A Lot Into A Little: Your Likely Experience In The First Wave

2 years into 2 months. 12 months into 2 weeks. The fear of being “too unknown to try” becomes the challenge of “too much of a crisis not to try.”

These are the realities of millions of leaders and followers dealing with change thus far in the pandemic of 2020. For a long time—months or quarters or years—they had argued and debated over changes that were important and controversial. Stalemate, again and again and again. Then, with coronovirus, boom—the changes are made within the span of several hours or a few days. Done. In place. And for better or worse, they are now the functioning, on-the-ground realities of the “New Way Of Doing Things” in workplaces across the United States. More than once, someone you know has said, “Can you believe how long we had argued over this before?”

Find a minute to think back even just a few months. Remember these words as well?

“Planning”—gone; compressed into minutes and hours where before weeks and months and quarters were the old norm.

“Feedback”—no time for it; stuffed and crammed into on-the-fly reactions and counter-reactions where before time had been spent formulating expected problems into timelines, game plans, and flow charts.

“Buy-in”—we’ll worry about that later; a luxury and cost not affordable when customers, clients, and team members are all coping with an overturned, upside-down world from the moment they get out of bed to the moment they fall asleep. Get with it or stand aside.

Do you remember all the stuff about building consensus? Getting stakeholder input? Socializing the idea? 360-degree involvement?

Coronavirus didn’t attend those meetings, didn’t read those emails, didn’t worry about circulating drafts of the plan. Coronavirus just showed up and filled every seat at the table. Everyone else had to respond by doing whatever it took to get things done and hold things together while the ill wind blew.

Let’s take another minute and continue. Step back again but this time consider a point you might not have thought of: the past will affect your situation in a way you may not have understood before…

Look at it this way.

In the spring there was a sense of newness to the crisis of coronavirus. The newness produced a spirit whereby people united in shared urgency. We’re all in this together. They pitched in, they bonded. Remote access didn’t affect it; indeed, because the Zooms and GoogleMeets were equally new and without much of a past themselves, they also seemed to fit the spirit of rally-round and shoulders-to-the-wheel. But spring is over, and like the buds and blossoms, the spirit of newness is gone.

That spirit was always time-limited. It decreased every day the pandemic continued. Before, in the spring and with nothing preceding it, the crisis was fresh, pastless. But experiences and attitudes grew in the summer heat of corornavirus’s current wave. Their growth is an accumulation of the pandemic’s past. Should a next wave of the pandemic occur, the newness will, ironically, be the living and all too remembered recent past, the first wave of the coronavirus. This next wave will collide not with the fresh and young on the receiving end but with the old, the frazzled, the worn-down, and potentially the worn-out. The first wave smashed into a spirit of unity born of newness. The next wave will meet no such shield.

The people of your team were able to meet the first wave, in part, because they had no past of it to recall. They didn’t know what they didn’t know and therein they held a powerful tool. In the next wave this tool disappears. The next wave’s pervasiveness—re-appearing and re-striking people as they live at home, raise families, work, seek enjoyment and fulfillment, participate in community, and all the rest, while having friends and families enduring it all as well—will plunge deeper into their strength and drain off more of their reserves.

Evidence of it will appear. Be watchful: general feelings of frustration; tiredness to the point of drift; divisions and carping over small things; a decline in forgiveness and drop in benefits of the doubt; misunderstandings leading to mutual suspicions; and worse yet, inner resentments that rise and aim toward an internal or external target. They are features of reactions to the next wave. Know that you’re seeing the power of the pandemic’s past.

As a leader, you’ve got to be ready. You can help your followers stand stronger against the next wave if you understand a strategy for working with the pandemic’s past. One way is redirection. When the past rushes toward your followers, you can redirect its effect into positive channels of lessons learned and resilience recalled. You can turn the chaos of shockingly forced change into a comparatively calmer state of modifications and upgrades. You can renew energies by depicting a clear link between these adjustments and outcomes of smoother operations and greater benefits for those served by the team. And in this time of all times, followers will want to know that their efforts have a tangible benefit for those who depend on them, that what they’re doing differently makes a bigger difference. Your communication of the team’s lessons learned is a positive use of the pandemic’s past. Take heart.

And it’s a good idea to pick up a few pieces of the models of change. Acknowledge the obvious to your followers: yes, the pandemic shrugged at our models, did what it wanted, and in a particular sense we did the same as much as we could. But still, as a leader you can state that, all things being equal, input is a good thing, planning is a good thing, inclusiveness and consensus are good things. Together, you and your followers can sift through the silt and find the best change-model pieces to apply once again as summer turns to fall.

Finally, you and your team will need one another. This isn’t just a reiteration of some stale change-model truism. It’s bedrock truth, hard and bright. The totality of the pandemic’s next wave, hitting and turning as it does around the circle of life, begs for mutual support, mutual commitment, and mutual sacrifice. The solutions from outside and beyond will come when they come—the vaccines, the immunities, the tests, and the rest—but what you can find in the here and now on the ground is the strength made in one another and in the meaning that people seek together above themselves. If this isn’t clear to you then you aren’t thinking about it effectively enough. It’s begging to be discovered and harnessed. If this isn’t realism to you then you need to resharpen your sense of what realism has proven itself to be.

Deal with the next wave as the next wave. A thing with a past. Don’t make the mistake of believing that the story of the past is the purity of repetition. The second wave has a new advantage which, armed with knowledge and drawn with awareness, you can size up.