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Three Beliefs Shattered in 2020

three beliefs shattered in 2020
This article is a call to challenge our self-limiting beliefs about ourselves and/or our companies.

No one could have foreseen the year we are living through and the massive changes that COVID19 has brought about. And I would argue if someone had told us we’d be living in the reality we do today, we would have ignored them or even laughed in their face. But human nature is funny that way. Despite clear evidence and strong arguments, we often have to slam into the wall and be forced to change rather than embrace it and step courageously into it.

Case in point – companies have been debating the pros and cons of remote working for years. Some progressive companies figured it out years ago and arguably had the technology to make it happen. Yet other companies have not been willing to wade into the complexity of this unknown future. They likely asked themselves, “Why do something today that you can put off until tomorrow?” I wonder how they felt when tomorrow arrived in mid-March.

But it’s more than that. When it comes to change, we tell ourselves stories that become beliefs that turn into our truths. This happens on a big scale. Organizations believe that they can’t do business if people are working from home or they can’t meet clients face to face. And on an individual scale, our beliefs about what we can and can’t do limit us and shut down possibilities.

There was a point in my career that I believed I was risk-averse, that I needed a regular paycheque for financial security and that I could never be a good salesperson. When I challenged those self-limiting beliefs, I started two companies, attracted numerous clients, made a healthy living for more than 10 years, and had the flexibility and freedom I wanted.

What’s the lesson here? Our beliefs must be challenged! The beliefs about ourselves, other people, and our companies are not truths, facts, or absolutes. They are just that…beliefs. And often those limiting beliefs are so ingrained they become policy, part of the culture or psychological barriers that prevent us from moving forward, taking risks, and embracing change and innovation.

We get comfortable in our beliefs, and then a crisis like COVID19 comes along and changes and challenges everything. It doesn’t care about our beliefs and our stories. It almost instantaneously attacks them all and leaves them in a pile of rubble.

Let’s look back at 2020 and three shattered beliefs:

Belief #1: Remote working would never work for our organization

While this is a truth for some organizations (hospitals for one), most organizations now have a remote working environment. It happened lightning-fast and it wasn’t always pretty. Organizations scrambled to make the technology work. Employees found themselves juggling work, home, and family in the same space, during especially challenging and emotional times. Leaders had to figure out how to connect, communicate, and lead from afar. We’ve learned that it doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for many. Some extroverts struggled mightily to stay connected and composed. Some introverts started to accelerate their productivity and contribution.

And now? Leaders we talk to are surprised how many of their people want a permanent work-from-home option. Companies like Twitter and Shopify are allowing employees to work from home forever. Many other companies are putting in blended policies to satisfy both groups. Offices are being closed, reduced, or re-designed. It’s a sea change that will transform the way we work and live…forever.

Coaching Question for Reflection

How have the insights from the recent work from home transition impacted your future of work?

Belief #2: People working from home won’t be as productive

A recent Bloomberg article suggested that people working at home are clocking more hours not less. Reduced commute time, fuzzy boundaries between work and home life, fewer meetings, and travel requirements, and job insecurity are driving forces. People want to be seen as adding value and for many, they are working hard, helping their organizations survive the storm.

The belief about reduced productivity comes from the assumption that people will be distracted at home if they are juggling kids, elderly parents, homeschooling, and dealing with the stress of uncertainty. And there’s some truth to that.

That’s why for leaders, it’s important to have conversations to understand a person’s circumstances and agree on expectations around hours of work and outputs in that context. This approach builds trusting relationships, strong teams, and loyalty. And it sure beats adding spyware to remotely monitor employee productivity, which sadly is on the rise.

Coaching Questions for Reflection

What conversations do you need to be having with your team?

How can you recognize team member contributions and value in a way that they appreciate?

Belief #3: As a leader, I need to be in control and have all the answers

In a time of massive change, great uncertainty, and distributed work environments, many leaders believe their role is to control everything, have all the answers, and solve all the problems for their team. The reality is this is simply not doable and certainly not sustainable. Leading remotely demands that we as leaders embrace a collaborative and curious coach approach where we empower and hold our people capable to think through challenges, find solutions, own their decisions, and be accountable for getting the work done. It’s not answers we need, it’s questions. More asking and active listening.

For those of you who struggle to trust your people to get things done, you need to ask yourself two questions: 1) Have I hired the right people? 2) Am I too controlling? Either way, it is your problem to solve.

Moreover, this situation will only accelerate going forward. As the wise and thoughtful futurist Bob Johansen said in his 2017 book The New Leadership Literacies (which is a must-read based on recent events), leaders will need to “feel present when they aren’t present” and embrace the distributed model of the working world in the future…a future which the pandemic brought upon us faster than expected.

Coaching Questions for Reflection:

How hard would it be for you as a leader to shift your mindset from telling and solving to asking and trusting?

How can you show up as the leader you want to be when you can’t be “present”?

Closing Thoughts

Through this crisis, leaders are learning that their teams are more resilient, resourceful, and creative than they believed. Great leaders are not wasting this crisis and are getting to clarity and new insights like never before.

When we have no choice, we can adapt. When we have limitations, we can innovate. When our beliefs are challenged, we can learn and discover new strengths.

Coaching Question for Reflection:

What is your most important learning about your leadership in this crisis?

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