Navigating Change in a Crisis

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All through the past weeks, as the U.S. began reacting to COVID-19, my mind kept seeing the image of the shifting staircase at Hogwarts, the ancient, amazing school in the Harry Potter stories. Characters are on a staircase pointed in one direction, but then the staircase shifts, and the characters find themselves on another staircase, while all the connecting staircases ahead keep shifting. The characters don’t know where they ultimately will land, but they do know they need to keep trying to find the right combination of staircases to get safely to their destination. In my mind, there was no better analogy to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity or ambiguity of the situation we are in.

Until last night.

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching Jumanji: The Next Level with my kids (if you haven’t seen it, do so, it is awesome). As a CVP employee who knows navigating change is never easy, and is often tied more to the people than the change itself, I developed a new image in my head of what leaders should look like as we navigate this crisis and the new landscape it brings.

Picture this: our protagonists are on the edge of an abyss and they have to get to the other side. The only way to cross-over is via a bunch of seemingly unrelated and unconnected vine bridges that are constantly shifting. One of the protagonists, Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon is the only one who can see the interconnectivity of the vine bridges in his head because of one of his strengths: geometry. 

As Professor Oberon helps his team navigate the patterns of the bridges, he is not the one leading from the front, nor from the back, but rather from the middle. He has his strongest, bravest team members ahead of him and is telling them where to go. Behind him he has the team members who are trepid and cautious with every step they are taking, who he keeps encouraging with the progress of those in front. As this team navigates the bridges, ensuring they jump to the right bridge at the right time, with the right amount of speed, Professor Oberon is the decisive leader who ultimately helps his team successfully cross the abyss and its many, shifting challenges.

Our current situation is no different. Leaders in this COVID-19 era are living the epitome of what VUCA was intended to define. VUCA or Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, or Ambiguity, is a term coined by the U.S. Army War College in the late 80s to describe situations that are unprecedented and to remind us how leaders need to be prepared in times like this to define strategies to navigate such situations. COVID-19 has thrown the world into uncharted territory where the next step, next obstacle, and next outcome are unknown. Leading in times of such crises is an exciting, albeit scary time, and separates the true leaders from the pack. It requires a Professor Oberon: someone who can see the big picture, who can propel his or her team forward, while “stilling” or calming, his or her own internal fears and doubts.

As a leader, now is the time to find your inner Professor Oberon and start envisioning; not how your team will jump from one bridge to the next, but the collection of shifting bridges your team needs to cross, and in what order, to successfully reach the other side. Here are some tips to finding your inner Professor Oberon:

  1. Change perspective; look at the situation from the other side, the end. Imagine yourself standing there: What would be the things you are proud of having accomplished? What mistakes did you avoid? What regrets would you not want to have?
  2. Now that you have a vision, start working backwards. Begin identifying the bridges you need to connect in order to get there.
  3. Assess your team. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Who welcomes changes and who does not? Who can you propel from behind versus who would need to follow you?
  4. Assess yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your anxieties and worries? What do you need to do to accept them and move forward?
  5. Establish and communicate a plan. Meet with your team and tell them the plan. Show them how the bridges connect and explain how you all will get there—together.

Times like these test everyone. It is also times like these that show the true grit and strength of people. CVP’s tagline is “Navigating Change” because we know change is never easy to digest – whether for people, teams, companies, or the world. The coming weeks will get tougher as more change comes, before things begin to settle down. During these times, we wish strength and grit for every leader out there.

Need help managing change or building a strategy to navigate the coming weeks? Please reach out to Shamaa Ahmad: .

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