A Copernican perspective on pandemic leadership

February 14, 2022 / by Lori

As you and your leadership team look at planning the calendar of events for the year, you are facing tough decisions about who will be required to attend which meetings and events in person...where, when...and why??!!

It's better when we're together!

You know that some events, meetings, and milestones would be so much better, more effective, more meaningful with people gathered together in person.

It's a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility, with very few clear guidelines and no reliable precedent.

I feel the weight with which my clients are carrying these decisions, and the divisiveness among different stakeholder groups...people are pushing back, resisting whether they really need to be there. Some factions of leaders are insisting they do.

The stakes are high, the risks are real.  

You want to be seen as fair, concerned, caring, leading well.

There is no "right" answer. Ugh!!! 

You're trying to get to the best decisions you can with available information, yet the algorithm is just too complex to analyze all of the potential scenarios and variables and implications and backlash and...

So what do you do? How do you face these emergent challenges? How do you decide? How do you show up and lead in these high-stakes situations?

Along came Copernicus...

For centuries, humans believed the Sun revolved around the Earth. That orientation guided everything...including assumptions and expectations that people didn't even realize could be any other way.

Many leaders I see are conditioned to put their intellect, their reasoning, their mind at the center of their universe. It's the way business has (mostly) been run for the past many decades.

You probably know, or sense, that these decisions, in these times, can't be resolved through analysis alone. You need a new way of thinking, and feeling, about the challenges.

When crisis strikes...

Johnson & Johnson's CEO James Burke faced life and death decisions in 1982 when Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide killed seven people in Chicago. J&J's credo, outlining their values, and his own sense of the right thing to do, guided him to put people first and spend $100 million to recall 31 million bottles.

Leading the innovation of tamper-proof packaging in the industry, they relaunched the product just two months after the recall. These decisions restored their market share (which had dropped by 80%) by the middle of 1983.

Burke later said, "Trust embodies almost everything you can strive for that will help you to succeed." He made decisions that built trust.

As the pandemic rages, with rampant fear in its wake, the physical and psychological safety of your people is essential.

How do you care for them and their needs, while making decisions about in-person meetings and events, in a way that builds trust?

Let your heart guide you...

If you're one of the countless rational leaders, you may not see that the heart is an untapped source of guidance. Or you may get it but not have much experience going there.

What's unfamiliar can seem scary. So you might want to practice using this simple exercise with a low-stakes situation first.

It's best if you can find a quiet space to be alone for at least a few minutes. But don't wait...try this now if you can.

1. Bring your attention to your body. Notice any physical sensations.

For example, as I close my eyes right now and notice what's going on in my body, there's a pain in my left shoulder/neck that settled in overnight that's really obvious when I turn or tilt my head to the right. I can feel the heat of the sun through the window even though the temperature is maybe 4 degrees right now in Chicago.

2. Let your body breathe naturally and see if you notice any relief or calming just from being quiet and focused inside.

Notice any thoughts that may be distracting you. If they persist, take a minute to make a quick note so you won't forget to address it later. This can allow you to focus more clearly.

3. It can be helpful to bow your head toward your heart. I find that I do this reflexively now... It's like acknowledging a sort of deference of the mind to the heart. And it's okay if that's not comfortable for you.

4. Bring your current challenge to mind...you can focus on one particular decision to be made for an upcoming meeting or event, or you can open up to the broader or less fraught issues you're facing.

5. Ask your heart questions as if you're in a conversation. One way to practice opening to guidance your heart may offer you is to ask an open-ended question...

  • What do I need to know about...?
  • What am I not seeing about this situation?
  • What resources are available to me that I'm not tapping into?
  • What path forward could help build trust among the people that matter?

6. Listen to your heart... You may hear things that are actionable...like to call someone you hadn't thought of for advice. Or you may think of one of your people and their particular struggles through the pandemic and the potential impact of this decision on them....you may be moved to send them an email. You might choose to revisit that tense conversation with one of your kids.

As you face these complex challenges about in-person meetings and events, consider making that Copernican-like shift from centering your mind to centering your heart. As you get quiet and breathe, bowing to your heart, ask questions about the issues you're facing, and...listen.


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Lori Lovens
Innovation Savvy
© 2022 Innovation Savvy, Inc.