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What the Pandemic Revealed About the Changing Leadership Landscape

Pandemic Leadership Post 1

The pandemic was/has been a terrifying time, we can all agree to that. Before we move deeper into this discussion, I want to be really clear: talking about this time in our lives through the lens of leadership is absolutely not to downplay the bigger picture: the monumental loss of family members, friends, neighbors. Sometimes the loss of jobs, homes, and economic security. Sometimes the fraying of mental health or the exacerbation of latent challenges like addiction or depression. 


Those are what I think of when I think of the pandemic, just like you. And—not but—as a business owner, I feel we’d be remiss not to mine this experience for lessons. 


Many of you likely faced some of the same questions I did: How am I going to keep the doors open? How do I decide when and where work happens when everything is uncertain? On top of all that, we’re human too, right? We were also navigating the personal cost of isolation, trauma, and–in some cases–loss. It felt like a collective and unique burden at once, a rarity. 


In my experience in particular, the pandemic shed a light on how dangerous it was for my physical health–and the health of my organization–for me to be responsible for so much of the business. When the crisis began, I was essentially managing all aspects of the business, with some support on the side. The company was built off my personality and my syle of delivery, and it soon became clear that I needed multiple people who could support our clients. After all, if I got sick and I “was” the business. . . there would be no business. The stakes had never felt higher. That perfect storm was the push I needed to expand my team, a journey I recently shared as part of the SNoWCo origin story.


As it turns out, I managed to make it about two and a half years before I contracted COVID. When I did, it knocked me down for quite a while. The main illness lasted for about three weeks, but the residual effects—brain fog, fatigue–had such a detrimental effect on my ability to manage the company that I was essentially out of the game for a total of three months. I was fortunate to have an incredible group of people with me at that point, a group that has since evolved into our core team. They took the burden off my shoulders, which allowed me to recover and recharge when I needed to. Had I gotten that sick in the early days of the pandemic without such incredible support in place, who knows if you’d be reading this right now. That’s a scary and sad thing to think about and to write, but it’s also indicative of just how consequential this moment in time was for us all.


And it’s not like the fog brought on by the pandemic has completely lifted and we’re all skipping off into the sunset as leaders who have everything figured out, right? Not by a long shot. We are making our way through different kinds of fog now: the changing expectations and needs of our workforce, the rapidly changing technology landscape led by AI barreling toward us, the fact that many people are experiencing PTSD and/or other mental health complications from the residuals of the pandemic, from global warming, from racial/political divisiveness, from *gestures widely into the abyss* . . . sometimes it feels like the trauma and anxiety version of choose your own adventure out here.


And guess what? We’re not immune to any of that just because we’re “in charge.” These are not concerns only our team members have. We’re human too. The only difference is that we also have the responsibility–and the opportunity–to support them along the way. All that extra weight is not for everybody. We hear it sometimes in the field . . . there are leaders who are questioning whether or not they want to stick it out in this new landscape, if they’re cut out for it. And I get that! They’re being asked to show up in a completely different way than they likely ever have before. It’s hard. I’m not going to tell you it’s not.


What I will tell you, though, is that leading today–for those of us who feel called to keep at it (and let me be clear, I mean absolutely no shame to anyone who chooses a different path) takes an entirely different type of energy than in the “before times.” It’s extra challenging. On the flip side of that, it’s also extra worth it, if you ask me, when you’re able to create psychologically safe environments for your people that allow you to create and build and move forward. The visibility might not always be crystal clear, but you and your team members feel a little stronger in the presence of that fog because you’re facing it together. 


What was your experience leading through the pandemic? Has it changed anything about the way you approach your role as a leader and/or business owner? I’d love to hear your lessons and takeaways so we can all keep growing.

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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