Recklessly Reimagining Leadership

In the midst of all of the fear, anger, and anxiety I, like perhaps many of you, am experiencing right now, I’ve been pushing myself to focus on appreciation for areas of abundance in my life. I’m thankful to have my health, a safe and healthy family, meaningful employment, and an amazing network of friends, colleagues, and friend colleagues (frigues?) who have reached out to connect with me during this scary time. I’ve felt fortunate to be in a relationship with them, to share virtual space with them, and to have the opportunity to continue to learn from them.  Every Webinar, conversation, internal LLC conversation, virtual coffee, or brunch I’ve joined in the last few weeks has really helped me think about how leadership can adapt to the new reality precipitated by COVID-19. What has struck me is how generous folks are with their amazing ideas rather than proprietary ones.

Given the fundamental shake-up COVID-19 has done to the world, one of my amazing friend-colleagues, Stephanie Yazgi, has been encouraging folks to consider “reckless reimagination” as a way to think about what our work and world could be like. This has inspired me to begin recklessly reimagining leadership. As I have been talking with folks and thinking about what leadership could look like, three questions arose:

  • How do we do our Leadership Development work right now?

Lately, the most frequent conversations LLC has had, have been with Leadership Development practitioners who are trying to figure out, on the fly, how to deliver leadership development programming given the limitations of physical distancing. For some, this has meant completely or partially canceling programs and/or transitioning to virtual models.

Folks are simultaneously dealing with the near-impossible pressure to jump into a new normal while performing at pre-COVID levels, often in pre-COVID ways. All this while they manage the health and safety of themselves, their families, and communities, and tremendous financial uncertainty.

At every check-in I’ve been in over the last few weeks, people mention being tired or having a diminished ability to focus and concentrate. What’s surprising about this is how often people are surprised. Of course, we’re tired and tapped out, why shouldn’t we be, this COVID-19 business is just…a lot! From somewhere, I’m not sure where I got this idea that our poor brains, hearts, and spirits are like computers with too many tabs open. The processors are slowing down under the load of focusing on work, family, child care, health, finances, neighbors, the world, and so on. As we learn to adapt, I wonder if we can have more compassion for ourselves and others.

Despite the difficulty, folks have been experimenting with intelligent and imaginative ways. Click here to see some of what LLC has learned so far.

  • How do we respond to the crisis?

Folks in social justice and leadership development organizations have also been scrambling over the last several weeks to identify the best ways to support their communities.  Physical distancing requirements have meant that some tools in our toolboxes can’t be used. It is awe-inspiring to see how people have adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

While COVID-19 has certainly created new problems, importantly, it has also made more visible pre-existing problems, particularly those related to equity. Folks have frequently noted that many of the virtual tools most of us have actively if not eagerly, embraced have been tools requested by the chronically ill and disabled for a very long time. Others have noted that the new reliance on virtual approaches exacerbates the digital divide for those without access to high-quality, reliable internet and equipment. While everyone’s situation is different, we know that those most marginalized are again hardest hit by this crisis.

LLC is a fully remote organization, so we avoided the disruptive transition stage other organizations had to deal with as they moved from working physically to working virtually. I know I initially didn’t fully understand how hard that would be for folks. Similarly, many take for granted that sheltering in place is more difficult if you don’t have shelter or that, for some, home isn’t actually a safe place.

  • What does Leadership look like after the crisis, whenever “after” begins?

What has been really interesting to me is imagining what post-COVID Leadership might look like. The COVID-19 crisis raises so many questions about leadership, one of which is to what extent is the crisis also an opportunity for transformational change. For example, one person on an LLC virtual coffee chat asked, “Is this an opportunity to talk about new ways of being a leader?” Milano Harden of The Genius Group uses the term #CoronaCreativity to describe this transformational approach to the COVID response.

My colleague Tamitha once noted that the “old” normal wasn’t so great for lots of us, so it makes sense for us to try to do better with the “new” normal. There is a huge danger if we don’t; just as many of us are seeing the opportunity to make the world more just and equitable, others may be seeing the opportunity to make it far less so.

To support efforts to respond to COVID-19 and to develop a more just “new normal,” LLC will be launching a COVID-19 Innovation fund. I think if we are to successfully grab onto this transformative opportunity, we’re all going to need to learn how to create cultures of experimentation where we have some space to innovate and some degree of freedom to fail. The degree for one might be different for another. I don’t have a great deal of judgment about the degree folks choose, the consequences of failure are serious, so I’m taking a break from that particular critique. Rather than critique, LLC is here to support you and collaborate with you.

COVID-19 has forced us to work in new ways. Kids, spouses, and pets pop into our calls, some of us have had to quickly learn how to do virtual events, or maybe we’ve had to make space for the emotional toll this experience is having on us. However, we have adapted. I hope we have learned to be more patient, gracious, and compassionate with ourselves and each other. I also hope we continue applying this learning when we craft the new normal.

If you are interested in recklessly reimagining with LLC, I encourage you to connect with us using some of the options below:

  1. Join our standing Virtual Check-ins: These are LLC’s ‘come as you are’ check-in conversations. Bring your coffee or lunch, depending on the time zones. We look forward to being in the community with all of you. Fridays, 9-10 PT / 12-1 ET
  2. Please register for our upcoming interactive Webinar on April 10th, Network Strategies in COVID-19 Responses. Friday | April 10 | 11 – 12:30 PT / 2 – 3:30
  3. Please participate in our Innovation Fund Design Team. We’re accelerating the timeline of our upcoming network innovation fund to potentially fund collaborative projects related to COVID-19 responses. To participate, email Kyle Shimamoto
  4. Sign-up for LLC’s Weekly COVID response bulletins and newsletter
  5. Join an LLC workgroup to collectively workshop approaches to COVID-19-related leadership challenges. To join, email Kyle Shimamoto
  6. Or… Just reach out (Ericka Stallings)