There is a splendid quote in Shakespeare’s play Henry 5th that I paraphrase: “After the war, you need to rebuild the garden.” What can we learn from the great bard?
The error of many leaders is to take a breath and relax after a crisis and assume you can all just go back to normal. But you can’t. The old normal has gone, and the new normal does not yet exist in any coherent way.
Let’s expand the Shakespeare war analogy. In a war, much changes. Rules tend to be pushed to the side. There are casualties; people get hurt, some leave, some join. There is a strong sense of purpose and focus. Adrenaline flows as the tempo is high and the pressure is on. As the battle drags on, the initial clarity descends into confusion and chaos as the old military maxim of “no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy” holds true. You make do. You tire but press on, driven by the urgency. War is relentless, but your efforts pay off. The battle is won. Your flag flies. The bugle blows. The noise and action give way to a stillness. Now what?
You look around at the damage and disorder. Your mind is numb, and the exhaustion from the sustained effort kicks in. The single driven purpose has evaporated and leaves only the stench of uncertainty. The team dynamic has irreversibly shifted; there is a strong bond as you took on the challenge and succeeded together, but there is a distance too as the battle took its toll on you all but in different ways. Some excelled, some struggled. Some grew, some shrank. You are not the same individually or collectively. The army disbands, and each wanders off to their own corners of the world.
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Breaking away from the battle, let’s go back to our workplace and apply the same thinking.
Through great effort and teamwork you survived the crisis — brilliant, but as a compassionate leader, this is precisely the time when you are needed your most. Just when you thought you could sit back and congratulate yourself for navigating the storm, now is the moment when your efforts will need to increase. You will need to “re-build the garden” in order to retain and re-motivate your staff. There are four big areas of leadership focus that you must own and activate.
Celebrate. You must stop and celebrate your success. Far too often, we just press on after no more than a cursory recognition of our successes. No. Go large and have a party. Your team will need to let off steam, to vent any frustrations, to share their battle stories, to recognize the efforts of their colleagues and have their own efforts recognized too. This is the time for you, the leader, to say a massive, heartfelt, sincere “thank you,” for your success is delivered through the efforts of others. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Purpose. Take time to remind your teams of your overriding purpose as an organization: what it is that you are here to do and whom you are here to serve. You will need to remind everyone of the value they add to the world and how important it is as an organization that your service continues. You may need to adjust your course to get back on track.
Lessons learned. But what did we learn? There is a powerful matrix of start/stop that you now need to assess.
What did we stop that must stay stopped?
What did we stop that we must now re-start?
What did we start that we will continue to do?
What did we start that we must now stop?
Additionally, reflect on what went well and what was less so.
Culture. So who are we now? How will we work together? Does our culture support our purpose and strategic intent still? Is our way of working still relevant? Our values? Our behaviors?
The garden is rebuilt. We can now thrive in this brave new word. And now that you’re back on course, you can stop and breathe!