I am noticing a shift in the work being brought by my coaching clients recently. For over a year now, leaders have been focussing on how to navigate and effectively lead their teams or their organisations through the pandemic, whilst also facing many associated challenges such as virtual working, strained finances, and significantly increased stress as a result of the high levels of uncertainty, complexity and change. However, I now see a shift toward the question of post-pandemic leadership… “How will we return to work?,” “How will we re-engage?,” and more importantly, “How will we recover and get our organisation back up and running successfully again?”
Alongside these questions, I am also hearing comments (from some of these same leaders as well as more broadly), such as: “I don’t want to go back to the office,” “I don’t want to go back to more stress,” and “I feel stressed and drained already by the last year and now I have to go back to face even more.”
In April 2020, I wrote a blog called Business as Unusual which included reference to an article written by the World Economic Forum (WEF) warning of the psychological effects of large-scale lockdown. The message was that, at the very time when we need our people resources to be mobilised and invest significant time and energy in rebuilding organisations and the economy, we could see a wave of mental health issues arising that could be greater than the pandemic itself. From where I stand, that wave is already apparent.
Therefore, what does good post-pandemic leadership look like?
I listened to a fascinating podcast last week by Charles Eisenstein interviewing Devorah Brous about resilience and burnout and she shared a simple model, taken from the ancient wisdom of land farming that offers a perspective on how we might approach “the return” so that we may truly Build Back Better. Brous spoke of the four key phases of land farming as follows:
Fallow: fallowing is ground or soil that is simply left unplanted for a period of time. This time allows the soil to rest and regenerate thereby enabling its natural resources to replenish so that it provides fertile ground in which to sow new seeds.
Sow: to scatter and spread new seeds for growth in the fertile soil.
Tend: to take care of, pay attention to, nurture
Harvest: to gather the crops and reap the benefit
In recent years it has been noted that, in our desire to reap more and more harvest, land has not been left fallow enough and has therefore not been able to replenish itself and becomes “burnt out”, leaving it with lower resources and fertility and less resilience to withstand the effects of the weather and other challenges, thereby minimising the size and the quality of the harvest. We respond by trying to harvest even more… and so a cycle of depletion continues.
Does this sound in any way familiar to what can happen in organisations? The desire for performance and delivery can lead to the fertile soil (our people resources) being continually depleted and eroded, creating stress, anxiety and burn out…and that was happening even before the pandemic.
Being on furlough is not the same as being fallow. Many people who will now be returning to work will not be feeling rested and replenished. They may be feeling the impact of isolation, illness, even bereavement, financial worries, a sense of loss and many other lock-down related challenges. However, as they make their return, there could be an even bigger call to action to perform than ever before.
What can be done to mitigate against the WEF’s prophetic article?
How could you enable the nourishment that is needed for your teams to feel ready, willing and able to make their contribution?
What are the seeds that need to be sown now in order to reap the harvest you need next year?
How will you as a leader tend your people resources to nurture growth for that harvest to be realised?
Coaching can make an enormous contribution to this process. Equipping your managers and leaders to hold coaching conversations will offer the opportunity for your valuable and much needed people resources to make their transition back to work in the most effective and productive way possible. It will also support and underpin people’s wellbeing at this critical period so that their potential can be nurtured, tended to and realised.
Use coaching and coaching skills to nourish and help replenish your leaders and your employees. Use coaching conversations to sow and tend to the seeds of growth and potential in your organisation. Let coaching be a strategic resource to help reap the best harvest possible as you and your organisation navigate this post-pandemic period.
Tracy Sinclair Limited supports organisations to develop the potential of their people through coaching, coaching skills and coaching culture. Our Coaching with Conscience services specialise in offering coaching and coaching related services in support of positive social impact and social progress.