimes.
There will not be a new normal and there is not an emerging normal.
Normal is the threatening rocks perpetually hanging over our heads among the good that life offers, and our unyielding desire to admit they are there. Death, dying, pestilence, famine, war, and physical suffering are part of our normal. Normal is our work to open and keep open our eyes to these rocks--working to minimize, reduce, and limit their effects, creating spaces to rest and prepare for the next round of striving against them, making sure our descendants are not harmed by our selfish responses. Our descendants should be lifted by our preceding courageous service so that they too courageously serve those who proceed from them.
Perhaps we have had some years now to vacation from this normal reality and we squandered the time.
Perhaps now we are ready to reengage the real work of building a purposeful and civic-minded community.
When confronted with something completely unprecedented in one’s experience, it is a best practice habit to follow a disciplined progression of thought, and as soon as possible. In other words: rush immediately to take that deep breath and gather perspective before responding further. Learning this discipline, and applying it consistently in smaller matters, makes this skill available during moments of triage.
- What happened? What do we think it means to us?
- When others have faced something similar, what wisdom did they leave for us?
- What are the implications for our turn at this? How do our mission, vision, and values guide us?
What are we going to do next, and after that, and toward what end?
Many folks go right to question four, bypassing the first three . When they do, they are not leading; they are choosing to manage crisis with their blinders on.
This discipline of thinking - and thinking quickly and thoroughly - before responding was expounded by college professors who taught me the art of preaching. We used this discipline to interpret the scriptural text, interpret the times and culture around us, and then think forward to meaning and application. We could not get to the last until we did the first.
This disciplined thought process informed nearly forty years of my working life — thinking deeply, yet quickly, in order to:
guide an extended faith family facing the critical issues of its day.
inform my parenting and family life decisions — raising children, shepherding a family through long years of the physical suffering of my first wife, and deciding to marry again and blend an even larger family.
shape my approach to building a business for the long-term and with legacy in mind.
walk with numerous clients as they built their organizations for the long-term and with legacy in mind.
This thoughtful triage before responding helped my leadership while living through:
a sudden increase of troubled latch-key children on the streets in the urban parish where I lived and served
greater societal permission to engage in vice, and the problems that brings to the homes of clients, colleagues, vendors, competitors, family members, and neighbors
multi-faceted and complex mergers/acquisitions
capital fundraising efforts gone awry
recessions, especially 2008-2009
death and departure of business partners
Leaders are thrust into difficult moments. This, too, is normal and should be expected and prepared for. Thinking, as a discipline, helps us describe as objective a future state as we can and begin rallying resources and people to it. We are more quickly able to define resources, roles, actions, and objectives as external reference points everyone can see, so that something new and helpful can happen. There are other at least three other benefits:
 Thinking, as a discipline, helps the leader with the constant communication cadence of:
THERE is where we were,
HERE is where we are, and
THIS is where we are going.
 Thinking, as a discipline, helps the leader surface, redirect, and even incorporate dissent. If someone wishes to be an enemy to the triage and response, they are far less able to do so from a hidden place because the objectives are not hidden, and they are regularly communicated. It is difficult to be hateful or act hatefully when you are being offered dignity, respect, and an opportunity to help give shape to a response.
 Leaders who develop this discipline of thought waste far less time. Fools who rush in end up being far more wasteful; they are not able to formulate clear objectives and marshal efficient use of resources for a critical response.
This discipline of thought is part of the high art of leadership. It requires fortitude to not rush in but to turn one’s strength toward building from a foundation, when it seems the house is falling down.
The house is always falling down. It’s normal.
P.S. I almost put a case study in this blog post. I am concerned that some might use it as a substitute to doing their own work to their context. If you are a business owner or CEO facing a think first scenario and want to further develop this skill, feel free to schedule a call.
Tags:process design, process consulting, executive coaching, organizational development muse, Mark L. Vincent, Design Group International, organizational decision making, executive develpment, strategic mapping, Resiliency, Think first
May 4, 2020