Leaders talk about reality. They name things as they are and they help others do the same.
Therefore, it’s time we admit something to each other: we are living in a season of diminished capacity. (Thank you Matt Weston* for that language.)
2020 is clearly not the year any of us expected when the ball dropped in Times Square last January. All of our plans were interrupted by a virus. Our recovery was interrupted by a resurgence. Our children don’t have school to attend. We have a whole new category of mental health that we call “Zoom fatigue.” We are isolated from colleagues, from friends, and in some cases from family. It feels futile to attempt any long range plans. Life has become hyper-local and short-term.
On top of all that, as leaders we must manage people who are weary, afraid, irritable, and learning how to do their work remotely. The rhythms of work are changing and the rules of work are new.
Let me be my own best example. I am generally an upbeat high energy person. A couple weeks ago, I woke up and looked around and realized every day in my house and my office looks the same as yesterday. Monday looks just like Tuesday, like Friday, like Saturday, etc. and it extends the same way for as far into the future as I can see. My skin was on too tight and my motivation to get after it was non-existent. My patience was gone. My attitude was crummy. My well of creativity was about as deep as a tea cup. In short, I wasn’t much fun to be around.
On a zoom call this morning, someone made the statement, “it’s time we quit pretending and admit that we will likely not be meeting in person for a year.” Translation: this season of diminished capacity is not going away any time soon. The water level in our dam is way below normal.
That means the relevant question for every leader is, how do I navigate this season of diminished capacity?
Tell Yourself the Truth. This is not the time for naive, pie-in-the-sky pretending. All of us are affected. All of us are compromised to some degree. All of us will have good and bad days. All of us are operating at or below 80%. This is time to rediscover the power of the Stockdale Paradox and demonstrate it for others. That paradox means learning to be brutally honest about the facts of our current reality and yet retain faith that we will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties. (See Good to Great, pp.83-87)
Right-Size Your Expectations —For Yourself. It’s time to stop pretending that we are firing on all eight cylinders every day. It’s time to admit we really are running about 80% or maybe 70% or 60% or ?? Tell yourself the truth about your actual capacity and set your expectations appropriately. Pretending things haven’t affected you only sets you up to over-promise, under-deliver, and feel even more badly because of it. —For Others. A friend told me recently that every performance or role-clarifying conversation he’d had with a staff person recently went badly. It’s time we became a little more patient with people who, like us, are running at diminished capacity. I think of parents whose kids are going stir crazy. Folks who’s finances are shaky. Of people who’ve been infected. Of dozens of reasons that the people we lead are tired, afraid, or compromised in some invisible way. It’s time to think about them with a long-term perspective and right-size our expectations for them. Maybe, we need to help them right-size the expectations they have for themselves.
Anchor Your Hope Beyond Our Circumstances Today is a day for wisdom and promise beyond ourselves… Just listen and receive this promise:
“Even though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.” Hab. 3.17-19
It’s time to stop pretending, stop being so hard on ourselves and our people. It is time to press forward, but with hope that transcends our circumstances and do so at the speed of reality.
* Matt Weston is my colleague, the Managing Director of ChurchNEXT at Novo Mission.