How has living through the pandemic changed you as a leader?
These days, where I live, there are almost no remaining signs of Covid. People rarely wear masks. Airports are busy. Restaurants are full. Schools and daycares are open. Vaccine mandates seem like a distant fever dream. Did they even happen? Were they real? In my son’s daycare this week, I noticed a sign that said ‘stand 6 metres apart.’ Seeing it I felt like I had uncovered part of the pandemic fossil record, or a historical artefact that belonged in a museum. One of the only lasting societal changes that I can detect from that period is an increase in hybrid working and a preference for virtual meetings.
And yet, even if everything seems the same as it was before the pandemic, are we the same? When the pandemic ended, did we just revert back to who we were on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 (the day before societies in the West began shutting down)? Did we reboot our former selves and ways of living, happy to forget the intervening three years? Or did the experience shape us in some lasting way? What, if anything, did we carry with us?
These are questions that I wonder about in particular with respect to leaders. After all, a common assumption is that effective leadership requires identifying and connecting with deeper values, and using insight about those to guide behaviour. If a major life event is significant enough to reorder our underlying values, it seems plausible the leadership behaviours that flow from them might shift as well.
I can illustrate this reordering process with one example from my life. Before the pandemic I saw my identity as a father as intertwined with my identity as a professional. While I tried to be a loving and caring parent, if pressed, I would have admitted that my main role as a father was to ensure our family had enough money to satisfy our needs. However, when the pandemic hit, I realized that my family valued me as a father for many reasons other than income, like providing care, attentiveness, and reassurance. As a result, the father and professional identities split apart, and the father one became most important. I’m still understanding the implications of this shift, but I know it’s a profound change.
If you’re a leader, and you haven’t done so already, I would invite you to pause and reflect on how living through the pandemic changed you (if at all). What was most important to you in February 2020? What is most important to you now? And what do these changes suggest about how you want to lead others? Reflecting on these themes may give you clues about what principles you can follow to express an authentic and values-aligned leadership style.
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Tim Jackson Ph.D. is the President of Jackson Leadership, Inc. and a leadership assessment and coaching expert with 17 years of experience. He has assessed and coached leaders across a variety of sectors including agriculture, chemicals, consumer products, finance, logistics, manufacturing, media, not-for-profit, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and utilities and power generation, including multiple private-equity-owned businesses. He's also worked with leaders across numerous functional areas, including sales, marketing, supply chain, finance, information technology, operations, sustainability, charitable, general management, health and safety, quality control, and across hierarchical levels from individual contributors to CEOs. In addition Tim has worked with leaders across several geographical regions, including Canada, the US, Western Europe, and China. He has published his ideas on leadership in both popular media, and peer-reviewed journals. Tim has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, and is based in Toronto.