As a leader you’re probably asking yourself, when will this end?
The crisis. The disruption. The weird instability and angst that have been 2020 and 2021 so far.
Few of us seriously thought that when the global crisis began in 2020 that it would last more than a few months.
Then 2021 was supposed to provide relief, which it hasn’t. No, instead, the world continues to morph, a bit like the virus itself.
As you know all too well, nothing feels familiar anymore.
And even as the post-pandemic world begins to take shape, almost every leader is left with the sinking reality that the world we’re stepping into has changed, perhaps more deeply than anyone wants to admit.
This brings us back to the original question. When will this end?
I have news for you. What if it won’t?
What if this is the future?
At first every leader thought we were running a sprint.
Then we thought it was a triathlon, followed by a marathon. Even now, the marathon feels like a trick…because there’s no finish line in sight.
What we got instead was a rapid acceleration into the future. Into a world in which none of us have led before.
As disheartening as that feels, it’s time for a new strategy.
Hoping things will go back to normal is a terrible strategy if normal died. And there’s mounting evidence that normal as we knew it died.
Rather than debate whether the world has changed (an inordinate amount of leaders, especially church leaders, deny that it has), in this post, I want to touch on an approach that will better prepare you and me for whatever future we’re facing.
First, though, let’s look at what’s at stake for every leader.
The Fastest Way To Burnout
The fastest way to burn out is to keep telling yourself that the end is near and everything will go back to normal.
It creates a false hope that in and of itself is exhausting because it’s never realized.
And burnout—already an epidemic before the crisis—is accelerating faster than ever.
A far healthier approach to the unpredictability, divisiveness and confusion of the moment is to establish a sustainable rhythm.
So far in this crisis, too many leaders have counted on time off to heal them. Summer vacation, a week in the mountains, time at the beach, or, now, the promise of post-pandemic travel has made us think a rest will somehow cure all ills.
Time off won’t heal you when the problem is how you spend time on. When every day grinds you into the dust with long hours, you won’t make it to vacation or the post-pandemic era. And if instability is what’s ahead for years to come, you need a better strategy.
The remedy for an unsustainable pace is a sustainable pace.
So the real question becomes: what do you need to do to make every day more manageable?
For me, that means mastering the art of saying no, clearing my calendar, deciding to quit doing the things that aren’t working, and building in margin every day.
Deepening your personal reserves now will prepare you for anything and everything ahead. (If you’re not sure how to do that, this will help).
If you have deep reserves, tackling everything else in this post becomes not just easier, but doable.
As you create a more sustainable pace, there are 5 additional shifts you can embrace in leadership that will help.
1. From Denial To Acceptance
I talk with leaders pretty much every day about the crisis, and I’m astonished at the level of denial that seems to pervade the mindset of many leaders.
Strangely, business leaders seem much more open to the fact that the world has changed than church leaders do. That doesn’t bode well for the church.
As tempting as it is to deny reality, denying reality doesn’t change reality.
Change happens in every generation, and it’s happening right now before our eyes.
Accepting that is the first step to reaching more people in the midst of it.
2. From Obstacle To Opportunity
So sure, it’s hard. Everything you spent years building has been threatened.
But instead of focusing on the obstacles, shift to focusing on the opportunities.
To do that, ask yourself: what does this make possible?
The answer, thankfully, is a lot.
3. From Method To Mission
The first thing to die in a crisis is your method.
Gyms had to surrender in-person workouts.
Restaurants had to forgo in-person dining.
Churches had to close to gatherings in their facilities.
What wise leaders realize is that all of those were methods. None of it was mission.
Gym owners can miss that the mission is fitness, the method was working out in a gym.
Some restauranteurs missed that the mission is food, the method was a restaurant.
And some preachers can’t see that the mission is sharing the Gospel, the method was in-person gatherings in a building owned by the church.
Sure, in-person is coming back at some level. But wise leaders aren’t wagering everything on old methods.
Instead, they’re focusing on the mission. And as long as there are people, your mission can grow.
4. From Control To Openness
Control was an illusion long before the crisis hit. Still, many of us felt like we had some measure of control.
I suspect the longing to go back to normal is a longing for control…the idea that you had a system you knew what, while imperfect, at least achieved some results.
But if the old world died and people’s behavior patterns will be even somewhat different in the future, a much better approach is to move from control to openness.
Leaders who are open to change end up doing much better than leaders who are closed to it.
The gap between how quickly things change and how quickly you change is called irrelevance.
5. From Atrophy To Renewal
The stakes have rarely been higher for leaders than they are now.
I’m guessing we’ll see atrophy in organizations that don’t change and renewal in organizations that do.
Quick pivots, regular experimentation, and the ability to respond to a rapidly changing culture moving forward will be critical.
While your mission will never change, your methods will have to.
Agility is a key quality for future leaders because if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.