What’s Essential? Crisis competencies that stand the test of time.

Over the past 60 days, organizations, states and countries have redefined essential work as it relates to basic human needs – food, shelter, safety and health. The need to contain COVID-19 has caused major disruption in our lives, even for organizations that are thriving due to increased demand for products and services. For our communities, our employees, our aging, our disadvantaged and our youth, these extreme measures, while necessary, have unintentionally amplified a lot of the challenges that were already present prior to our global health crisis. From an equity perspective, the unlevel playing field we have been diligently working to level is now more unbalanced than ever. While this is happening, many leaders are talking about the importance of adapting, a competency that has historically been a necessary and valued behavior in leadership. But adapting, without consideration of other critical competencies, may be a dangerous directive. Do we really want to suggest that people adapt right now? Yes, adaptability is about survival and that is imperative but it’s also a defensive behavior. We need to be doing much more than surviving. Now is the time to re-evaluate what is essential behavior, essential frame of mind and essential outcomes as we look to emerge from this crisis, strong, optimistic and with the need for equity in mind.

A few years ago, Gallup released research suggesting that in an age of digital disruption, agility needed to emerge a key leadership competency. After conducting thousands of surveys in multiple countries, their research concluded that those who perceived their organizations as agile were more optimistic about the future (theirs and their respective organizations) then those who did not perceive their organization as agile. These findings are most likely applicable in any time of disruption and certainly during a crisis. Last week Governor Hogan announced a diverse, all-star task force of well respected leaders who no doubt, have the skills and experience to advise and support him on many levels. As we start planning to re-open the economy, among the many things that community leaders, business leaders and the media need to be thinking about are also how to create and sustain an environment of optimism. Developing skills around agility, trust, compassion and empathy will be more important than ever to a healthy emergence. We know what we are up against, we have defined essential work, now it’s time to define essential outcomes and the behaviors needed to get there.

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