The significance of a date

The last couple of weeks have required everyone to demonstrate flexibility, adaptability and resilience. There has been plenty of disruption to what would be our normal working day experience, and this has spilled over into our lives at home. For many, there’s now a blurred line between work and personal space; between family time and work time; between being flexible and juggling competing demands of colleagues and children or pets. All of this, for so many, has had to occur without any preparatory experiences to rely on.

It’s only over the last couple of weeks I’ve really understood how some of my past working experiences have shaped how I’ve been able to respond to the demands this pandemic situation has put on me, and my team. For the first time, I can say I’m grateful for some of these past experiences.

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a shift in my energy and approach to getting through the latest challenges. It’s only now I’ve realised the link between my past and present.

Let me take you back…to the future.

17 March 2014

It was on this day I was awarded a National Emergency Medal for my involvement in the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. During these fires, I led constantly changing teams of people to support information flow to Victorian communities at risk.

They were challenging times with the dynamic nature of the emergency, interacting with senior people from other agencies, government and having to make decisions, and some very tough ones. High stress days, not knowing what you’d be facing or the challenges you’d need to respond to.

My medal has remained unworn tucked in the back of a drawer – it’s only now that I’ve truly felt proud of having been awarded it. Previously I’d viewed it as “just my job” and it’s only now I can see it was so much more.

17 March 2020

This day reflects the first (real) day of needing to lead my current team through a crisis. It was the first day of all our learning delivery being suspended with no date in sight for when delivery would recommence.

For many this kind of curveball can throw you off balance, make you feel overwhelmed and like there’s no way through the fog. However, it’s in times like these, where you have to let go of plans, adapt to new thinking and trust in some unknowns. These situations aren’t anything we can control, they’re dynamic, and all we can do is try to keep going.

It’s a little like changing your driving route from a long, straight highway to a bendy road with plenty of blind spots and hills. You’re still going to drive, you can’t see around corners and you may need to take a detour or two, but you have to trust you’ll still get to your destination, you may just be a little late.

I remember on this day seeing the facial expression of one of my team members – it was a look of unfamiliarity and apprehension. Reassurance is what they needed, and it’s what I gave. Teams will look for good leadership – and to find the way forward to keep working towards the desired outcomes.

The biggest leadership lessons I’ve taken from my previous experiences have been applied every day since this pandemic caused mass disruption. I felt a need to write them down and share, so here’s my top five.

  1. Make quick decisions, even if they’re not always the best ones. A decision is better than no decision and “action paralysis” as a result.
  2. Reassure teams continually that they can still achieve what’s needed, it’s just going to take some adapting and adjustment.
  3. Don’t get left behind. In these dynamic situations, you’ve only got moments to act and failure to act can mean you lose what little control you might still have.
  4. Wear your calm mask. Teams need stability, consistency, calm and reassurance in their leaders. Whilst we ourselves may feel stressed and overwhelmed, it’s important we don’t react with panic that imposes stress on our teams.
  5. Face the challenges with a positive mindset, and remember, it could always be worse. It’s during these times of challenge we can be creative, push the boundaries of what’s possible and achieve something wonderful.

As I wrote earlier, I’m grateful my past experiences have prepared me for what I’m currently facing, although in a very different context. I’m being given the opportunity to apply all the lessons I’ve learnt, whilst leading a team and program through the disruption. And I’m sure this time I’m not going to end up in a Royal Commission – winning!

To let some people know…I feel no trauma, no PTSD. In fact at the moment, I feel free! However, if you yourself aren’t feeling comfortable, resilient or that you can navigate your way through this crisis, please reach out to friends, family and any support networks or professional assistance you need.

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