4 Major Changes and How We Can Respond in the Age of COVID-19

  • April 3, 2020

We are living through a global transformation. When everything feels like it's undergoing rapid change, it can be challenging to sort through the overwhelm and make room to grieve, reflect, and adapt. But as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, it's important to remember we're not in this alone. 

This might sound familiaran open floodgate of brands are using their platforms to promote their products as we shelter-in-place. As much as it makes us cringe to think that brands are hopping on a bandwagon during a pandemic, the truth is we’re all responding to this crisis and trying to make sense of it all. So, before we get into it, something to lighten the mood:

All jokes aside, we really do believe books can ignite movements to change the world for the better - after all, that’s what our mission is about. Here, we’ve identified four newly common experiences that many of us are facing right now and we share a few recommendations from Berrett-Koehler authors to help you move through this with a clear mind and open heart.

1. We are all facing increased trauma, anxiety, and overwhelm

And we need to be kind to ourselves.

These times are unprecedented within any of our lifetimes. We're entering an era that will be fundamentally altered by events that are still unfolding. Even if we're not on the front lines of the crisis, we're inundated with new and contradictory information, and every day it becomes increasingly difficult to sift through the need-to-knows without sinking into what one Twitter user calls “doom-scrolling.”

Needless to say, our ability to process the overwhelm of this moment can feel nearly impossible. But there are some experts and tools that we think can help.

Enter founder and director of The Trauma Stewardship Institute, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, who authored two books, Trauma Stewardship and The Age of Overwhelm, to hold space for talking about how to care for one’s self and others in the face of experiencing immense trauma and overwhelm.

Although Trauma Stewardship deals with the toll social change work takes upon those who’ve committed their careers to it, we’re all now facing a moment where we have a shared and urgent social responsibility to take care of one another in the form of social distancing. Lipsky offers a variety of profound strategies and practices to manage the transformation within ourselves and that which we hope to see in the world.

We can admit it: social distancing is no walk in the park. Many of us are spending more time at home alone or in close quarters with just a few others, and this in itself can trigger anxiety and depression. Lipsky's latest book The Age of Overwhelm equips readers with tools to manage the enmeshing of our once-separate lives - work and life, family and friends, and most importantly, our mental health and physical well-being.

As we are challenged by the day to day of shelter-in-place and self-isolation, the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 is also inviting many of us to look at the bigger questions about meaning and purpose. Bestselling author and educator Parker Palmer’s latest book, On the Brink of Everything, is a poetic and gracious offering to our life's biggest questions, drawing from his eight decades of activism, writing, and life experiences. Reflecting on his life and aging, Palmer highlights the importance of cultivating a vital, vibrant, and enriching inner life as much as our outer life - a lesson we could all use as we spend time inside with our thoughts.

2. We are all asking how to stay connected when we’re apart

For those of us who have moved entirely to remote work, there is a body of resources that have been building and evolving over the last few decades. Thanks to the rapid and real-time advancements in technology, going remote in terms of available tools has never been easier. But as we’re all well aware, people move at a different pace than machines, which means that there is a steep learning curve that we’ll all have to adjust to as we learn the ins and outs of this new normal. But remember, we’re all in this together.

Kevin Eikenberry, expert and early adopter of remote leadership, has made the leadership principles that apply to remote teams and organizations accessible in his handy manual, The Long-Distance Leader. He follows a simple but effective mantra that he helps readers put into practice - leadership first, location second. If your team is no longer in a shared or open office, the principles of leadership remain the same, even though they look different in virtual spaces. To make the learning curve less steep while we also flatten the pandemic curve, you can register for his free Remote Work Mini Series for a crash course on how to make this transition online.

Speaking of new leadership styles and principles, as more teams bring their work home with them, the glaring reality of our very different personal lives might become even more apparent. DEI expert Jennifer Brown's bestseller, How to Be an Inclusive Leader, anticipates the varying needs of a diverse staff. There is no one-size-fits-all model we can use anymore, especially for remote teams. Jennifer is also hosting twice-weekly virtual office hours to coach you along your inclusive leadership journey. In these sessions, she'll be covering topics like how to adapt diversity, equity, and inclusion work for online, how to mitigate the acceleration of bias, and how to mobilize to support those that are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. 

One example that’s come into focus recently is the reality of working familiesrecall that hilarious BBC video interview where the interviewee's young kids crashed onto the screen. That experience has become a little less funny and more intimately familiar to working parents with kids at home while school is on pause. Another example is that a growing number of teams are encouraged to use video chat, but this might prove difficult for team members who feel self-conscious about their living situation or would rather continue to keep their personal and professional life separate. Practicing inclusive leadership accommodates all of these varying life experiences while still keeping teams and organizations moving forward with empathy.

Finally, our sense of community is transforming because of these ever-widening digital landscapes and teams connecting with digital tools. Fortunately, similarly to Eikenberry's perspective that the venue may change, but the ever-green principles remain true, Charles Vogl distills the seven key pillars of belonging any healthy community must have in his book, The Art of Community. Because of this new virtual normal, consider whether your community is built on personal values or is identity-based, or if it’s a brand community geared toward a product or service. If it’s the latter, Charles Vogl and Carrie Jones have you covered with Building Brand Communities.

3. We are all learning or practicing new methods of communication and collaboration

Whether we (virtually) assemble in professional teams or personal communities, the majority of our modes of communication have moved online and into texts, Slack channels, and Zoom meetings. With this comes a host of complications and misunderstandings without things like tone, body language, and non-verbal cues to help us interpret.

This historical moment is an opportunity to shift our conversational dynamics toward frameworks that many have long advocated for: listening first, using appreciative inquiry, and approaching conversations with humility. And this might be a tough pill to swallow, but we’re going to have to communicate and negotiate with people we once considered enemies to get through this, which is why we’re grateful for Adam Kahane’s work, Collaborating with the Enemy, to coach us through.

Living through this crisis calls for radical conversational models. Jaqueline Stavros and Cheri Torres’ book, Conversations Worth Having, implements the widely-used model of appreciative inquiry into conversations, otherwise known as the lifeblood of our well-being. Using tools like positive framing and generative questions can elucidate previously unseen outcomes, build trust among teams, and strengthen relationships.

Strong communication skills can not only enable us to problem-solve more effectively, but it is also an opportunity to wrestle with the indisputable truth that there is a whole lot that we don't know. Rather than default to telling people what to do, OD expert Edgar Schein's bestselling book Humble Inquiry is a highly effective framework to approaching conversations with humility, vulnerability, and by asking the right questions to get to the best answer. Right now, we need people to feel that they are safe enough to be creative and innovative to solve our world’s greatest and most complex issues.

4. We are all seeing the opportunities for change

This crisis has highlighted the chasm of inequality in terms of access to basic necessities like care, employment, food, and shelter. The limits of unchecked capitalism are being laid bare. This global crisis is exposing the ongoing injustices of wealth inequality and workers’ rights. We could go on.

In the face of the adversity, we believe we can come together to create a better world - a world that works for all.  We have an opportunity to tend to our grief and anxiety, commit to continuous learning as norms are upended, and develop healthy ways to work together towards the common good. We can build a future in which we respect the dignity of all people and restore the planet's health.  But we need people with the right skills to lead us there.

Futurist Bob Johansen argues for leaders to embrace a mindset of Full-Spectrum Thinking - as our future possibilities become less predictable, we need to move away from the imprisonment of categorical thinking and binaries, which ultimately blinds us to opportunities that exist along a spectrum. In Who Do We Choose To Be? bestselling author Margaret Wheatley compels people to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that holds room for people’s humanity amid fear and turmoil, beginning with our everyday decisions that determine who we are. For a more technical approach to dramatically updating our operating systems like educational institutions and the global economy with cutting-edge theory, MIT Professor Otto Scharmer has created an accessible, condensed guide to accompany his bestselling book, Theory U. Scharmer’s work takes the long-view of change, and as he sees it, COVID-19 is a harbinger of more to come. However, there are still actions we can take to alter course.

Times are tough, and uncertainty looms. But we believe we have the skills, tools, and frameworks we need to see this through and emerge on the other side to a build more just, humane world. We're seeing these skills put into practice every day by the courageous essential workers and medical professionals supporting us through the COVID-19 pandemic, and, on a smaller scale, by all of us who working to adapt in times of change. So hang in there. We, and the entire BK community of authors, are with you.

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