SUZI FINKELSTEIN

Chief Executive Officer,
Women & Leadership Australia

Leading through disruption and into the future

The coronavirus pandemic – and the response that has been required by leaders in all sectors – is truly one of the most pressing challenges we have faced in our time. Many of us are experiencing serious ‘carers’ load’ and ‘vicarious trauma’ as a result of the challenges presented at work and home.

This series of ‘recharge’ blogs explores themes and models that you can refer to in times of stress, to replenish your leadership capacity. In this blog, we look at how you can find the positives and lead productively out of disruption.

What is disruption?

Put simply, disruption is change. Often, it is characterised by unplanned, or significant, change. While COVID is the most discussed disruptor at the moment, the principles of leading through disruption can be applied more broadly – from environmental disasters, like bushfires and floods, to significant social change, like the Black Lives Matter movement, or #MeToo. One of the most important things to remember about disruption is that over time, a lot of good can come from it.

What are some of the negative effects of disruption?

Unfortunately, the disruption caused by COVID has had a significant impact on the energy reserves and wellbeing of leaders and employees. Research over the COVID period has found that 2020 was the most stressful year in history (1), with burnout levels increasing by 12 per cent in a single year (2). On top of that, nearly half of employees who worked from home reported that their mental health and wellbeing had declined. (3)

These statistics go some way to explaining why leaders and employees more broadly are reporting decreased leadership capacity, burnout, and disengagement with their roles.

How can we move forward?

If we can find it in ourselves to look past the exhaustion of COVID, we can already see some effects that will help us move forward positively. Research has already told us that there has been a sharp increase in digital literacy skills across the global population (4), and that the dissolution of the ‘formal’ work environment has created a more ‘human’ culture in work environments (5). Both of these elements offer us opportunities to optimise the school environment.  

How to lead through disruption: 

There are a few ways to lead positively through this disruption:

Create a safe space 

You can create a safe space for people in your organisation to express their concerns in almost any environment. Making time for private one on one conversations online, over the phone or in person is one way, or gathering with small groups at a time. Having a regular all-staff meeting where people are openly invited to ask questions and raise concerns is another way.

Communicate frequently with your team 

Understanding and utilising different communication channels on a regular basis will help your team feel connected and informed, reducing anxiety and fear about things that are ‘unknown.’ A regular update via online ‘team’ channels, and making time for regular chats in an informal setting are two ways you can stay connected and reduce stress for your team, and the organisation more broadly.

Invest in opportunities that will enable your organisation to harness the new skills they have learned

Reminding your team that they learned and achieved during the pandemic will help them to overcome a potential sense of loss, after two years of disruption. Giving them opportunities to put their new skills to good use in the organisation reminds them that they did achieve something tangible – and gives them something to be proud of.

 

1. Gallup, 2021

2. Glint, 2021

3. Qualtrics, 2020

4. McKinsey, 2021

5. The Conversation, 2021

 

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