Empathy During a Pandemic, Part 2: The Weirdness of Work for Now

In Part 1, we explored how personality differences can cause us to act out during a time of uncertainty and stress. Let’s face it: It is just weird right now.

As we try to continue being productive, we need to recognize the complexity of the shifting sands beneath our feet when it comes to workplace engagement. On top of that, some of us have toddlers beneath our feet at the same time. Many of us are asking questions about what post-pandemic life will be like – and whether or not we will have a job (or the same job) as many organizations will re-structure.

Still, we press on. And work is work, which means that there are still the normal differences of opinion, misunderstandings about the expectations of our supervisors, and the “normal” ups and downs of the business side of life.

But the complexity of navigating day-to-day business just ramped up because virtual work highlights the sometimes-stark differences in life stage for some of us.

In my experience so far, some who are empty nesters have even a more uncluttered workspace without the natural interruptions of being in a physical workspace. No one “drops by” to say hello or chitchat about the weather or their favorite baseball team. Heck, no one is playing baseball anyway. These are the people that can actually stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time. This is not so for many.

Again, let’s consider some reminders that can give us the empathy we all need to get through for a while longer:

Stage of life affects work now more than ever. Another aspect of what has surfaced recently is that people respond according to their age and stage of life. There are plenty of differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers in terms of their prioritization of family, work-life balance and more. This is less of an issue because most work environments level the playing field. We all come to an office and are operating in an environment that is free from the things that distinguish our ages. But now there is a massive difference between people who are dealing with the challenges of infants, toddlers, school age children and college kids at home. Most of us got thrust into a home office environment that is drastically different than our normal work life and has a level of chaos. Then there is another group of us who do not have children at home and have even more time to concentrate and ramp up our efficiency, wondering why others are not in 5th gear with us. And still others have concerns that characterize middle to late career – the stock market, long-term health care, and aging parents. Again, normally these things don’t hang around our necks when we arrive to the office. But today, everyone’s context and stressors are decidedly different.

Leaders have a difficult job. Under normal circumstances, leaders are expected to provide clarity and direction. They are to point out the vision for our future, and then align us to help see that vision turn into reality. Every leader has a different capacity to deliver this guidance in a healthy way, but everyone is simply guessing right now. Under these new stressful circumstances, the weaknesses and strengths of our leadership will be on display. Leaders will respond according to their wiring and immediate context – some are in personal turmoil, some do not deal well with conflict or crisis, and so on. But this is usually smoothed out by the fact that they can communicate with each other (senior teams, executive committees, etc.) and come up with a solid game plan. These days even that is compromised as they may be struggling just to connect with each other. When leaders are disconnected and destabilized, the chaos is exacerbated.  

We are not sure if our work matters. For our friends in healthcare and government it is very clear that their work matters. There are also some non-profits that were built for such a time as this. But for many others the questions about the future stimulate questions about the value of their work now. Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough? Is this actually going to mean something if the organization gets completely re-shuffled in the new order of post-pandemic life? Are the leaders not telling us something about our job stability? And, when we return, will I even recognize the organization as a place that I once knew and thrived in?

As we move forward in this “new normal,” how can we lead strong and get the best from those around us? What are the areas that are under our control? What can we do to build influence and goodwill in our organization? Here are a few recommendations:

1. We can communicate with clarity. Clarity wins in an uncertain time. A very helpful approach to communicating right now is to connect with people compassionately, empathize with the uncertainty, and tell them what you know and don’t know yet. Remember the old adage “under promise and over deliver.” Stick to the emotion in the room (or video chat) and communicate what you know and how you are expecting people to operate in the organizational wilderness.

2. We can come up with ground rules for the new normal. The rules and boundaries that are present will need to be revised in light of the changing circumstances. Perhaps an approach could be a “From-To” exercise where leadership expresses that we are moving “from” this “to” that. For example, we are moving from three-hour weekly executive tam meetings at 9-12 on Mondays to a 30-minute check-in Zoom call with the executive team from 9-9:30am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. As well, there may be temporary processes established around other functions: decision-making, budgeting and spending, meeting rhythm, resolving disputes or conflicts, etc. Clear communication is key here.

3. We can offer grace and latitude. If there was ever a time to give people grace and latitude, the time is now. Apple has a customer service approach that is deeply embedded in empathy. They say that the first thing a person needs to feel is that you care about their situation or problem. Now is the time to mimic this and step into the humanness of each person with whom we interact. As much as the above observations and recommendations are about what to do when we see each other “off the rails,” the fact is that many people and organizations are modeling this beautifully. May we all find our way of doing the same.

 


 

In case you missed it, here is part one of this series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Greg Gibbs

Greg Gibbs

Greg Gibbs is a coffee roaster, consultant and author, and regularly tries to convince his wife that he is an Organizational Communication guru. After 30 years and raising four children together, she is still not quite convinced. Greg has spent decades in the church world, advising leadership on vision clarity, fundraising process, and communication effectiveness. He and his wife reside in the suburbs of Detroit.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

5 Ways to Start Your Day in the Right Way

Have you ever come to the end of your workday, or even a workweek, and asked yourself, “What did I accomplish?”

You know you showed up, went to meetings, worked hard, but somehow, sometimes, wonder if you really accomplished much.

You are not alone.

The good news is that there is something you can do about it.

It’s always important to start with the big picture in mind. Or as Stephen Covey has said, “Start with the end in mind.” If you don’t know where you’re headed or where you want to go, you will likely arrive somewhere else. Somewhere you don’t want to be.

At some point, however, you live out those big-picture goals based on very practical plans, one day at a time.

Admittedly, the five questions are relatively simple on the surface, but underneath they are complex, and the discipline to execute daily is not so easy. That’s one of the reasons that question number five is so important. We’ll get to that.

Before the questions, let me briefly cover three things that block daily productivity.

Distraction

The source of distraction is internal. That means it’s from within you. It can be anything from social media to doing the things that you like to do rather than the things that are required of you. The remedy is learning to focus and focus in particular on what is important.

Disruption

The source of disruption is external. Disruption comes from others around you. Being disrupted from your focused work is part of life and leadership. It’s going to happen. Your ability to handle it with poise and firm resolve enables you to greatly increase your productivity. The remedy is learning to gracefully say no, postpone the request or handle something important quickly.

Direction

The source of direction must be unified. You may be the visionary source of the direction, or you may be enthusiastically supportive, but either way, the people you lead must also buy into the direction you are all attempting to go, or you’ll end up going in circles or stuck.

In terms of productivity blockers, I mean more accurately, directionless, or multi-directions. Without an agreed-upon crystal clear direction, productivity is nearly impossible.

5 simple questions for a highly productive day.

1) What are you required to do?

Always start with the most critical projects and appointments with people that align with what you are required to do, and that produce the greatest return for your investment of time and energy.

Leaders who get things done, but not the right things slowly become ineffective.

Productivity is not assessed merely by how much you do, but if you do the right things that produce the greatest return. Even if you don’t finish your to-do list, this will increase your productivity dramatically.

As you deliver increasingly higher levels of quality and excellence in what you accomplish, your leadership begins to create space and freedom to do a little more, over time, of what you want to do.

2) Who did you help?

Long term legacy leadership in the church never takes place without helping people. Don’t fall prey to becoming an event planner with a theological degree.

Ultimately our spiritual responsibility is to lead people to Jesus and see an eternal transformation. Facets of this happen from the boardroom working on a strategy to out in the community with those who are far from God.

Bottom line – always think people.

At the end of each day, ask yourself:

  • Who did I encourage?
  • Who did I strengthen with wisdom?
  • Who did I train with helpful skills?
  • Who did I take a developmental moment with to coach their leadership?
  • Who did I bless with compassion, whether a staff member or a homeless person?

You get the idea; how did you add value to people?

It’s not likely that you can do all these things in one day, but don’t go a day where your leadership touches no one.

3) What did you complete?

This can be a discouraging or invigorating moment. A moment, literally sixty seconds, where you jot down what you accomplished.

Sometimes you finish something, and many days you advance something just a little further. All progress counts, as long as you remain focused on what is required, what is important, and what produces the greatest return.

This is where your ability to handle distractions, disruptions, and remain headed in the right direction is essential.

If your day was unproductive and maybe discouraging, shake it off, and start fresh and focused the next day.

It is smart to make a list the night before of what you want to accomplish. Remember the old adage, if you don’t plan your time, someone else will.

4) What did you learn?

Don’t skip this step, and don’t make it complicated.

This can take two or three minutes, maybe five. When you reflect on your day from what you learned in prayer and Scripture, to perhaps a difficult conversation with someone, crystalize what you learned.

The goal isn’t to make a long list. The purpose is to focus on the most significant thing you learned – that you will apply. Even just one a day is a lot over a year. I have found that I “re-learn” many things over the course of a year. The Holy Spirit makes things fresh and new as I lead at greater levels.

It might be something you read in a book or a blog. It might have been something you wouldn’t do again in a talk. It might be a deep truth that came from confession; it might be a pearl of wisdom from a friend.

If you are looking for what you learn, there is much there for you, even in a single day.

5) Why did you do it?

Motivation is a powerful subject in the life of a leader.

“Why do you do what you do?” That is an important question. Yes, in part, we do much because it is required. That’s why it’s so important to be in the exact place God wants you, with leaders you trust.

But let’s be honest about the “why.” There’s nothing wrong with a bigger church, greater opportunity, and reward for your hard work, as long as that’s not your primary motivation.

When motives turn inward for personal gain and a serving heart turns to the presumption of entitlement, any leader is in the danger zone. Guard your heart!

This may not be likely, but it can happen to any of us!

Instead, remind yourself often of why God called you to serve others. Reflect on why He gave you an opportunity to lead.

“Why” is always an important question.

And from me to you, I hope and pray that what you do also rewards you with great joy.

Scriptures to reflect on for a productive day:

  • Ecclesiastes 11:6
  • Proverbs 14:23
  • Matthew 25:14-30
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6
  • Ephesians 5:15-16

> Read more from Dan.


 

Let’s talk! Connect with an Auxano Navigator.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland

Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together. Dan is best known as a leader with a pastor's heart, but is often described as one of the nations most innovative church thinkers. His passion is developing leaders for the local church so that the Great Commission is advanced.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

One Secret of Highly Productive Teams

Leaders must learn how to make the future in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It is hard to even think about the future if you are overwhelmed by the present, but that is exactly the time when foresight can be most practical. Looking to distant possibilities can provide new insight for the present.

Some leaders will judge too soon and draw simplistic conclusions while others will decide too late and pay a price for their lack of courage or inaction. Some will be overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness while others will become cynical and question everything around them.

Leaders need not be overwhelmed by the volatile world around them. They must have the skills to take advantage of those opportunities, as well as the agility to sidestep the dangers.

Leadership is more preparation than planning. Planning relies on predictability. But preparation helps leaders stay clear amid uncertainty. Planning assumes continuity; preparation equips leaders to be flexible enough to seize opportunity.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Navigating Chaos, by Jeff Boss

Jeff Boss has faced and overcome uncertainty in the most tumultuous circumstances. As a Navy SEAL, he worked in some of the most unforgiving environments on earth and faced enemies that constantly changed, much like today’s business landscape. In a world of chaos, how do individuals and teams stay together to find certainty in a world where there is anything but? This book reveals how. Using anecdotal experiences from both the military and business worlds, Boss highlights the individual mindsets, team practices, and organizational considerations for how people and companies can forge certainty amidst inevitable chaos.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION – Keep Your Performance Capacity High

Albert Einstein reportedly said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Others have restated that thought as, “What got you here won’t keep you here,” or something similar.

No matter how you say it, that line of thought is very true in the church you lead as you face the complexities of ministry that seem to be changing all around you – every day – and speeding up!

How do you plan for the unknown? You can’t really, but you can definitely have the confidence to try.

The typical organizational response to chaos is to become more efficient – to improve productivity – and the byproduct is increased stress for each and every employee. Greater stress levels lead to toxic environments, impatience, communication challenges, and short-term focus – the vary antithesis of superior performance.

The secret is to keep the performance capacities (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) fulfilled, as doing so sustains energy levels to perform, to adopt, and to lead.

The three elements of performance, adaptability, and leadership are the principles and behaviors that will make you and your organization successful. The PAL Model© refers to the way in which any team – whether at work, on the athletic field, or even at home – can borrow this dynamic from the SEALs and apply it toward their own efforts toward success.

The most fundamental of the skills needed is Performance. Does each and every member of your team have the skill set in place that is needed to advance the team’s collective cause?

The next skill is Adaptability, which enables any team to tackle the unknown and strategically improve their position at a moment’s notice.

The final skill is Leadership. Without effective leadership in any situation, communication breaks down and things rapidly spin out of control.

Jeff Boss, Navigating Chaos

A NEXT STEP

When was the last time you reviewed performance markers for your team when jobs or financial implications were NOT involved? How up-to-date are the teams job descriptions and your review process? How do the mission and values of your organization, coupled with a long-range view of God’s better future, impact who does what in your church?

Non-stress, everyday conversations are the best time to ask these questions and make the necessary adjustments BEFORE the problems force quick action. Set up a 1-1 with each of your team members and ask the following three questions, try your best to simply listen and ask appropriate follow-up questions.

  1. What one thing do you wish I knew about your role in our church?
  2. What is one thing I can do in the next three months to help you lead?
  3. In what way do you feel like you are most fulfilling our mission?

After a season of prayer and thoughtful reflection, make the necessary adjustments to your leadership. If needed, begin an intentional and well-timed process of recalibrating the roles and responsibilities of team members. Do not rush this and make this a healthy season. Allow mis-placed or under-performing team members time to improve or seek other ministry options.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 76-1, issued September 2017.


 

This is part of a weekly series posting excerpts from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders.

SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; each solution is taken from a different book. Additionally, a practical action step is included with each solution.

As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS Remix provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

>> Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.