Leadership Lessons from a Lockdown
The Pandemic we have all been through over the past 2 months (and continue to go through) has been an unprecedented time for everyone. As a leader of an organisation
it tested me in ways I could never have predicted. It was territory I had never walked in before.
As with all challenging experiences, I like to take the time to reflect and unearth the lessons learnt. Here are some lessons I learnt as a leader, from 6 weeks in lockdown.
1. Stay In Your Own Lane
When we first went into lockdown I made the mistake of diving head first down the rabbit hole of comparison. I belong to a private Facebook page of school leaders in New Zealand and during the first week every possible scenario and possible outcome was being thrashed around on the social media platform. It threw me into a right anxious frenzy as I grappled with self doubt. Even though I had made decisions the week prior with confidence, I soon started to unravel, have sleepless nights, and mini panic attacks worrying that I hadn't made the right decisions. One evening as I was scrolling through the comments it hit me that there was no one right answer, solution or pathway, because no one had ever done anything like this before. We were all looking for the one answer - but actually there wasn't one. Nobody knew what the 'right' way was, because there wasn't a 'right' way.
I made a decision that night to exit the Facebook page and not go back in.
It was doing more damage than good to my mental health.
I stuck by my decisions (made with good intent) and never looked back.
I learnt to stay in my own lane.
2. Set Boundaries
The Ministry of Education were stellar with their communication during the pandemic. In fact leaders of schools were receiving bulletins almost on a daily basis. The bulletins from the Secretary of Education were LENGTHY. As in - set aside 30 minutes, make yourself a coffee, get comfortable and have note paper and a pen at hand because numerous actions would be required.
The problem was, they always came through after 6pm at night, sometimes as late as 9pm. At the beginning of the lockdown I would check my emails and read everything (breaking all of my rules around checking emails after work) but work was all over the place at this time and working from home was new for me so I had zero boundaries in place. Getting a meaty email like that at night would turn me into a tail spin. After 2 weeks of late night panics, restless sleep, worrying about the work that had to be done as a result of the bulletins, I put some personal boundaries in place. I stopped checking my emails after 6pm (this wasn't easy). Setting boundaries for myself with work, when working at home, was critical for my own mental health.
3. Speak from the heart
During the lockdown I was experiencing so many things for the first time; google hangouts, zoom calls, shared phone calls, working from home etc. Events and emails that I would easily take in my stride during a normal day at work were throwing me off my game completely.
In one of my emails to our team I shared this;
For some of you – I.T is one of your superpowers and you’ll be feeling super confident about teaching online. For others, it is new and scary.
I know this because I’ve been there myself in the past three weeks with online meetings and having to do data spread sheets for the MOE that have sent me into a right tizz! Whenever I get a Bulletin from the MoE, I have to brace myself as they are lengthy & there are things in there that I don't always know what to do about.
Also, not knowing is hard (especially for a control freak such as myself ) I want answers NOW! I’ve felt frustrated, anxious, and sometimes also, a small sense of achievement.
New is never comfortable.
First times with anything are never easy, they don’t always flow perfectly and it's also easy to be really hard on yourself.
But … here’s the good news … that’s where all the growth lies.
You’re learning something new.
In a couple of weeks you’ll be so good at it and you’ll feel comfortable with the new way.
So be easy on yourself, nobody is judging you, we’re all here to support you – please reach out and ask for help.
The replies I got back were some of the most heartfelt, honest emails I've ever received as a leader. I had spoken my own truth and expressed a vulnerability in a way that I hadn't before.
4. Gate Keeper
It wasn't until we stopped everything at work and couldn't do most of it, due to the lockdown, that I realised how much we had been doing. When we cancelled every school event and activity for this school term and the diary cleared, I could see how much I was asking the team to do. I thought I was a good gate keeper, but now it's going to be water tight! Moving forward I will be so discerning about what we agree to do.
Children and teachers do not benefit in any way from being overloaded.
5. Team First (this one was more of a reminder than a lesson)
Right from the outset my priority as a leader was the well-being of our staff. For them to function effectively (to teach our students successfully with a new system) they needed to feel supported, at ease, and not overworked or overwhelmed. The main goal for the leadership team was to give them time and space to adjust, learn new systems, try them out, make mistakes, and roll them out at a reasonable pace.
I felt that we achieved this. Again it was about turning a blind eye to what other organisations were doing. Avoiding comparison at this time was critical to staying in our own lane and standing by our values and philosophy.
6. Teamwork makes the dream work (not a lesson either - but a dam good reminder!)
I am blessed to have two senior leaders that are worth their weight in gold. They helped me survive lockdown and run a school remotely. I couldn't have done it by myself, it was a massive team effort. We spent hours on the phone, google hangouts, shared documents etc. We nutted out so many tricky situations and made important decisions together. Honestly, a leader is only as good as their team and this was no exception. No event was ever going to highlight this more than a global lockdown.