By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business, American Public University
Sometimes, it seems like there is a depressing theme floating in the world as we begin each week. Unfortunately, we are at a time when individuals are frightened to face their future and deal with issues they are not certain they can resolve.
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Communities are afraid for a variety of reasons, because the pandemic has substantially altered our lives. However, I sense that these reasons are truly based on deep-rooted belief systems. For example, many of us know someone who likes to manipulate the environment, control what is going to occur or make decisions that will guarantee results.
Unfortunately, these individuals do not have that luxury during this time. The pandemic has ushered in a new norm that has no boundaries. As a result, there is not one aspect of our daily lives that we can say is a certainty or a given.
Our society is currently a living example of change management. An event occurs, and we are forced to live a life of uncertainty. There are certain aspects of our lives that we no longer control.
But losing control does not mean we must stop living. We must look for alternatives and keep moving forward.
As the well-known saying goes, time waits for no one. We are living in a season when our steps are taken by faith. We do not know what the outcome will be, but we have to continue moving forward. Don’t you agree?
The Pandemic and Its Unknown Future Is Causing Fear
I have read several different articles in one day referencing the fear people are experiencing because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some articles that stood out to me describe how specific populations are dealing with the fear that has set in. Each article was unique in that it gave me a glimpse of the different perspectives that have become common in our daily life.
In an interview, Dr. Andi Simons, an anthropologist, tells of assisting corporations to adjust to the new norm. She sees our current state as an opportunity to look for innovation and embrace change.
Dr. Simons mentions two key points that I think are crucial to understanding why some employees may be struggling with our current state of affairs. First, humans have a significant flaw. We believe our own stories and are convinced our methods are the best responses to any given situation.
If our beliefs, perceptions and values are questioned, we become unstable. We then believe we are no longer in control and cannot influence the outcome of a situation. Uncertainty is uncomfortable because we need to know how the story is going to end.
Second, our brains hate change. We are comfortable with the familiar. Change affects not only our behavior, but it also alters our cognitive ability to process what is going on around us. People will shut down and refuse to move off their belief system, even if it means they will ultimately fall apart.
Living in denial is preferred to adventuring into the unknown, where we have no power. It is like starting all over again, not knowing if we will be successful.
Leaders Will Be in the Front Line of the New Reality
In the United States, we have created multiple phases for businesses to reopen while we confront the coronavirus pandemic. Governors have been given the authority to determine when and how quickly their states will complete the process of restarting our economy and our daily lives. Unfortunately, there has been a public backlash to these measured steps for moving forward.
Although we are concerned not to prolong the adverse impact of COVID-19, many business owners are afraid they will not be able to weather the storm and survive once the threat is over. What should we do? Is one way the right way? What do we do if our employees do not want to return to work so soon?
With the unemployment rate growing, there will be people willing to take their positions. Is that right? Shouldn’t we be concerned about everyone’s well-being? We are asking individuals to return to an environment, interact with co-workers whom they have not seen for a while and run the risk of contracting a virus that thus far has no cure.
Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia, suggests that corporations should determine whether they have a process in place to address those fears or if they need additional steps to be put into place. McGinnis reminds us that employees have legal protections. Therefore, company executives need to step back and evaluate the situation from a broader perspective.
Decisions cannot be made based on fear. Some solutions can be mutually agreeable to all parties involved. Even if the situation ends in a deadlock and an employee has to be laid off or terminated, there is a humane way to lay off workers.
Although we are relying on our business leaders to rise to the occasion and assist in restarting the economy, we must remember they are people, too. The events that we have lived through so far this year are as new to them as they are to us. Business schools did not prepare those leaders for what they will face in the coming months.
Some of these corporate executives have not processed the fact that their past successes probably will not work in the new landscape. Not only do they have to guide the employee re-entry into the workplace, they may also have to lead blindly.
Becca Endicott, writing in Fast Company, suggests that leaders are in the same situation as their CEOs, principals and directors, and that can be scary. I can imagine that some are enjoying leading remotely and do not want to deal with the fact that they have to lead the transition back to the offices. I can see some leaders questioning whether they can lead through uncertain times and keep their organizations moving forward.
The Rules of the Game Have Changed and We Have a New Baseline
I, personally, am ready to lead. Our beliefs have been challenged, and some of us are uncertain if we can pick up where we left off. I do not think we can. The rules of the game have changed, and we have a new baseline for moving forward.
It appears that society as a whole has embraced the new. Why? Being in lockdown has allowed us to refocus and think about where we are in our lives.
It’s Time to Take a Leap of Faith and Keep Moving Forward
When I coach, one of my icebreaker questions is “What would you do if you did not have to worry about money?” The pandemic has put people in a position where their security has been taken away. For many, there’s been a financial loss as well. Now is the time to think creatively and attempt initiatives that we would not have explored in the past.
It is a brand-new world, and we can make it if we take off the blinders and toss convention aside. Be open to exploring and taking a risk. What do you have to lose? If the answer is “nothing,” then now is the time to take that leap of faith, be creative and be moving forward. It is no time to be frightened any more.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision, and the ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service, and the development of future leaders.
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