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What Are You Leaving Behind During COVID-19?

Leadership Advice During COVID-19

April 8, 2020

During a recent podcast interview, someone asked me, “What advice would you give to leaders during this pandemic?” I said, “Leaders should always be focusing on what they are leaving behind.”

Numerous blogs, newsletters, emails, and other social media outlets are sharing advice on how to live and work in these uncertain times. The advice is plentiful, but I would give the same advice in calm and predictable times.

Advice for Leading During COVID-19

  • Lead with compassion and empathy.
  • Tell the truth and tell it often.
  • Be visible and transparent.

In my book, Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts, one of my main conclusions is that “it is hard to be a good leader if you are not a good person.” COVID-19 gives all of us more time to declutter — our drawers, closets, offices. In fact, Marie Kondo, the tidying expert, has a new and timely book, Joy at Work, about the value of cleaning your workspace. She also advocates applying her concept personally. “Attitudes need cleaning, too. Be kind, resolve personal conflicts, say thank you. Tidy your meetings: Don’t pontificate, cut off coworkers or assign blame ... Clear your head. Be brave.” In other words, be a good person.

Decluttering the mind requires devoting time to reflection and introspection. And now we have some time to do this inner work. Pay attention to what you are leaving behind — to the breadcrumb trail behind you.

The Breadcrumb Legacy™

Breadcrumb Legacy™ (BCL) is a concept I created to help leaders realize we are building our legacy daily by the “crumbs” we leave. Crumbs can be decisions we make, actions we take, interactions we have and they accumulate into a trail of meaning or legacy.

We often think our legacy happens at the end of life — when we leave. But I often ask: When we leave what? When we die? When we retire?

With Breadcrumb Legacy™, we are leaving our “breadcrumbs” when we leave every conversation, interaction and meeting. I am leaving some of my breadcrumbs with you in this article. The key is to be aware of the impact we are having on a daily basis and to remember we leave a legacy whether we know it or not, and that legacy can be positive or negative.

There are several myths related to legacy such as it is for the rich and famous. Legacy is for people who are able to achieve significant acts, or it happens at the end of life. Basically, we think of legacy as a compilation of big “wins.”

Big Wins Versus Small Wins

What would be a BIG “win” for you? Getting married? Graduating? Getting a BIG promotion or a BIG raise? Buying a BIG or BIGGER house? How often do these BIG wins happen? Most of these events don’t happen often. If we live for the BIG wins, we often live with disappointment, disengagement and lack motivation.

In reality, our legacy is made up of small actions, decisions and behaviors that take place on a daily basis. I refer to this as Breadcrumb Legacy™ because these small actions add up and accumulate to form our legacy that lasts and lives beyond ourselves. This concept is the inverse of the myths we often believe.

Breadcrumb Legacy™ is built on the small wins concept by Karl Weick. In his classic article, “Small Wins,” University of Michigan Psychologist Karl Weick argued that “large social problems are best broken down into smaller ones with concrete achievable goals.” Social problems (natural disasters, unemployment, homelessness, healthcare) can be so overwhelming that solutions seem unattainable.

Applying Small Wins to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global health issue beyond what the world has ever experienced. It is easy to let fear dominate our actions and emotions causing more problems than solutions. People can feel paralyzed and often avoid addressing issues or come up with broad solutions that don’t solve the problem. “Breaking such problems down into a series of more modest steps, all on the path to the ultimate goal, reduces fear, clarifies direction and increases the probability of early successful outcomes — boosting support for further action.”

On a personal level, Weick uses the example of Alcoholic Anonymous. While staying sober for the rest of one’s life seems daunting, taking it a day at a time and staying sober day by day, the goal can be accomplished. The small wins concept is powerful because each win accumulates, adds momentum, gives hope and propels optimism.

When we are aware of the breadcrumbs we are leaving, we are engaged in legacy thinking which is actually forward thinking. When we think about how our actions, decisions and behaviors will impact others, we are more intentional about what we say, the decisions we make and how we behave. Most of us want to know our lives made a difference. We want to leave a trail of meaning no matter what we do or where we are in life.

But how do we know what we are leaving behind during this stressful time due to COVID-19? We need to ask for honest feedback from people who care about us. Then we need to be open to listen and hear so we can minimize our blind spots — the broccoli in our teeth that others can see, but we can’t. This is a time when emotions run high and it is easy to get irritable and irrational. We may need to apologize for some of the “crumbs” we are leaving, and each apology is a crumb too.

When we are aware of the legacy we want to leave, instead of drifting along our life journey unaware of what we are leaving behind, we are empowered to live a life worth remembering.

Find more information on legacy at jannfreed.com.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

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Jann E. Freed, Ph.D.

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D. is a leadership development and change management consultant with The Genysys Group. She is also the author of Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts.