In late June, many of us were preparing for a semi-normal fall. As the Delta variant upends expectations about the pandemic’s end, leaders are once again facing difficult decisions. But this time, there is one notable difference. Over a year and a half into the pandemic, leaders have learned a lot about leading when everything is in flux.
Acknowledging that the months ahead will be complex, now is the time to tap into your newfound knowledge on leading through a crisis. The best place to start is by asking and re-asking the questions you have likely been facing throughout the pandemic.
What is your risk/comfort level?
A few weeks ago, I found myself attending a large wedding for the first time in nearly two years. When we arrived at the church, I was surprised to see that my husband and I were among just eight masked attendees. The reception was similar, but by then, it was just us, one visibly pregnant attendee, and the photographers who were masked.
I was conscious that my husband and I had a different sense of risk and comfort than nearly anyone else present. Candidly, our discomfort was due to two factors: 1.) We have two young, unvaccinated children at home; and 2.) We knew that several adult attendees were still unvaccinated. Fortunately, the wedding was a one-day event. We were able to navigate it, albeit not without some anxiety, and move on. This fall, as school and on-site work return, we’ll all be facing similar situations nearly every day.
As on-site school and work return, it will be essential to calibrate risk/comfort levels daily. First, assess your comfort level of being indoors and unmasked. Then, ask your spouse and any older kids or other adults with whom you live to do the same. Again, given the current situation, this can’t be a one-time conversation. It will likely need to be a daily one. Where there are discrepancies, open up a dialogue with the aim of coming to a consensus on what makes sense for everyone living under your roof.
What is the risk/comfort level of your employees and other stakeholders?
Whether you’re a school administrator, business leader, or someone who works in the hospitality or entertainment fields, the coming months will be rife with complexity. With different cultural norms and regional policies on masking, making decisions about how, when, and why to re-open schools, offices, and sites of commerce and entertainment will remain challenging.
To proceed responsibly, check in with your employees and other key stakeholders (e.g., clients) regularly. Better yet, create new avenues for your employees to share their concerns as they arise. If you can, offer ways for people to do this anonymously.
Most importantly, recognize that different demographics currently face very different levels of risk. While single employees and employees with older vaccinated children may feel comfortable coming back to work onsite, those with younger and unvaccinated children may be reluctant to do so. Older employees and those with underlying health conditions may also be reluctant to return to work on site. Be flexible and transparent about everyone’s options. Where possible, empower every employee to make the best decision for themselves and their families.
What is the benefit of leading with increased adaptability and agility?
Finally, as always, stay focused on that phenomenon known as “covid lemonade.” Ask yourself what is working better as a result of your increased focus on adaptability and agility? What are the benefits to employees and other stakeholders (e.g., clients or customers)? What will you continue to do post-pandemic and how will it permanently change your approach to decision-making? In short, what have you discovered and been able to leverage to your advantage?