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COVID and Change

How COVID Will Affect Your Leadership Mindset for Years to Come

What was your worst fear during your school days?

If you would say something like “public speaking” or “being embarrassed in front of my class,” then I can relate.

When I was 10 years old, I immigrated to Australia from the UK with my family. I frequently felt like a fish out of water due to my different accent, so I resolved to do everything I could to fit in and do well in class.

At one point in primary school, the teacher assigned us “projects.” We chose a topic of interest and prepared a presentation about it using construction paper and cardboard, with the end product looking similar to what you see in American TV shows depicting science fairs.

I chose aeroplanes because I was fascinated by them. Perhaps it’s because I had come over to Australia in one.

I poured all of my effort and energy into this project, because I felt genuinely curious and passionate about the subject material. I did the absolute best I could and felt proud to turn the assignment in.

The day after, the teacher decided to show a couple of projects to the rest of the class, and she picked mine!

I thought, “Finally, I’m getting showcased.” The teacher put my project up for everyone to see. I felt satisfaction and pride welling up inside.

Then she said, “Here is an example of how NOT to do a project.”

 

Ouch.

If you’ve seen the brilliant film “Inside Out,” then you’ll know what I mean when I say this became a core memory for me. We all have emotional, even traumatic, moments in our early days that shape us for better… or for worse.

Mortified, I took my project home and stashed it under my mattress. My parents knew I had worked hard on it, and I didn’t want them to see it. I didn’t pull it out again until my mother asked about it some months later.

This moment affected me deeply in terms of confidence. It kicked off an unhealthy pattern in my educational journey. I made up my mind to never let something like that happen to me again, so I did everything I could to prove myself in school. 

I assimilated to Australian culture too, so that if I ever stuck out again, it would be due to performance, not because I was different. Far from making me bold and confident in my scholastic ability, it made me timid and afraid of attention.

Reflecting on this moment as an adult, I see clearly that it mostly hindered my ability to lead during the first decades of my career. I became concerned with approval over anything else, obsessed with what other people might think of me. This mindset is incompatible with organisational leadership, because it requires making decisions that invite disagreement on a regular basis. Especially in a time as contentious as now.

Applying Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model to Our COVID Journey

Perhaps you can remember a traumatic moment or episode from your life that held undue influence over your mindset in the years after. If you can’t think of any, allow me to offer the past two years as an example.

As we emerge from lockdown and face yet more COVID uncertainty, we all need to examine the mindsets we’ve picked up along the way. Some serve us; some don’t. In my conversations with leaders and loved ones, I’ve detected an attitude that wants to “leave it all behind” without processing how it has changed us.

Lewin’s 3-Step Model of Change is simple: unfreeze, change, refreeze.

In late 2019 we were all locked into a flight pattern for our lives and jobs, one that COVID disrupted like nothing else had before. This was a collective unfreezing moment, both enabling us to change and forcing it on us.

Now, as many countries (including my own) lessen restrictions and take tentative steps toward normalcy… we find ourselves at a crossroads. Whether it comes in the next few months, or in a couple of years, we’re all “refreezing.” We need to manage the changes the unfreezing season brought, before we dial in our flight pattern for the years ahead.

We all need to take the time to reflect on how COVID affects our mindsets and behaviours today, or they will continue to hold sway for the rest of our lives—often, without our knowledge. Like the moment I had with my aeroplane project, 2020 and 2021 will influence how we think in the future.

Perhaps the lockdown gave you the space you needed to reflect on your career and explore your creativity. If so, how will you reinforce those gains as life goes back to a semblance of normal?

Or maybe they caused you to become more anxious, always worried that something bad will happen, discouraged from trying anything new. Will you learn to take calculated risks and allow yourself to try and fail again?

We have the opportunity to retain the positive ways the past season shaped us… but we also have to do the hard work of identifying the negative and rewiring our belief system. If we do the hard work now, our organisations will come out of this stronger, primed to fulfill their missions in a brave new world.

Change happens constantly, whether we like it or not. But we can learn how to lead through it, retaining the mindsets that serve us and shedding the ones that don’t.

To learn more about change leadership in our era, visit Change Chef.