Week 201 in Detroit. I usually write about my week, lessons learned, articles read, curiosities sparked. Ya know all the usual stuff about leadership, Detroit and innovation. Today is a little different. Well, this week has been different. Today is a lot different.
This week has been an experience unlike any other week I can remember — in Detroit or anywhere. The biggest reason is the shared experience all across the country (the World?) and the uncertainty about when (how?) it comes to an end.
Taking a walk through the neighborhood the other day with two of my favorite friends we discussed leading people during this period of self-quarantine. One thing I hadn’t thought of before was how we would know “when it’s over.” Who declares the “all clear?”
Over the last two or three weeks I’ve watched our CEO, Jay Farner, exhibit the qualities and practices of leadership. Jay communicated to the entire organization — early and often — making sure every team member was on the same page. As a result, we were way out in front and prepared. Our leadership then communicated additional level of detail throughout our teams allowing individual leaders to apply broad policies to our business areas. Jay built and deepened trust ensuring that our clients and team members never lowered our service level or capability. I’ve been impressed the entire way through this experience.
When I found the best practices described in the McChrystal Group’s blueprint of leadership, I had to share this example of how we can all #answerwell when faced with uncertainty.
Here’s the McChrystal list:
1. Lead with purpose
2. Over-communicate confidence with your team
3. Re-evaluate successful decision-making frameworks and set decision boundaries where possible
4. Establish clearly understood accountability mechanisms
5. Broadcast milestone decisions
6. Trust more than ever
One thing I’d expect to see and hear from our Government is purpose, confidence and milestones. Have you heard or felt those things?
More thoughts from the week:
I have been thinking about what this means for the way we work and live. One article called this a global work from home experiment. My sense, especially mid-week, was that all companies could benefit from having teams, or entire companies, go remote.
The way we work should always be about the work, about the thing. Dedication, quality, depth. From wherever you are, a kitchen, a home office, or your desk, the ability to measure and trust our teams and our colleagues shouldn’t decrease because you are not with them every day. This will help all of us focus on what matters. In more ways than one.
Just like travel restrictions caused all of us to scrutinize our travel plans for only essential travel a few weeks ago (before everything was cancelled altogether), this week tested our ability to connect with each other and accomplish our work. I believe what we’ll find is that this changes perception of remote work, at a minimum; perhaps travel too, though I’m less confident that business travel norms will change permanently after this. For companies that spend millions or hundreds of millions on travel, there is value in forcing team members to evaluate what trips are truly necessary against those that it would be nice to have. Travel is seen by many as a perk, by some as a sign of importance or worth (beware the ego), and therefore when given the green light, many are likely to return to the habit of traveling everywhere.
What I wish, but also doubt, is that a global threat such as COVID-19 would make us rethink community. I know it’s making us rethink quite a bit. I’ve been surprised how quickly the conversations turn personal. I understand we all have our own connection to unusual or extraordinary circumstances. What is interesting is not that but how instead everyone picks and chooses what to believe. There’s the distinct sense that we want to be told what to do — by our CEO, by the President, by the experts. As soon as they tell us, however, we do not listen. Until we do. We don’t stockpile based on the CDC recommendations, until we do. We don’t believe the COVID-19 attention is warranted, until it is.
This is probably true of all human endeavors but it is most obvious when we are all in it together.
This reminded me of a quote from Nietzsche about greatness, “Not merely bear what is necessary…but love it.” Find the humanity in the experience. Go all-in. All-in means the good times and the hard times. It means celebrating and Christmas mornings and diner coffee. It also means grief and illness and diner coffee.
These are the moments. How will you answer?
Conversations everyone (some!) had this week:
“This will fundamentally change the way we work. Perhaps even the way we think about companies.” I would expect that more companies look to open up remote work and become flexible. Places like China have engaged work at home but that also means less control. Companies from China to Detroit have revised previous assumptions about work from home and the implications will be long lasting as more and more employees request (expect!) flexibility.
“If you close the schools, you put a strain on healthcare workers who now need to worry about childcare. It’s almost worse (at this point) to close schools and risk that the nurse cannot come into work.” A somewhat wild idea in an entertaining conversation between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell. As usual Gladwell captures an interesting point but lacks detailed follow-up.
Even still, the podcast underscores a growing concern I’ve had throughout this whole week. Who do you trust? I saw it when a friend posted on Instagram asking which news sources were reliable. It came up several times after that in different ways. What articles did you read? Which doctors did you believe? Why can’t we trust Mike Pence? Reasonable questions. It underscores the problem when everything is “spin” or everything is opinion. This isn’t a “what you believe” moment. This is either you have a thing or you don’t. You follow CDC recommendations or you don’t.
“Leadership: Whatever happens, you’re responsible. If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible.” — Donald J. Trump, November 8, 2013. Twitter.
“I’m worried about all the small businesses — what happens if everyone stops going to the neighborhood bar, restaurant, gym…” True story. If the self-quarantine extends to include all public spaces, small businesses will have it the worst. We’ve already seen calls for all of us to support each other with gift cards, take out and bigger tips. This is why I said earlier that this experience might actually have us rethinking community. Being intentional with our choices can make a big difference. Consideration of others serves us all. What can you do to support your friends and neighbors this week? Let’s mobilize humanity so that no matter how serious the illnesses get, we show off the hope that will endure.
“Dogs on video conference calls.” That’s it. Just lots about dogs and video conferencing.
“To shower or not to shower before work when working from home.” Did you notice that? Lots of thoughts and advice on whether or not to keep a morning routine when you only have to open a laptop to be “at work.” The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter. Be productive. If you can be productive without a shower, don’t feel the need to take one. If you cannot be productive without a shower, take the damn shower. The hardest part is being honest about your productivity and work product.
When someone recommends a shower and a routine, they either know themselves well and are giving you their own advice or they do not know how to evaluate their work and are giving generic advice (meaningless).
As leaders, we should be always doing the hard work of evaluating our teams. Evaluating their work. Evaluating their development. If we cannot do that without seeing them in the office everyday, that’s probably a bigger problem than remaining in the office can solve.
The shower-every-morning advice is indicative of a much larger implication. Know thyself.
TV Comfort Food while on self-quarantine:
The West Wing
Halt & Catch Fire
True Detective, Season 1
Movies while on self-quarantine:
Melvin Goes to Dinner
Defending Your Life
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
“To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
Bonus content: A recent Tim Ferriss interview with Tyler Cowen
Continued success and continue to answer well,