How to Help Your Organization Exit the Pandemic

A nonprofit executive director recently said to me: “I know how I want to be leading now [post-peak crisis] and what’s good for the organization, but I’m not sure how to get there or how others will respond…. We have a strong team, so it shouldn’t be this hard!”

We’re extremely eager to put the pandemic behind us, with all the ways it has damaged our lives and organizations. I notice in my clients and myself that unease and tough questions come up around entering a “new normal”: How much have people’s priorities changed, which processes should never be rebooted, what new emotions now prevail across my team, and can we sustain the resilience and mutual trust to navigate more surprises?

A strong sense of striving permeates such questions. Yet, what I’ve learned from research-based mindfulness teachings (like those of Jon Kabat-Zinn), is that the best way to proceed from any current situation to a more desired state, no matter how strong the desire, is to first patiently accept our present circumstances without judgment (deep breaths recommended!).

Even when things are time-sensitive, if we cannot intentionally sit with what is, with an open mind, then we greatly diminish our own capacities. In contrast, if we can strive less, we can ….

  • notice the good stuff within and around us (relationships, agility, innovations…)
  • accurately assess the emotional state of affairs so that our actions don’t misfire
  • retain our power of choice and see options beyond the obvious or quickest path.

Re-emerging from the pandemic’s peak is not the chaotic emergency of spring 2020, where effort and adrenaline skyrocketed. Yet this phase offers plenty of perils. I’ve already seen some of the costly fallout in client organizations in terms of lost management talent, new kinds of turf battles, and new flavors of burnout.

So… my friendly reminder for the one-of-a-kind summer/fall of 2021 is to dial back the pressure a bit on pushing yourself and your team to a new stability. Attempts to clarify, coordinate and move too quickly will yield a fragile, if not false, sense of security and staff support. An experimental, mindful approach of notice-try-accept-learn-adjust-learn will generate better approaches and leave fewer casualties than will bold directives that misread these uncharted waters and jeopardize trusted relationships.

For a slightly deeper understanding of mindfulness (in lay person’s terms), watch Jon Kabat-Zinn’s talk on the 9 attitudes of mindfulness: Beginner’s mind, Non-judging, Acceptance, Letting go, Trust, Patience, Non-striving, Gratitude and Generosity.