A few months ago, I was talking with a group of young executives about leadership and vision. I shared that at FZ, we believe in the Dory Model of Leadership. After a few moments of blank stares and confused expressions, I followed up by saying, "just keep swimming."
Everyone is familiar with the 2003, Disney Pixar movie "Finding Nemo" and Dory's famous line "just keep swimming.” This catchphrase holds great wisdom, especially during an unprecedented time like COVID-19. Dory’s insight, “just keep swimming” encourages us to keep moving, to make the decision in front of you, and to take the next step forward.
In times like this where information is coming at us quickly and things are changing by the hour, being able to make the next decision in order to keep moving forward is essential. It's especially easy right now to be paralyzed by fear, fatigue, or stress and shrink back from making decisions until we have all of the information we want or need. But in doing so we halt our progress, our teams, and our organizations. As leaders we read, we listen to others, we gather information and ultimately we have to make the call. Nearly always with less information than we desire. Having the courage to make the call- to just keep swimming- keeps our teams and organizations energized and moving forward.
So, how do we keep swimming during COVID-19?
- Find ways to rest and refresh: A major part of ‘just keep swimming’ starts with you not drowning. This doesn’t mean you stop moving forward, it just means that you take time to come up for air. It’s important that we take care of ourselves and take time to rest, relax, and recharge. It may be a quick 15-minute break between calls, going for a short walk, or taking the weekend off to spend time with family. Model this behavior within your team – and stick to it! If you tell your team to take the weekend off, don't send emails early Saturday morning!
- Inspire those around you: Be honest with your organization that although no one really knows with full certainty what the future hold, we’ll figure it out. Stay away from unrealistic optimism and instead speak truth around the risks, reservations, and opportunities that this time offers. Recognize the efforts, changes, and fears that your teams are experiencing and celebrate the small wins in order to create and share a realistic optimism for the future.
- Don’t get caught up in the hype: It's easy to get wrapped up in the daily news about COVID-19 and all the drama and fear-mongering that ensues. As a leader, separate yourself. You only need to know about what’s impacting the decisions you make today.
- Stay Agile: It’s important that we don’t become anchored to past decisions. Stay agile and nimble in your opinions and your decisions and be honest with others that things will most likely change in the future and when they do we will change with them. If you make the wrong decision, own it, and commit to making a better one next time.
- Throw others a life preserver: Support each other, these are difficult times for all of us. When stress and anxiety are high, our thoughts can be clouded, and we can easily spiral out of control. Mental health and clear thinking are hard to come by right now. We’re responsible to ensure that our teams and colleagues are doing okay. It’s important that we genuinely look out for and reach out to each other.
- Everyone swims differently: Our job is to be the best version of ourselves we can during this time of crisis. And that looks different for every person. We must recognize and respect that we all swim and lead differently.
- You can’t stop: The reality of swimming is that you can’t just stop halfway through. You and your team can only tread water for so long. It gets to a point where even if things are incredibly uncertain you need to push through, make a decision and keep moving forward.
- Recognize that this is hard: Leadership can be both exhilarating and exhausting. It is not for the faint at heart. In many ways your willingness to keep at it is not going to be easy but is essential to leading your team through crisis.
We're all figuring out how to swim in a new reality. We’re all growing and learning. COVID-19 has shown weaknesses and cracks in our systems and processes that we weren't aware of before. But have confidence that we, collectively, are going to come out of COVID-19 better than we were before. Stay positive, knowing that you are growing – whether it’s personally, professionally, or organizationally. You’re becoming a stronger leader, your team is becoming stronger, and your organization is becoming stronger.
In the meantime, stay healthy, stay strong, lead well, and just keep swimming.