A Pandemic Parable of Tools and Treats

Once upon a time…

There were two leaders, May and Jay, who found themselves trying to guide their organizations through a time that was called “unprecedented” so often that the word lost all meaning. They had risen to the challenge of the initial crisis with energy, decisive action, and great compassion; and their teams and organizations had handled the changes very well. The leaders were grateful for the people they worked with and beginning to think beyond the immediate issues into a longer season of change.

Quite predictably, both May and Jay as motivated leaders were thriving in the demands of the challenges. They told a few trusted friends that although the global situation was truly tragic, they were feeling enthused as leaders by stepping up to what needed to be done. They were tired, but it was the good kind of tired that comes after a solid workout or an invigorating project.

Equally predictably, some of May’s and Jay’s team members were tired, but in a different way. They had also risen to the challenge in selfless and committed ways, but their initial wave of enthusiasm had worn off and it was becoming more difficult to keep up with the needs of the day while also managing family, friends, loved ones, and life in something like lock down. The team were still doing everything they could and May and Jay could not have been more proud to lead them, but the strain was starting to show.

May loves her team. She wanted to help them handle the challenges of the time. So she shared with them what worked for her.

She sent every employee a copy of Getting Things Done and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and offered an online book club on how to apply the ideas to get the best results. She shared her personal priority practices and set up a weekly webinar where everyone could share goals and outcomes for their personal lives as well as work. She also arranged for an outside consultant to provide a session on how to manage time and energy while working from home. She wanted everyone to have the tools they needed to thrive.

Jay loves his team. He wanted to help them handle the challenges of the time. So he shared with them what worked for him.

He sent every employee a box of cookies from a local bakery and a copy of You Are Awesome! He shared his personal peace practices and set up a weekly happy hour where staff gathered online with a beverage of their choice to chat and laugh together. He also arranged for an online concert and scavenger hunt for employees and their families to enjoy together. He wanted everyone to have the treats they needed to thrive.

Some of May’s team felt overwhelmed. They felt like all these tools were really assignments that added to their obligations.

Some of Jay’s team felt overwhelmed. They felt like all these treats were really distractions from the important work they need to do.

May and Jay were confused. They had given their very best to their teams and it wasn’t working. Instead of appreciated they felt deflated and misunderstood; and even a little annoyed if they were totally honest.

May and Jay had a conversation and shared what was going on.

“May, you’re too intense! You need to lighten up a little and help people find some freedom so they can do their best under demanding circumstances.” Jay said.

“Jay, you’re too casual! You need to be more focussed and help people find some structure so they can do their best under demanding circumstances.” May said.

Of course they were both right.

We all need both structure and freedom in our lives at all times. Wise leaders know to provide both treats and tools. Some of us are drawn to one more than the other, though very few are as extreme as May and Jay. The challenge is when we innocently assume that others have the same needs that we do. As you lead and care for your team in demanding or unprecedented situations be sure to check whether you are giving them what they need, or just projecting your own needs onto them. If you need some help sorting this out contact us for a free coaching session.

Photo by   Zahabiyah Quresh  on  Scopio