March 31, 2020

Improving Leadership During Covid

When individuals, teams, and entire organizations lose their moorings, the need for focus and leadership is greater than ever.  This Covid-19 crisis is clearly one of those times.

So what can you do to step up as a leader and help those around you do the same?

In The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander and his wife and collaborator Rosamund told a story of his time as a teacher at the New England Conservatory of Music. His students were hyper-focused on grades and were competing against each other instead of being focused on the music and creativity and supporting each other.

They knew they had to change the game so they decided Benjamin would tell his students at the beginning of the semester that he would give each of them an A, but they had to write him a letter saying what they did (meaning what they were going to do) during the semester to warrant getting an A in the class. Essentially, it forced the students to think about what excellence meant to them and gave them something to live into.

So here is my first suggestion: write yourself a short letter dated July 1st, 2020 and describe why you deserve an “A" for being such an outstanding leader during the disorienting three months of April, May and June of 2020. How did you demonstrate great leadership for your employees, for your customers, for your peers, for your loved ones in that difficult three months? How will you and your leadership in the the second quarter of 2020 be viewed?

Just thinking about it and writing it down is likely to move the needle some.  But to increase the probability of real change, put some time on your calendar each week to read it out loud at least to yourself, even better if you read it to someone else. Any gap between your aspirational letter and how you are actually showing up will create pull.

But don't put this off. Real leadership is badly needed right now.  So give yourself an A.  Then go out and earn it.

To expand the impact of this exercise on the leadership in your organization, a second suggestion is to 1) have the people that report to you do the same exercise and 2) suggest that the people on the team you sit on also do it.

Getting each individual to write these letters will help, but, again, everyone will get even more mileage out of it by going one step further: have people publicly share their letters with each other.  

This public airing creates accountability, some friendly competition to be better, and more closeness and mutual support to live into the aspirations.

Best of all, you don't have to be one-and-done here, because you don't need a pandemic to do this exercise.  You can write an aspirational letter like this for any period of time.  Maybe its quarterly.  Maybe it's yearly. Maybe it is for an era you are leading your part of the business through.

But don't put this off.  Real leadership is badly needed right now.  

So give yourself an A.  Then go out and earn it.

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