5 Key Learnings in Crisis

Many of us are trying to decipher some level of meaning in the Covid-19 crisis. I must admit, I’m unable to find any. This is an act of nature, an act of environment. I see no message in either the depths of pain and loss this disease is causing globally, or the resulting social and economic havoc that is its byproduct. I think if you’re looking for a clear definition of existential occurrence, this is as clear as it gets.

For better or worse, the dialogue doesn’t have to end there. Like any shock to the system, Covid-19 does offer us some learning opportunities. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past several weeks. Here are five modest headlines I believe can be some of our more instructional takeaways once we together find a way to cross the chasm.

Leadership and trust are inseparable.

In the absence of recognized authority, chaos will fill the vacuum. We are seeing this and suffering with it day after day. The issue is not whether we are politicizing a deadly disease, whether our polarization is obstructing more sensible activity. In times of distress, we all crave calming leadership around which we can rally. As I have written many times before, trust cannot be assigned, it has to be earned. Effective leadership cannot be mandated. Leadership is acknowledged by example.

There is no such thing as alternative facts. A fact is a fact. While scientific practice can be revisited by disproving the conclusions around previously applied data, it can only be done so with more disciplined inquiry and even more rigorously evidenced data. An intelligent, educated population hungers for touchpoints of agreement that can be demonstrated empirically. without hype, manipulation, or ulterior motives. Our nation and our planet have indeed managed through historical crises worse than Covid-19. If you look back at how those triumphs occurred, you will likely see the link between leadership and trust on grand display.

Investing in readiness is not a luxury.

I wish I could find the words to express my dismay in how flat-footed our nation has proven itself in addressing a severe threat to our fundamental health and wellness. Even the most basic understanding of chain of command is absent in our adopted strategies and tactics. Many wonder if our collective investment in government will be there to protect us when we need it most. Today we turn on the television and hear wailing debate, not cohesive response. In a nation as wealthy and with as much advanced expertise as we have, how is it possible that medical personnel are making their rounds wearing plastic garbage bags rather than professional scrubs?

Few enterprises can survive a substantial blindside without some playbook on the shelf. If you have worked in a well-run company, you have been a part of scenario planning—deep discussions and studied research around abstract calamities. Sometimes teams immersed in these simulations consider the use of resources inefficient. If you’ve ever come out the other side of a whirlwind attack, you know how important having most of the debate behind you can be. Game theory developed with care is how bad problems become less bad, and opportunities become apparent in the fog of war.

We are more resilient than we may think.

When I think about the crises that have come before—our Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars, nuclear proliferation—it’s hard to understand how we are still here. When you listen to survivors of monumental suffering talk about how they endured the unbearable challenges of their lives, it becomes clear that perspective and context are necessary to frame whatever tests may be interrupting our current plans.

We can handle more than we think we can. We can solve problems that at any given moment seem unsolvable. I’m not sure this crisis is as much about Covid-19 itself as it is about how poorly we are addressing it, and yet, the losses we will suffer will not be the last losses we endure. To lose a family member or loved one is untenable. To lose someone unnecessarily is impossible to rationalize. To lose one’s livelihood is a level of devastation we likely all fear and some of us will inevitably experience. As we work our way down the scale of loss, the true strength inside of us may as yet be untapped. Called upon to continue, we might see that the historical odds suggest there are brighter days ahead if we bolster the fortitude of resilience.

Bonding ahead of distance allows shorthand.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have been asked to work at home in a time where technology makes that proposition possible. Could the notion of sheltering in place two decades ago without broadband internet even have been an option? That said, not all teams were ready to work remotely, particularly leadership teams. If you were working well in a shared space there is a good chance you are succeeding with distance. If there was tension, anxiety, and aggravation before you had to communicate through a screen, I can only imagine your turmoil without in-person connection.

I know in my own company it would be a lot harder to manage our way through daily operations with a newly assembled management team than with teammates who already know each other reasonably well. Of course the timing of crisis doesn’t come with the convenience of established tenure. To the extent you believe something like a novel coronavirus will interrupt us again—and how could it be otherwise—I would suggest we use the ordinary times of our work to prepare for the extraordinary times that might otherwise derail us. This starts with the bonds we establish in normalcy.

All behavior is consequential.

I think about the difference between the business partners who are working cooperatively in this havoc to achieve long-range, positive outcomes and those who are shortsighted and only see the coming weeks ahead of them. Asserting one’s will, even asserting the letter of the law in a contract, is not how relationships are formed. Give a little now and you may have a customer for life. Insist on taking all that is rightfully yours and it might be the last speck of gold you extract from the mine.

Tone matters in a negotiation. Listening matters when opinions differ. If you choose to assert leverage because you think you can get away with it, if you believe that bullying tactics are how you protect the fort, you’re unlikely to enjoy a long and lasting impact on your industry. Business is a rollercoaster of cycles, and we aren’t all going up or down at the same time. Never forget that old cliche: Jobs in context are relatively brief; careers may be long or short depending on how you manage your timeline.

When I was circulating an early draft of this post for feedback as I often do, I was reminded by a wise friend not to miss the obvious lesson before us, the simplicity of appreciation. He reminded me that gratitude is profound, and it is always powerful to celebrate the goodness in what we have, the majesty in sharing each new day where the gifts within our reach should not be taken for granted. I think that’s good advice. I wish you the wellness that will return us to a revived global community.

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Image: CDC

 

Wrestling with Wrong

trump-elected-2016I went to bed last night demoralized, my faith in democracy challenged in a way I never believed was possible.

It was late, after the acceptance speech by President-elect Donald Trump. I was exhausted. I slept very little.

I awoke this morning in a state of confusion, a daze that still lingers over me. My fear of half the nation’s voters, more than 50 million of my fellow citizens, brings grief and anxiety to my every thought. Can our ideas about what defines the United States of America be that different? Yes, they can.

I’ve worked a lot of campaigns as a volunteer. This one was different. This one was unprecedented in its vitriol and disgust. This one was personal. This one was moral. The fog of war created cover for absurdist antics and human abuse. This behavior was not taught as acceptable when I learned as a child to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have been physically threatened on multiple occasions for my writing about the election, almost entirely by anonymous sources online, for expressing my views, activating my right to free speech. I have experienced anti-Semitism. I have been asked to leave the nation to which my family immigrated generations ago. It is always strange to see words like this in print because I do not experience them at all in real world life, yet those words are always out there masked in cowardice. They never go away. Hate may sit in the background, but it is always with us.

I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop talking. You may have won an election but you haven’t won the bullying match. Don’t believe me, just watch.

I received an email early in the day from a dear friend asking for my advice on how to address his community this morning in the face of shock. I told him I was still forming my thoughts, but here was a start:

I would say human beings are fallible and the wrong answer has always been the risk of our democracy. Majority rule is by nature imperfect, but we haven’t identified a better system.

I would remind people we are now almost perfectly divided, that Trump prevailed by geography and demographics, not by intellectual mandate. Clinton won the popular vote, albeit by less than 1%, which tells us how few minds have to change for sanity to return.

I would make the point empirically that education is the basis of democracy, and while a precious few students enjoy the highest privilege on earth, that is not the norm in this nation by a long shot and if we don’t fix that divide we will destroy the American dream. With intelligence must come humility or Progressives will continue to be seen as elite and detached. Regardless and without apology, reading beats YouTube and a tweet is not a policy statement. Rigorous thought matters over the long haul, no matter how many trivialities consume our hours.

I would tell them to stand by their beliefs, that courage is only real when you oppose the tyranny of the majority and risk losing something for what others can have later. History is written in the future, not the present. Fight hate, fight oppression, have empathy for your opponent or you can’t win them over, have compassion for the hungry, never betray your morality for material gain, and prepare now to fix this error four years from now.

He’s the President, not the King. We bond together now to keep him from having more authority than our Constitution will allow. False prophets are always exposed. This one will betray his following like all others have and then our good work can continue.

Teach your children well.

Shortly after I sent that I watched the live concession speech of Hillary Clinton and felt pressure crushing my heart. Then I watched the live remarks of Barack Obama committing his team to the peaceful transition of power. Following that I spent a few hours reading numerous posts from friends, strangers, journalists, and pundits either trumpeting the success of their candidate or, like me, attempting to find a path to wrestling with wrong. Only now I am I beginning to come to a point of view on where to look next:

Clinton supporters vastly underestimated the power of disaffection and blame.

Trump supporters are even more vastly underestimating our commitment to our values and hard-won gains.

We are separated by the thinnest of all margins. We tip the scales by standing our ground. In the letdown of our opposition, which I believe is inevitable, a few will join us and then we’ll right the ship.

Don’t underestimate a committed cause. It cuts both ways, but reality will expose delusion.

Stand your ground, speak your voice, recommit to goodness.

I don’t have it all figured it out anymore than you do. There is still a brick on my heart and it won’t be lifted anytime soon. I will learn to live with that, and fight harder because I feel the perpetual discomfort. We will not teach the next generation that our ultimate experiment in democracy is won or lost on who is the most effective liar and stirrer of hate. That is too cynical a pill to swallow.

We also won’t cave under the auspices of, “It’s time to come together and heal.” I have no business with the alt-right. I have no interest in excusing racist, misogynist, bigoted hate speech. You want to build an idiotic wall? We will oppose it. You want to round-up millions of people you don’t want here? We will stand in front of their homes. You want to take away medical care from 20 million Americans? Not without the fight of your life.

Blind faith that your super-hero Trump can bring back jobs that are no longer economically viable is ill-founded. People who bet on a whim will discover that quickly. The notion that random change for the sake of change will improve lives is equally empty. People who embraced rhetoric absent a fact-based plan will also discover that quickly. It is illogical to reject globalization and automation. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t make it go away. If you try to put up walls, you will have wars, and they are way more costly. The change you think you want to embrace cannot occur without mass loss.

This reality will take place in record time. Remember some of the disillusionment that followed President Obama’s first few years in office? The exponential disillusionment coming your way will make that seem like a full slate of promises kept. If you were disaffected before, watch assets as they shift at lightning pace to the 1% when they go on sale. Then you will realize that you have been duped by a con man, and when a very few cross back over the line to sanity, we will get back to work moving forward.

We wrestle with wrong by exposing it. That path began this morning. The sooner we recommit to course correction, the sooner this injustice is corrected.

Yes, we can.