The true test of leadership is not in how we show up for the easy stuff, it’s when a leader is forced to step up to look for the light of new opportunity in the darkness and inspire others to join them in not only navigating through it but reimagining a better future. As I approach my 17 year anniversary as a successful small business owner and senior marketing strategist for clients, I recognize how looking for light in times of uncertainty and finding my true north has helped me lead my business, clients and as a parent raising two strong and confident future female leaders through uncertainty and change.
When the world went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis, we hunkered down here at home. I remember a sunny Friday in March I was out for a run and I getting calls from my clients in the travel industry. We went into crisis mode, strategizing how to reallocate marketing resources to conserve cash, and communicating with customers in real-time about an uncertain future. In March 2020, the travel industry came to a screeching halt and it was eerily quiet. No airplanes above, no din of the morning commute, no social media chatter of what adventure my friends were sharing. Shelter in Place. The last day of “normal” for a while.
On March 13, I started journaling and documenting our family meals as a way to record this unprecedented time and help keep our family’s spirits up. Here’s my first entry:
Shelter in place. 3/13 start. Last day of normal.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Tossing and turning as my mind churned with thoughts about everyone sheltering in place in their homes around the world. The massive actions our government is doing to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. The divisiveness and fear. Thinking about how hotels and restaurants and stores are closed. Office buildings empty. What does the airport look like right now? It is so eerily quiet outside. I am so grateful to have this home, our healthy family all under this roof in this neighborhood and community. There is no other place or people with whom I’d rather shelter in place. The stock market is plummeting, the economy is uncertain, and the fear and fall out is heavy on everyone’s minds. I’ve started reaching out to my network and navigating my clients through reallocating marketing budgets, crisis communications plans, and closures. The sunny spring weather in Seattle has been good for us. It is like a gift from God as we navigate this first week. Leaning into my faith and praying a lot. My anxiety is high, but so are my hopes for the future that real change is coming. We are getting creative in the kitchen to keep our monkey minds occupied. Our family meals are the highlights of our day. Tonight my teen is back in the kitchen, and we are cooking and baking to ease the stress of everything – no school, no sports, no time with friends, an uncertain timeline to return to normal. Tonight’s meal: homemade gnocchi with pesto, seared scallops, and caesar salad.
If you would have told me in March that I’d still be documenting our family meals now well into July, I wouldn’t have believed you. Each day, week, and month appear to be blending into the other. The uncertainty and fear of a very real virus, the impact on our daily lives, conflicting news reports, and data that changes daily, continue to leave us with more questions than answers. My husband and I already work from home, so not much changed in our daily routine, except our girls were home doing remote learning during the spring. Daily walks with the dog became our new therapy, where we process the worry and uncertainty of the day’s news headlines away from the kids. Over the last few months, we’ve likely logged hundreds of miles and worn a fine trail in those sidewalks and gravel paths. We talk about how we will lead our family and businesses through this challenging time outside of the noise and fear in the news and our social media feeds. We are both entrepreneurs and on these walks, we’ve had many talks about the new opportunities for change this season will produce for businesses and our families and seeking ways to be a part of its growth. Here are a few opportunities this crisis has brought and why I’m excited to support businesses leaders and families navigate these changes:
Remote work will bring new opportunities for better work and family balance.
Over the last 17 years as a parent, female small business owner and remote worker, I have passed on many full-time job offers because of the lack of flexibility most traditional workplaces offer parents with young children. I chose the freelance life when I had my first daughter and knew I was a much more efficient and happy worker and a better mom working remotely and going in for meetings when needed. I am a high-producer and juggling work and family means I’m incredibly efficient at getting things done. I have learned to get more done in six hours than most full-time workers do on a normal workday because I don’t have time to waste. My girls are older and more independent now, but over the years I’ve commiserated with dozens of women in leadership positions with limited remote work flexibility who have become weary and burned out trying to ‘juggle it all.’ Many working parents, regardless of gender, struggle with missing out on important family moments and family dinners due to inflexible work environments. This problem is a huge source of burden and stress for so many families. While there has been some progress, this pandemic has forced us to see that flexible, remote work is not only possible for many, but can be more cost-effective and produce more productive and happy employees.
Our families got a desperately needed reset button.
On my new podcast culture SHIFT on Apple Podcasts, I talk with guest experts about the beliefs and systems that support our families that need change. Little did I know when I started the podcast in January 2020 that we would see the biggest crisis and culture shift in our lifetime. As a family, we continue to have important conversations around our dinner table about what matters most to us, finding things we can control, and caring for our mental health during this time of uncertainty. This time on pause has forced us to slow down and take an uncomfortable look at what no longer serves us, prioritize what matters most, and make necessary changes. I look forward to sharing Season 2 on the podcast as I interview parents and professionals about what this forced reset has taught them, and what changes they will make in their lives and families moving forward.
The crisis is forcing the hand of change for dated beliefs and systems
We are all raw emotionally, and awakening to witness a real-time overhaul of so many dated beliefs and systems that no longer serve us today. Our educational system is getting a necessary overhaul in record speed. Technology and distance learning will be a game-changer for many and level the playing field for diverse learners who have struggled for years to fit into the traditional “box” of our dated educational system. I talk more about this in my podcast episode “Our wake Up call for remote learning” with Microsoft Education. We are also witnessing important and long-overdue calls for change to systemic racism in our country and learning how we can take an active role in being a part of that change. In the middle of a pandemic and an election year, we also see first-hand the political divide in this country and the need for real leadership and change.
We get an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent.
There is no doubt this has been an extraordinarily difficult time for businesses and families. Some businesses will never reopen, people will lose their jobs, and many communities will be fundamentally changed forever. While there is still much uncertainty and we are not through the woods yet, it is never too soon to start thinking about the new opportunities to reimagine and reinvent new opportunities for leadership and change in our businesses, families, and communities. We can all take on an entrepreneurial mindset. Be relentless in looking for the light and asking the right questions to lead your organization and family to seek new opportunities to find true north such as:
- What do my customers need from me right now?
- What new problems will my customers face when business returns to normal?
- What do I want my family life to look like when we are past the pandemic?
- How can I be an instrument for change now and in the future?
Where are you looking for the light in your business? What new opportunities will this force slow down create? How has it changed your perspective on work and family life? Let’s connect.