“This isn’t a good time for extroverts,” I said to a colleague. “It’s not exactly a great time for introverts, either,” came the response.
This is undoubtedly true. We’re all braving lockdown and I frequently hear people say they have bad days and OK days. Given that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I don’t mind sharing that I’ve sometimes found it a struggle to stay positive with colleagues, friends and family.
For extroverts who draw energy from being with others, communicating through a screen just doesn’t cut it. We’re used to being in the office, bumping into people in the corridor, sharing a coffee or lunch with colleagues, enjoying a joke or discussing some new thinking. These interactions stimulate our creativity, our sense of connection, leading to increased positivity. I now see extrovert colleagues on Zoom acting like plants in a darkened room desperate for sunlight.
While we scan the latest bleak news updates and survive another day separated from friends and relatives, at work many of us have to confront the reality of declining incomes and the need to make major cuts. The Scouts is no exception. It’s often draining and frequently depressing: that was how I started last week. But I ended the week with a different outlook, thanks to insights and support from a number of colleagues (our leadership team, other chief executives and my coach). In short, I shifted my mindset.
I was viewing the response to the problems we were facing as one of managing decline, rather than an opportunity for reinvention. I couldn’t see beyond the cuts that needed to be made, which meant I was consumed by negativity. But if we confront the situation through the prism of reinvention, you get into what the leadership expert Steve Radcliffe calls “being in leader mode” and a future state of mind. This is the creative mindset that focuses on what could be done better. You see opportunities, not obstacles.
This is not simply misplaced optimism. I can’t have been the only one that read the government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy with the dawning realisation that we are in this for the long haul because it stated “there is no quick or easy solution”. The challenges we face are going to be with us for some time and we have to confront that reality.
Courage, conviction and clarity of thought
Several colleagues have shared the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, a case study in Jim Collins’s seminal book Good to Great. The “Stockdale Paradox” tells the story of a military officer who was tortured more than 20 times over an eight-year period while a prisoner of war in Vietnam. When Collins asked who didn’t make it out of the camp, he was surprised to hear it was “the optimists”, who kept believing they would be out by Christmas or Easter, only to die of broken hearts.
Collins wrote: “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
To get through this we need to confront the brutal facts. This is going to require courage, conviction and clarity of thought. It also requires a leadership style that communicates honesty and openness to tell the story of what is happening, including all the uncertainties, and what you think needs to happen.
This isn’t always easy because different people are at varying stages of accepting the reality of the situation, and the circumstances of the situation change daily. It therefore requires better listening and deeper engagement. We don’t have time to cling to a past that is slipping away. Instead we should build a new vision to lead us through the crisis and beyond, not simply focusing on what we are going to cut and how quickly.
The art of the possible
This is not going to be easy. But we will be more likely to succeed if we are brave and see the art of the possible, pulling in the insights and creative thinking of staff and volunteers.
We can take the best of our pre-Covid-19 culture and build on that, drawing on recent examples where we’ve had to think and act differently. These are the anchor points for a rebooted movement with a new vision that is digital, agile, shaped by young people, diverse, engaged, collaborative, dynamic and impactful.
It matters because young people, whose whole lives will be affected by this crisis, need us now more than ever to gain the skills they need to succeed. That’s why we need to change our mindsets, have the courage to reinvent ourselves, and harness the power of positivity.
Matt Hyde is chief executive of the Scouts