Reflecting back on this year, it’s hard to put into words what we’ve all experienced. Things that once seemed unimaginable are now a part of everyday life. 2020 has affected both our personal and professional lives in profound ways. In closing out the year, the gothamCulture team wanted to share some lessons we are learning about life during a pandemic, some silver linings resulting from the disruption, and what we plan to do differently going forward. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season. ~ Andrea Bennett, Marketing Manager
Chris Cancialosi, Managing Partner & Founder: Remote Work Works
This is not the first time where the many long-held assumptions about how work should be done were completely and immediately disrupted. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations that had previously pushed against the idea of remote work to quickly adapt in order to remain in operation.
The pandemic created a situation where resistance to change was decimated by the situation at hand. This disruption showed many leaders that the assumptions they held about degradations in performance due to remote work did not hold water. After an understandable lull in productivity as employees learned to operate in the new remote environment, leaders found that, in fact, their organizations were ready, willing, and able to perform in this new environment.
This forced disruption will, no doubt, change the way work is done moving forward for many organizations.
Shawn Overcast, Partner: Coaching the Coach
We have collectively experienced a disruption in the world that has not been seen in our lifetime. The literal pause that we were forced to take, and the ensuing disruption to our businesses, created a space for people to sit that was uncomfortable, to say the least. This space was scary, isolating, left many people hungry – for business, money, food, and human connection. But it was also restorative, reflective, and refocusing for those who chose to look for those elements. For me, there were moments of feeling worried about what our work would look like, overwhelmed at how homeschooling would impact my children’s relationship with education – and my relationship with them, and sadness at the loss of the way ‘things used to be.’ And yet I also had time to reflect on what I wanted to do with these experiences, emotions and need for answers.
I took some of my own medicine and did what I would encourage my client or team member to do. I was encouraged to sit with my emotions without judgment, and to reflect, to understand them better before heeding the urge to take action on them. What I learned is that there is a name for this space, known as liminal. And over the course of these past months, I have learned to fall in love with this space. Liminal comes from the Latin word “limen,” meaning threshold. We can all identify with the common phrase, “new normal.” Liminal space is the emptiness between what was and what’s next.
Living in liminality – or at the threshold – gives time to let go of old patterns, beliefs and assumptions and breeds hope for new possibility, new behaviors and strengths to grow. Leaders finding themselves in this space have an opportunity to lead in liminality. The leaders to watch are those who sit with their teams and grieve what was, but who also spend time considering what could be. Inspirational leaders are choosing to allow time for reflection, pause and thought, as opposed to helping their teams navigate through the emotions of this space with a frenetic energy in perpetual motion.
What I’ve learned through this experience of leading in liminality is the pace at which innovation can happen, the energy that comes with defining a new ideal client, and the depth of human connection that is possible if we acknowledge this space directly.
Tim Bowden, Partner: Slow Down and Un-Busy your Life
The experience of COVID-19, lockdowns, and restrictions on social gatherings has really reminded me of the importance of slowing down. While in many ways I’ve missed the challenges of my, formerly, fast paced life, I’ve also found a lot of satisfaction and rejuvenation in the white space created by having less to do. Even before the pandemic set in, I was working on un-busying my life – and COVID really accelerated that process. As we move into 2021 and, hopefully, start to come out of the worst of the pandemic, I’m going to renew my efforts to focus on what’s essential – investing in others, making space to reflect and learn, and embracing the rest that comes at the end of a hard day’s work.
Kate Gerasimova, Senior Associate: Focus on the Positives
Today is my favorite day. Each day is a new day, a new chapter, and an opportunity to make the day as I envision it, change the focus to what is working and start over something that is not. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, unknowns, and many heavy emotions that are hard to process but also those that hold you back from the present moment and let you go on a spiral of things outside your control. To change that, I wake up wishfully with rays of sunshine, think about something I am looking forward to in the day and if there is something I want to change from the day before, and focus on the positives. This helps me see things in a more positive light and put attention to the right things.
James O’Flaherty, Senior Associate: Care About Yourself and Others
During this pandemic, I learned how important it is for me to maintain some semblance of physical fitness these days. Specifically, core strength is now crucial since I’m not as active as before the pandemic. I learned I can alleviate chronic neck and back pain that results from sitting down a lot more through developing core strength around my torso and hips. This also helps you sit up straight, feel more confident, show up to virtual meetings looking and feeling more professional, and probably contributes to a host of other positive physical and mental changes. It’s fascinating how interconnected our body and mind are.
I also learned how my brain used the time in solitude to work through some stuff I’ve had on the back burner. As a result of my time overseas, post-traumatic stress is a part of my life. The recent solitude has given my mind less to focus on outside of work, so it began processing things I neither expected nor wanted it to (if I’m being completely honest). I learned that it’s important to develop relationships with people you can talk to, understand you’re not the only one who feels the way you do and grant yourself some grace when your mind decides it’s time to deal with a demon. It’s tough to write this, but it’s worthwhile if it helps someone realize they’re not alone.
The pandemic has given me a renewed focus on leading by example and helping people. The pandemic has left a lot of people scared and uncertain about the future and I like being a rock for others in these circumstances (even if I don’t know the person). It’s important for society to have people who can provide a sense of calm in such a chaotic environment. I want to be one of those people.
Zad ElMakkaoui, Associate: We Can Adapt
While I can think of several words that buzzed loudly this year, the one that sticks out the most to me is ‘Adapt’. We have all attempted and continue to find ways to adapt to the curve balls thrown at us as a result of this pandemic. Like many others, at gC, we adapted to remote work, we adapted to our clients’ needs, we adapted to the market needs, and we adapted to our own personal needs as individuals. In the flurry of all this adaptation, it seemed that we were adapting to being more human. On calls, people joked about backgrounds and had their kids wave on camera. The pre-pandemic notion of professionalism was rewritten to make jokes just as (to an extent) professional as walking a client through recommendations. Our deep need for connection pushed us to take some time to ask each other about our days and build more human connections that go beyond colleagues with memos. Clients called on us to help them with redefining and creating human-centric cultures… making self-care an organization-wide strategic priority. Disruption might even be an understatement. And yes, there is a lot we needed to adapt to this year… but the pandemic brought with it a wakeup call… it reminded us of how to be more human.
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