Growing Through COVID

“We all get broken, what matters is how we get up, how we use what we have learned, and how we put the pieces back together again.”–  David Kessler

In his book, Finding Meaning, David Kessler proposes that there is a sixth stage to the grieving process, one in which we find meaning, one in which we learn something about ourselves that will help us as we move forward in life.  However, meaning doesn’t jump up and confront us or easily reveal itself.  It requires effort on our part; it is something we seek, and like so many other things for which we’ve put forth tremendous effort, we become a better person through the experience.  

The COVID virus has stolen so much from us.  Families are grieving the deaths of lost ones, while others struggle with the trauma of fighting the disease or caring for another who is fighting it.  Thousands have been furloughed, or worse yet, lost their jobs in an economy that is struggling.  And as a school year begins, first day pictures, greeting friends, and going to the Friday night football games are memories of days gone by.  It would seem that we have all lost something, and the reality is we are all grieving and seeking meaning.  

Research has demonstrated that disruptive, stressful experiences are often opportunities for creativity and innovation.  It is during these times that a growth mindset can serve us.  Writing in HBR, Susan Ashford, Maxim Sytich and Lindred Greer  propose that as individuals and teams are forced to take on new challenges, face new uncertainties, and recover, they begin to internalize that both their own abilities and those of their peers are not fixed, but rather can be developed.  To this end they offer five suggestions to leverage the transition to remote work and nurture a growth mindset.

  1. Be patient –  While it may feel like a long time, we are still only a few months into the widespread shift to fully remote work, and we are still learning.  It will take longer to reshape deeply ingrained work practices for a remote environment.  Be patient with yourself and your people.  Remember to recognize effort, even if outcomes don’t yet live up to your expectations.

  2. Teach the growth mindset to others — and reinforce it in yourself.  Lead by example, share your learnings,  prompt others and groups to share what they are learning.   Consider dedicating part of a weekly or monthly team meeting to a discussion of what team members have learned during the crisis so far.

  3. Send the Right Signals – What we say and how we act send critical messages to others.  Regularly asking the question, “What have you done since we last talked, and what if anything have you learned from it?” every two weeks, encourages team members to pay more attention to their own growth and learning.  To model what a growth mindset looks like in action, you might share not just your final  plan, but also the setbacks and potholes along the way.

  4. Reset expectations and revisit established practices –  The shift to remote work provides a perfect opportunity to reset your team’s expectations around giving and receiving constructive feedback.  If you’re a team leader, try asking, “What three things would you try to change if you were in my role?”  Modeling openness to feedback will make it easier for your colleagues to accept feedback themselves.  It is also a good time to encourage your team to assess and improve established practices. 

  5. Get to know your teammates better –  Working remotely, we’re coming to know our teammates in a different way.  We see their workspaces, their children, and their pets.  Studies suggest that being less worried about social evaluation and embarrassment stimulates experimentation and creativity, both of which are key to growth.  Additionally, other research shows that personal identity expression at work can also boost employee creativity.

With challenge comes opportunity.  The changes to our work environments and even our homes creates new opportunities for all of us to cultivate a growth mindset.  In doing so, individuals, families and workplace teams can better coordinate, innovate, and own their own futures, making it possible not only to weather this crisis, but to come out of it stronger.

Embrace the Challenge!