• Chris Smith

A New Normal?

Our experience in the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has asked ‘What is the New Normal?’ in a more provocative way than perhaps ever before. The clients of ChangeSmith find themselves wondering about this as well… “We’ll never go back to the Old Normal,” “The ubiquity of professional virtual engagement may well carry forward beyond the end of the pandemic”, and “I just want it to end so that we can go back to whatever comes next… with places to go and people to see.” For somebody with as severe a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) as I have, I,m ready for ‘next’ as well.

A common theme through the ‘next’ discussion seems to assert that whatever comes next will ‘happen’ to us. I have more recently found myself asking what I want ‘what comes next’ to look like…and what I am willing to do about making it happen.

Brené Brown recently suggested - “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.

“Control what you can control.” This guidance is offered anywhere from soccer fields to space stations to board rooms. It is good advice, and something Healthy leaders would say. COVID-19 might present like a classic uncontrollable, but I encourage you to take a second glance. If you are a leader of people, challenge yourself to assess where you can change, pivot, and lean into the crafting of your own version of ‘next’. And, like Brené suggests, craft one that fits your humanity and nature… that is, pivot in a way that makes sense. Purpose is how we carry forward what makes sense for people, and ‘next’ should be considered very much in the same way. Be authentic and intentional, and pivot in a way that makes sense for the experience you want people to have when they engage with you, your team, and organization. Pivot in a way that brings out more of the behaviors and values you’ve established for your way of being.

I make a lot of references in my speaking and writing to my time with the U11 girls. Well, I also coach boys - the current soccer vintage being U16. We gathered today, virtually of course, and asked them to share some of their recent experiences during social distancing. The general characterization of their contributions is that they are on summer recess from school. They didn’t use that term, but the experience isn’t wholly unfamiliar to what they knew just 6 or 7 months ago. I don’t make this comparison to demean or belittle the horrific experience of so many, but rather to suggest that this experience, in terms of divergence from the norm, impacts people differently. This is important in asserting that it is the responsibility of leaders not to support people in a way that makes sense for the leader, but rather in the way that makes sense for those in need of support.

Please don’t forget that this also includes the leader. For the many of us fortunate enough not to have to fight off the virus ourselves, what we are finding is that we have time… lots of time… maybe more time than we’ve ever had. How you spend that time and how others see you spending that time will be things for which you’ll be held accountable - by yourself and by others - at some point. Part of taking care of yourself means holding yourself accountable to standards that will make those who followed your leadership proud that they did.

Here are four things for leaders to consider as we ponder what comes next… when it seems that all you have is time to consider:


  • Consider a temporary rallying cry. Try to select something that improves you and your team , and that creates advantages when ‘what comes next’ comes. Give your team some dynamic or concept, the achievement of which can enable collaboration and progress during the crisis.

  • Consider working with your team to determine what a healthy new normal could and should look like for you. View it through the lens of how you want people to experience your offerings, and challenge earlier norms of what didn’t seem possible.

  • Consider pivoting in such a way as to be ready to move quickly. Inertia is building and when the theoretical gates open, everybody will move fast. Maybe a checklist (Who needs to be hired? What investments need to be made? What engagements need to happen?) could be useful, along with a list of who will do what.

  • Consider taking care of yourself AND your people. Too often we neglect ourselves in favor of our people, which seems selfless, but in reality is short-sighted. Like airplane upon which mom and dad put their mask on first, give yourself the best conditions with which to take care of people. Then give them the care they deserve.

In unprecedented times of stress and change, don’t just be the leader your people would be proud to have, be the leader you wish your kids had.


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