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How The Stress Test That Is 2020 Taught Me To Lead with Intention

The events of 2020 have thus far proven to be a forcing function for change. Call it what you will – unprecedented times, a period of reckoning or extraordinary new beginnings – but none of what we’ve seen as a culture this year can be ignored. Some of that change was underway prior to COVID-19, and some wasn’t, but we’re now all wrestling with the concept of establishing a “new normal” in many dimensions. As the old adage goes – if we don’t understand the past, we’re doomed to repeat it.

As a business leader, I am learning that these events have provided a critical opportunity to step back and take a hard look at all aspects of the business. What can be done differently or better? Where should we accelerate or intensify our efforts? Where should we pull back?

Two Dynamics at Play

Along these lines, it is increasingly clear to me that there are at least two dynamics at play here. As a result of everything that has happened thus far in 2020, most of us find ourselves in the midst of challenging, yet often invigorating, conversations on two fronts – where and how our way of working must evolve, and equally, where and how our workforce – and people overall – must evolve.

On the former, the pandemic has introduced significant challenges around how we work together, as we were physically distanced, forced to find a way to connect through a computer screen, and fighting to keep teamwork and company culture intact. We’ve realized how challenging it can be to connect and collaborate with one another without the benefit of physical proximity. And, while most of us were involved with some form of remote working, it’s apparent now that the option of “getting together” was something we all took for granted pre-COVID-19.

On the latter, the recent events surrounding the tragic, avoidable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and many others, reminds us that we have so much work to do ahead, as we strive to undo generations of racial inequity and inequality in our country.

While recent events were a catalyst for crucial conversations and global initiatives for change, the diversity issue spans so much more than ethnicity alone. We still suffer divisiveness over issues of gender, religion, and other dimensions of “personhood.” The good news is that the topics of diversity and inclusion are now front-and-center, and need to remain a priority. We can and must turn this crisis and tragedy into a renewed commitment from all of us to do more and to do better.

These are two examples of difficult conversations being had across the country and around the world. Both have united to become a massive “stress-test” of every company’s culture. And truth be told, it’s those companies and leaders who do not go back to ‘how it used to be’ who will emerge stronger, more unified and more resilient.

Leading with Intention

For me, this means leading with intention. First, by listening carefully to voices inside our company, across our SailPoint community and across every culture within which we operate.  Only then as a leader can I respond thoughtfully and lead our team in sustained action towards a new reality. Related to the two dynamics described above, this can manifest itself in a number of ways.

For example – how do we embrace a hybrid workforce where some workers remain at home while others are in the office? In our case, we’re slowly returning to a partial in-office work environment, while giving all employees the option of working from home at any time. That doesn’t mean that we’ll go back to normal ways of working, though. As one use case, we’ll be more intentional about how we structure meetings so that those on the phone vs. in the room have an equal opportunity to be ‘present’ in a meeting. We’ll also continue to collaborate and unite with regular company Slack and Zoom catch-ups no matter where in the world each of us are living or working. This pandemic has made it crystal clear that operating in unity does not require us to physically be near one another, but it does require us to be clear about our values, our culture and our shared business goals.

As another example, I am a firm believer in being both hungry and smart, but also humble (see Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player). There is great humility in listening. We all need to get more intentional with how we listen to one another, to really hear other voices with differing perspectives. This means having difficult, but productive conversations meant to move the needle in the right direction. And, this falls very much in line with our own ‘Four I’ core values (and my approach to leadership), particularly around how we value individuals, not as cogs in a wheel, but people with smarts, talents, values, and insights worth hearing and embracing.

These are just two examples among many where we are intentionally stepping back, looking inwards and making some shifts, evolving our approach and welcoming the notion that ‘shifts happen.’ By embracing the giant ‘stress test’ that is the year 2020, and committing to learn from it, we can each afford to become more intentional in how we do business, how we collaborate and how we welcome all perspectives and voices.