(VIDEO) How to Use Your Pandemic Experience to Inform Your Leadership

Eight months into the pandemic, I find myself talking to people – in Zoom conversations – across job roles and industries about how life has changed for them. On the surface, the answers to this question focus on how day-to-day life has changed. Many speak openly about balancing work with virtual schooling and childcare. People share experiences of the dynamics of working from home or being the first in their organizations to return to the office. And then there is the work itself – adapting to a pivot in strategy resulting in changes to responsibilities and skills required. And for many, a renewed personal commitment to anti-racism and an organization-wide commitment to building more inclusive workplaces.  

Professionals are balancing all of this while keeping up with the news that changes daily around everything from school re-openings and closings to unemployment numbers and economic indicators to this week’s national elections in the U.S. It may feel as if there is no opportunity to slow down and reflect. 

And yet, when we take time to reflect and dig a little deeper, how we have changed extends even further. By looking back at the past eight months to reflect on your experiences, you can gain profound insight into the core of who you are and what you value. And this informs how you show up as a leader, both formally and informally, now and in the future.

Above is a short video to help you think about your pandemic experience as a source of insight into your self-leadership, and how this influences how you lead. There is a short introduction followed by a “look back” at an interview held in June of 2020 when many of us were in a more reflective part of our pandemic experience. Below, there are 12 questions for your own self-reflection.

Reflection Exercise:

If you are short on time, you can scroll through the questions below to trigger some “food-for-thought.” Alternatively, to get the most from this process, you may want to try a more deliberate reflective experience. Try blocking out 30 minutes to sit with your coffee and a blank sheet of paper or notebook to see what emerges for you as you go through the questions. 

What comes up for you is likely valuable insight for your current and future leadership aspirations. By writing it down, you are making it that much more conscious so you can learn from your own pandemic experience to shape your future leadership. 

Getting in the Zone of “Focusing on Your Experience”

In a webinar called “Making Meaning out of Life” hosted by Alverno College (my undergraduate alma mater), Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Amy Shapiro posed an important question:

“How is your experience of life different as a result of the pandemic?”

– Dr. Amy Shapiro, Professor Emerita of Philophy at Alverno College

Dr. Shapiro clarified that she was not asking how your life itself is different, but rather how your experience of life is different. We don’t always think a lot about life, she explained, as we go through the motions. This was April of 2020, just a few weeks into the pandemic, and participants shared some deeply thoughtful comments. People shared their feelings of empathy for those impacted by COVID and the experience of being connected to others. Others expressed gratitude for the mailman who delivered their packages and health care workers who were on the front lines while many of us were at home in those early weeks of the pandemic. 

For richer output, as you go through the questions, focus on staying rooted in your experience of the pandemic in this deeper sense.

Twelve Questions to Inform Your Leadership

Experience of Life: Self-leadership begins with learning from reflection on your own experience. Let’s start here:

1.The first question is the experience of life question from above – how is your experience of life (work-life, family-life, community-life, etc.) different because of the pandemic? If that feels a bit abstract, begin with considering what you were/are more aware of or tuned into than before the pandemic? 

2.What are you happy to leave behind about your pre-pandemic life (work and life)? What do you miss? 

3.What insight do your answers to either of the first two questions give into what you value most?

4.What opportunities have emerged during the pandemic for you to contribute as a leader (can be formal leadership or informal leadership)?

5.What choices did you make during the pandemic that matter most? What about these decisions is so important? 

Experience of Being Led: The Pandemic gave us new experiences in being led by others.  Consider what insights you take away from being led:

6.What leadership styles did you experience during the pandemic (again, this can be your organization/industry or of government/ community leaders)? What impact did these style(s) have on you? 

7.Was there a particular leader who inspired you or who you looked to in the early part of the pandemic? (this could be in your organization, in government/ community, etc., or elsewhere)? How and what did this leader(s) offer you that was valuable? What did you admire about them, and what did they do that was so effective?

8.How does your experience of being led during the pandemic inform your own leadership? (This can relate to goals or styles you seek to emulate, or those you seek to avoid, for example.)

Experience of Leading Others / Leading the Organization: The pandemic brought new formal and informal opportunities to provide leadership to the people around you and the organization. This is where reflection on experience turns into action:

9.What are you most proud of about how you provided leadership to others during the pandemic? (again, if you do not formally manage others, this can be informal leadership.)

10.What did you do during the pandemic to inspire, motivate, or guide others? What values did this fulfill for you?

11.What did you do to drive people around you absolutely nuts, and how did your actions impact you/others (this could be family who you were on lockdown with, team members, or anyone who is close to you)?

12.What impact did your leadership have on the organization? (note: organization can be your employer or any organization (community or professional organization) of which you are a member.

Reflection on Your Reflection

As you reflect on your answers to the 12 questions, what themes do you take away? Consider what about your own leadership (style, approach, values, impact) you are more conscious of as a result of your pandemic experience so far. 

Continuing to reflect on your experiences over time is invaluable. This is especially true during the pandemic when new insights may be coming up for you. This will ensure your leadership actions are aligned to your values and desired impact.

Regular coaching, either in the form of “self-coaching” as you have done here or with an executive coach as part of a leadership program for you or your team, can guide you through the process. This process can challenge you to go deeper and will strengthen you as a leader, now and in the years to come.

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