Lockdown 2.0 – don’t waste your chance to take the lead

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] July 29, 2020

Law firms should use the COVID-19 crisis as a time to recalibrate their operations and build the sort of genuine leadership competencies that will be crucial to success in the not-so-new-normal, writes Leonie Green.

I write this column from Melbourne during our second round of lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

We have been here before, we got through it last time and we will find our way through this one, too, but I wonder whether we can do so more intentionally now; building the skills needed to better manage our teams, and ourselves, through an increasingly complex environment.

There is no better time than now to build the leadership competencies required to navigate the world of 2020 and beyond. Those of us who do will come through this crisis stronger. Those of us who fight against it will not come out of this as leaders.

The acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) was first used in the late 1980s. Until the 2000s, VUCA was predominantly used in American military colleges as part of training their leaders in how to navigate the global environment. While the term has become commonplace in corporate leadership conversations during the past decade or so (with reference to technology and globalisation particularly), all four words could not be more accurate in describing the world we find ourselves navigating in 2020.

So, if we accept (as it seems we must) that the world is in a pandemic-induced-VUCA state, what do we need to draw on, and practice as leaders, to not only survive in this VUCA world, but to thrive?

What would we tell ourselves to prepare for, and practice, if we could go back in time? Julie Nolke’s take on this provides some comic relief (much needed in 2020) but try considering what you would tell your own January-self. What do you wish you had prepared yourself for in advance?

In 2017, leadership guru Bill George suggested the world had entered an even more volatile state than when the original term had been coined, and required something he called VUCA2.0, being Vision, Understanding, Courage and Adaptability. This was pre-pandemic, but there is much wisdom in these four leadership attributes, and they are worth fostering in 2020. Here’s my take on what we can do on each of these fronts during 2020.

Vision: As leaders, we need a vision for where we are headed, what we are wanting to achieve, what we stand for (and what we won’t stand for), and what we want our brand to be in the marketplace and in the industry. If your firm was on the front page of the paper, what would you want the headline to be? [And if you are not sure, consider what you would not want it to be, and work backwards.]

Understanding: No one person’s experience of the pandemic and lockdown is the same. Some of us are isolated, living alone. Some of us are supporting home learning while juggling our own work. Some of us are caregivers for older parents, and an even more critical lifeline for them during lockdown. Some of us are loving working from home. Some of us are over-zoomed.

Leading others through this period of time requires, more than ever, an understanding of what is happening for them, what they are juggling, and how we, as their people leaders, can get the best out of them during this period of time.

Courage: We need oodles of courage in 2020. Courage to continue keeping-on, courage to do better, courage to listen to the news, and courage to turn it off. We particularly need courage to have authentic conversations about how we are feeling and how we are looking after both our physical and mental health in our home-workplaces. These are conversations that we should have been practising before 2020, but there is no time like the present.

Leaders need courage to consider what else they need to do, to better manage their own wellbeing. Self-care is so important right now, and the absence of self-care leaves us unable to care for or lead our teams. Have the courageous conversation about what you are doing, what you are finding harder, and help your team members find ways to foster their own improved self-management and care.

Adaptability: This could be the word of 2020 really, as we have all had to adapt, very quickly and multiple times. Many of us have proven that we are more adaptable than we realised. What’s important now is that we capture the successful and effective adaptations we have made, and make sure they stick. What works better for us now? What will we keep doing differently, even when we return to, or move into the next-new-normal?

What are we proud of in terms of the adaptations we have made? And where do we still need to adapt? Where are we still fighting the inevitability of change? What can we do better?

VUCA is actually the not-so-new-normal. For many of us, it has taken a pandemic to wake up and respond to the VUCA world in a way that serves us. Let’s use this experience to level-up the leadership abilities needed for this environment … it is here to stay for some time.

Leonie Green is the co-founder and director of the Corvus Group, a workplace and legal advisory firm with more than 20 years of senior legal and HR experience working in Australian and international companies. She practised as an employment and industrial relations lawyer for a number of years prior to moving into management roles in industrial relations, shared services and human resources. She can be contacted via email at leonie@corvusga.com.au.