In January of 2020, the early signs of COVID started to show up at CTI.
It started with our international partner in China, flagging concerns about running in-person training courses due to the spread of the virus in that country. Immediately, our Global Head of Operations, Robin, initiated discussions and activity that led to the assembly of a COVID response team that was formalized in February. Around the same time, our partners in Korea and Japan joined the conversation along with our local faculty in Singapore where CTI runs programs directly. As the stories and plans emerged in response to this rapidly unfolding event, we began to face the reality that in-person events of any size and scale were likely to be compromised. More importantly, choosing to keep our business fully open as the pandemic was declared and the virus took hold of Europe, meant putting our customers, our faculty and all those vendors we love and rely on at risk (hotels, airlines, etc.). The cost to self (our individual customers and trainers), others (all the valuable, intimate relationships that form through our trainings) and the bigger world or greater thing (doing our part to stop the spread of COVID around the world) became too high. So we hit the “pause” button as so many others have done, and started to look at how we would orient to this new world in the pause. On March 13, 2020, we announced our pause for everything but our virtual coaching certification program. And in doing so, entered into a new era of Relationship with our world.
Relationship. That was it. That was where we were going to put our attention in this grand, global pause. Not only in the traditional sense of “maintain and create supportive relationships” in this most difficult of times. While valuable, a new voice of relationship, consistent with much of the work CTI and Co-Active have done over the last 28 years rang with crystal clarity. It was looking at Relationship through three levels which are always present, and truly at work in our lives.
These levels are relationship to Self (yes, you, or me as it were), Others (those we directly relate to and with at home, work, community) and the Greater Thing (tangible – like our planet, the spread of viruses, the economy, and intangible – the beliefs we hold of a greater purpose, power, faith, etc.). All three of these levels are undeniably front and center and being tested as a part of the global conversation on COVID-19.
Self – Am I sick? Not? What is my experience in self/family isolation? Do I work? Do I have a job? What’s essential to me? What are my needs vs. desires? Will I make it? Will we?
Other – How is my family? My workplace? My local community? What risks are we in together? What choices do we make as a family/team/community? How do we trade off our health risks with our economic risks? What if one of us gets infected because another one of us insists on going out, or must go out, because they support an essential service? My wife is one of these professionals called on at this time.
Greater Thing – What is our responsibility to our larger global community? Do I travel to see sick relatives and risk spreading the virus? What matters more – our economy? Our health? Our environment? What are the trade-offs? How do I support the emergency responders and essential service staff who are the front lines everyday? How do my choices affect their families and workplaces? What would I expect from them if I got sick? How did I contribute (or not) to support their requests and efforts through my own choices?
There are many levels to Relationship, and really important questions to ask and answer. A choice at any level of relationship affects all others. They are not discreet, in any real way. It’s convenient to think they are. Indeed, we’ve not thought this holistically about “relationship” in parts of the world collectively for a long time. In much of the western world, we’ve spent the last 70 years creating a world of greater efficiency and a “wants-based” market system as a privileged group running the economies of the world. We’ve also made some great advances in technology, science and innovation. However, the cost has been exploitative in many respects. The health of many parts of our shared life have suffered – our environment, social justice, communities, equity, resources – as a result. I know I find some of this hard to look at. I bet I’m not the only one.
So the bottom line is, we at CTI assert that Relationship at these levels is a very useful place to approach the question of “how do we transform through COVID-19 and not just get through it to return to ‘normal.’” Truth is, the cost of much of the normal we were living over here was and is too high. This will require us to reconsider some of the choices we’ve made globally to transform and create a more sustainable, thriving existence that minimizes the risk factors revealed by the pandemic. By the way, I don’t have the answer. And if I did, it wouldn’t be whole given that’s just coming from Self.
Here is some data from our friends at The Leadership Circle. The Leadership Circle is a global leadership assessment and development company at the forefront of the field of leadership development with offices around the world. They endeavor to change the global mindset of leadership and are focused on elevating the conscious practice of leadership. In this, they stand for, and know, consciousness and competence arise together to establish high levels of effectiveness. In their assessments and collective work with hundreds of organizations and over hundreds of thousands of leaders, they look at what qualities are developed to have leaders be highly creative in a VUCA world (here is an article from Forbes that defines VUCA).
In a study conducted for their recent book, Scaling Leadership (Wiley, Hoboken NJ, 2019), Bob Anderson and Bill Adams assessed 300 leaders from 237 companies across 29 industries and 6 countries. There were over 4000 raters involved in the 360 assessments which is the basis of the study. What they found was that the biggest gaps between the most creative, high-performing leaders and the most reactive leaders where in these areas of leadership (listed in order of size of gap):
Strong People Skills
Leads By Example
Person of Integrity
Other strengths measured in the study included Passion and Drive, Strong Networker, Domain/Technical Knowledge, Results Focus and Intelligent/Brilliant. Overall, the Creative Leaders demonstrating the higher degree of relationship strengths were endorsed 1.3 times more often than Reactive Leaders.
Now, when you look at the strengths which separated the Creative Leaders from the Reactive Leaders, you see a strong case for Relationship, at all levels. For example, you could view Calm Presence (think self-management), Integrity and Lead by Example through the relationship lens of Self. Strong People Skills, Good Listener, Develops People and Empowers People through the lens of Other. Finally, Visionary and Team Builder through the lens of the Greater Thing, or systems. Relating in our complex world is what puts us in touch with how to navigate through these integrated systems vs. the single, brilliant self.
So come back to yourself for a moment. Now that COVID-19 has forced us to move into a much more virtual world for some period of time, ask:
What’s become harder in your life (personally, professionally)? What’s easier?
What support do you need from Others? Your teams? Your family who you can’t visit?
How about the organizations you support? Those you rely on?
How are relationship needs being served?
What is at the centre of decisions being made across these audiences?
How are relationships failing? How are they excelling? Why is that so?
In this new upcoming series of blog posts, we’ll explore each level of Relationship more deeply and give some tips on how to develop your Relationship capacity at each level. It is essential we do so now, and create an insistence in our world that we acknowledge the relationship that exists between all of us, at all times.
Relationship is not unilateral or even just bilateral. It is multilateral, working across each of these levels at all times. I know you can see this now. Let’s create from this knowing, instead of ignoring it and just try to get back to the same expression of normal we had before.
Truth is, COVID is insisting we pay attention to relationship in this way. It will keep doing so until we do. Or until we find a vaccine and go back into a trance until the next time, and we begin again.