Leaders: Prepare for the second wave and I don’t mean COVID.

Coronavirus has made it a tough first half of the year for a lot of you. Holding your team together. Holding your family together. Holding yourself together. Although it feels like you’re coming out the other side, which it looks like we are for COVID, you’re just now entering a long stretch of responding to the impact of COVID. The second half of this year is going to be just as hard for its own reasons. That’s not pessimism. That's a clear and honest observation.

With the needs, changes, challenges, and uncertainties in front of you and your team, the threat of a dangerous post-COVID second wave hangs like a cloud over your future. The second wave I’m talking about is the spread of BCD: blaming, complaining, and defensiveness.

BCD is a highly contagious virus that thrives in small groups, spreads like a pandemic through large groups, spikes during disruptive change, and is transmitted during activities like conversations, meetings, venting, and social media posts.

I see it coming just like I saw COVID back in January 2020.

When did you first become aware of the coronavirus? And when did you fully appreciate the threat this first wave posed, not just you, but to your way of life?

I saw the writing on the wall in January. A novel virus. Uncertain science. Massive interconnected travel networks. Asymptomatic carriers. Unpredictable patterns. Risk of death. Polarized perspectives. Political propaganda (from all sides). And even in the early stages it was peak ignorance or peak hysteria.

I didn’t know exactly when and where it was going to spread, but it was obvious to me then that it was going to be massive. I didn’t know what was going to happen because of COVID but the likeliest series of events was going to be devastating. Awareness was too low, decisions were too slow, actions were too late, alignment was too weak. I didn’t see the necessary leadership to help us avoid disaster in the U.S., let alone minimize the spread of COVID and its negative impact.

March through July was a shock to the system. It was strange and difficult. The personal, financial, and emotional toll has been severe for so many.

The first wave is slowly subsiding. We’re recovering, reintegrating, and heading back to work, to practice, to school.

Coaches are adjusting daily to changing rules and compliance guidelines. They don’t even know if they’ll be allowed to play this season. Many won’t. Teachers are preparing to educate and interact with students in unprecedented ways where they have even less ability to influence and provide oversight. Many don’t know if they’re going to open schools, stay virtual, or some combination. Employees are trying to run business operations in the current environment where nothing is quite like it used to be, everyone is moving at different speeds, and there’s still a lot of pressure and expectations. Parents and couples are realizing the quarantine life is unsustainable but aren’t sure how or when it’s going to end.

Like the spread of COVID snuck up on a lot of smart people, the spread of blaming, complaining, and defensiveness (BCD) does too. The first step is being aware of it. The second, and more critical, is appreciating the threat it poses, not just to you, but to your team.

I believe the immediate second wave threat is the amount of BCD people engage in, allow, and spread on their teams over the next six months. Why? Because everything is going to be weird and inconvenient for the foreseeable future. If BCD infects your team and you allow it to spread, COVID won’t be the cause of failure. BCD will undermine your team from the inside-out.

On top of that racial equality perspectives are running on heated emotions, political noise is increasing heading into election season, and every social media platform is one criticism and argument after another.

It’s the perfect storm of events for BCD to find hosts and spread like wildfire. When comfort is stolen away, routines are disrupted, and fear and uncertainty dominate, the cases of BCD go up and it’s highly transmittable. Your job as a leader is to prepare for this and lead courageously.

You have a responsibility to stop the spread of BCD.

First and always in yourself. Then to those around you. And to the best of your ability to those in your shared environments.

This next phase of work from July through September is as unprecedented as many of us have been through. October through December is even fuzzier. There’s no blueprint for this. No plan exists. At least not one you can rely on for long since things change so quickly, so often. Remember that on your team the objective is professional, but the journey is always personal.

People need courage and energy for the personal pressures required by their professional objectives. Leaders provide that. People need tools and training for that personal journey as well as their professional responsibilities. Leaders provide that.

When this many things beyond your control impact so much, be exceptional at what is in your control. 

  • Responsibility for the impact of your words and actions regardless of the circumstances. (opposite of blaming)
  • Ownership of the choices you make and attitudes you spread when things are inconvenient, unfair, and uncertain. (opposite of complaining)
  • Willingness to let go of your ego without losing your identity and confidence in order to learn how to be great in unfamiliar conditions (opposite of defensiveness)

If you want your team positioned well to serve each other, serve the mission, and succeed, then stopping the spread of BCD needs to be at the top of your priority list.

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a leader is that you are responsible for things you don’t control. You can only learn that through direct experience as a leader. 

You can’t control the existence of BCD any more than you can control COVID. As a person you are responsible to stop the spread of COVID. As a leader you are responsible to stop the spread of BCD.

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