It may be a bit jarring to see the word gift next to COVID-19, but I also bet that your experience, like mine, has already uncovered at least small blessings in this time of uncertainty. Of course, we would not choose a global pandemic as a gift, but I also know that the greatest gifts I have received in my life often came wrapped in an outer crisis. When I look back, the biggest moments of growth and the greatest breakthroughs have come in times of great adversity.
I remember a conversation in 2013 in which Lee Thayer, a global leadership guru, chastised me for failing to create sufficient conditions in my organization to grow a deeply resilient team. I’m not talking about a team that can make it through the typical corporate dilemmas of silo fighting or resource sharing.
“The extraordinary challenge we all face is also an extraordinary opportunity to learn and progress in ways we would not have otherwise imagined.”
I’m talking about the kind of team that can make it through the biggest global recession in generations. The kind that can take a 24-point drop in GDP in a single quarter in stride. The kind that will thrive when sales drop through the basement in a matter of weeks. The kind that finds the fortitude to give up on the assumptions of yesterday’s business when the world changes overnight.
Many organizations and leaders struggle to create an environment in which people are challenged to prepare for the truly unexpected. This level of learning doesn’t typically happen academically, it comes from experience. At this moment in time, the extraordinary challenge we all face is also an extraordinary opportunity to learn and progress in ways we would not have otherwise imagined.
Creating a truly resilient team or organization starts with our ability to accept the world we have as a gift — especially when it is not the world we have asked for. Any change — especially those we don’t wish for — creates immobilization, denial, anger, fear, loss, and many voids before it can give rise to acceptance and then growth.
“We have been reminded, perhaps in the harshest way possible, that we are one world, one species, one people, with a shared fate at the end of a shared opportunity.”
Big changes often leave us immobilized in fear for a long time. To be resilient is to get past the early barriers and into acceptance quickly. In my experience, those who are able to accept an undesirable new reality and quickly adapt to it are also those who can see the gift in whatever the world throws at them.
This pandemic has gripped the world in a shared state of grief the likes of which none of us have witnessed before. It has also united us in a globally shared experience — one that reaches beyond country, beyond culture, beyond socioeconomic differences, religious differences, or anything else that we use to separate ourselves from each other.
As a result, scientists around the world are tearing down walls that had been built by politicians and state agents and are now collaborating in ways equally unprecedented. Many of the world’s best scientific minds have put their previous work aside to focus on solving this complex problem. We are rightfully prioritizing human lives despite the immense costs to the world economy. Communities are finding new ways to share and care for each other despite social restrictions. People and businesses everywhere are reaching out to offer support and provide value in novel ways.
“I am honored and humbled to be surrounded by people who share the belief that this crisis will bring out the best in us all.”
We have been reminded, perhaps in the harshest way possible, that we are one world, one species, one people, with a shared fate at the end of a shared opportunity.
Emerging from this experience stronger than ever starts by viewing this crisis as the greatest opportunity in modern human history—an opportunity to show future generations what we, you and I, are made of. This is the gift hidden in the crisis. I believe this recognition is underway and growing around the world. It is amplifying our spirit of collaboration and unity.
We will have learned unforgettable lessons. We will have forged deep and lasting bonds with each other. We will have rediscovered what it means to be a part of the global community that is humanity.
At Pharos, I am honored and humbled to be surrounded by people who share the belief that this crisis will bring out the best in us all. We are a community committed to resilience, to responding to great challenges in the healthiest way possible by embracing kindness, compassion, and unity.
I feel lucky to see and experience in my lifetime the depths of what it means to be human. To experience this moment in time, in which all the world shares one challenge and one goal, is truly a gift. To be part of the human community in which people are willing to sacrifice some of their freedoms, their financial well-being, and their personal desire for social interaction so that others among us have a chance to live and ultimately be part of a global celebration of victory…that is truly a rare gift.
It is my hope that we can all recognize and embrace these gifts now, rather than realize in hindsight what a gift the crisis truly was.