May 13, 2020
Just Business? Everything is Personal Now
LRN's David Greenberg helped lead an online session of the SALA Series, a platform that brings together corporate executives and influencers from a cross section of industries.
Last week's session involved the sports, media and entertainment sectors, and the discussion focused on ways these leaders--and their professional teams, leagues, and ownership groups--are responding to COVID-19.
One consistent theme from the discussion was how this new world of video teleconferencing, Zoom meetings, and other virtual interactions is deepening relationships between leaders and their employees, and business partners.
“Their universal opinion is that, no matter what happens in terms of going back to the workplace, something fundamental has changed,” Greenberg said. “Employees used to trust us with their livelihoods; they now have to trust us with their lives.”
The participants wondered whether they would ever travel as much as they used to, spending weeks on the road and days at conferences, when they have seen they can learn more, schedule more easily and connect more deeply with people from their homes. One participant said the coronavirus has put an end to social pretense.
“We talk to our people in living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. We see their kids, spouses, and pets. We are learning things about them we would never have learned before,” said Greenberg.
“We are talking about how to help kids with school, how to care for aging parents, and how to deal with the stress and anxiety of being hunkered down and lonely,” he said. “Do you think we will forget all that when we go back to the office?”
We here at LRN were heartened to hear these sports and entertainment industry leaders, and members of the SALA Series community, discussing the importance of culture and leadership’s obligation to shape it, in and out of periods of crisis. They talked about the necessity of always cultivating and investing in culture so it’s there to rely on during challenging times, such as the one we now are living through.
They discussed servant leadership and how being committed to others inspires everyone, and how being vulnerable, honest, and relatable can help pull people together. They agreed it was about the power of one's sacrifice for the whole, and how that attitude ultimately manifests through top-performing teams and strong, successful organizations.
These leaders embraced LRN’s point of view on moral leadership, noting that winning teams are built on the premise of individuals sacrificing for the good of the whole. “That doesn’t happen through command and control and formal authority, only via inspiration and moral authority,” said Greenberg.
These leaders think a return to “normal”--where tens of thousands of people can sit in the stands and cheer at sporting events--is a year away, maybe two. They expressed a strong skepticism about all the scenario planning going on in their companies; one said he shut the process down as unproductive after seeing more than a dozen contradictory visions of his company’s business future.
Greenberg said Oxford Dictionary had no idea what was coming in 2020 when it coined “existential” as the word of the year for 2019.
“We are all examining life in a new way, and asking ‘What’s it all mean for me and those I love?’ As people dig deep, they now more than ever are looking for meaning in their lives, and meaning in their work,” he said.
Companies and organizations that cannot meet employees in a deep and meaningful place are at risk, and that is most true with respect to people at the top of the talent pool, as those people have many options, said Greenberg.
“Ultimately, this brings us to the question of purpose. Can your organization articulate and act on a deeper purpose that inspires your people? If not, you won’t keep them or inspire the discretionary effort it takes to win,” he said.
“It’s time to look at how you think about your purpose and the values that help guide actions toward that purpose. The world has changed in this regard. I don’t believe it is going back.”
It’s also a question of leadership, as COVID-19 quickly is separating great leaders from poor ones, Greenberg said. The crisis is helping people to understand the difference between formal leadership, which can be ignored in times like this, and moral leadership, which taps into the best within people.
“The leaders who are getting it done are telling people hard truths, being brutally honest about the risks we face, very specific about the behaviors they’re asking of us, and totally transparent about the sacrifices and trade-offs we all have to make,” said Greenberg.
To learn more about the SALA Series, join them here: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.
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