Emergence Leadership

Make The Transition From Emergency To Emergence Leader

Jill Birch, Ph.D., CEO BirchGrove Inc.

In 2006, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, co-wrote a report detailing what happened during the SARS epidemic. It was 550 pages long. We didn’t act on it.

The report predicted our current situation and the steps needed to get out of it. What happened? We had a plan, but we didn’t prepare for what was about to unfold: over-crowded hospitals and a lack of critical equipment only begin to tell the story.

The importance of pausing, planning and preparing begins by asking ourselves questions we can reflect upon to chart a course that enables us to get into action.

At the beginning of the pandemic, fast decisions were needed to respond to the crisis. Now, six months in, we have a chance to pause and reflect on what we did and how well it worked. The next step is to plan, and prepare your personalized blueprint, so that you’re confident and ready to execute on strategy.

Emerging out of the maze

Once in it, I asked myself, how are we going to get out of this one? A word struck me: emergence. Defined, emergence is the process of coming into view after being concealed. For all of us right now, we’re in concealment, about to emerge. It feels like we’re in a crazy maze in one of Canada’s vast corn fields.

Emergence is the process of coming into view after being concealed.

If you’ve ever visited a maze, two things typically happen. The first is an uncanny knack to make fast, incorrect decisions. We hit blind alleys and dead ends. We make mistakes. But we learn from them, becoming more adept as we go. The second is we become frustrated trying to find our way out. Panic and anxiety go hand-in-hand with isolation. When you’re in a maze you need to hit pause. Taking a minute to think about your next move and calming yourself are two helpful skills in today’s muddle.

The pandemic has forced us to hit pause. It’s funny isn’t it, when you push pause on your computer, everything stops. But when you push pause on people, that’s when things start. COVID-19 has given us a moment to hit refresh; to reimagine the kind of world we want to live in. As we exit begin to approach the exit to the maze, emergence leaders are focusing on five key areas.

Five Emergence Leader Behaviours

First master the art of pausing. Ironically, at a time demanding immediate action, taking pausing speeds things up. Think of your leadership as a lens constantly zooming in and zooming out (pun intended) scanning for intelligence and perspective. Before you make the next big decision, pause for a level set– reach inside and outside, share and compare notes. Widen your options.

Second, become a compression expert. Experts are calling for leaders to be marathoners and sprinters. I disagree. This is the Decathlon. Concurrently, we need to jump over the high bar, throw a javelin and then run hurdles. Take compression in decision making, for example, where now 75% agreement = 100% alignment.

We’ve done a great job flattening the COVID-19 curve. More work is need to raise the trust curve. Stories abound of executives questioning whether people are “really working” from home. In a Business Traveller survey, they found people are working two more hours a day! This third area sees leaders flipping the trust paradigm on its head. Don’t make people earn your trust, grant it. Give people flexibility to perform on their own terms – and they will.

The fourth behaviour is to embody prag-manity. Hard choices await us. We need to expedite these decisions with humanity. Use scenario planning as an antidote to navigate the pragmatic and the humane. Be prepared to be wrong and have alternate paths to explore.

The last quality is to guard your organization’s future. Leaders are become learning chameleons. I just spoke with a CEO who is learning six new skills to adapt to these times. Leaders are also championing culture to save their brands. Take Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, for example, who recently sent out personalized letters to every employee, along with masks and their “back to work” plan.

Whatever maze you find yourself in, adapt and integrate these behaviours to better prepare for the days ahead.

Don’t worry about making mistakes – just learn from them. Don’t panic – just pick up an online course in javelin throwing. With a little help, you’ll be surprised how fast and how far you’ll be able to throw it.