In mid-2020, only a few months before succumbing to cancer, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain observed that COVID-19 was probably the closest an atheist might come to a revelation.
Rabbi Sacks — a member of the House of Lords — was spot-on with his comment. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a worldwide punch in the stomach. If nothing else, it was shocking to many that such a catastrophe could occur, not to mention the checkerboard of spotty global response that only served to strengthen its path of destruction.
The pandemic has served to further consumers’ growing emphasis on doing business with businesses that “do good,” rather than just the least expensive choices. To succeed and grow in the future, businesses and organizations of all types will need to empathize with their end users to make certain that their priorities are aligned with the person making a buying or some other sort of decision.
At its core, being empathetic simply means prioritizing others’ thoughts and feelings, but it’s also important to establish strategies and systems with which to better understand others. In addition to surveys, other forms of outreach can be effective in proactively encouraging contact and discussion. Consider internal empathy strategies. Do employees and others within a company or organization feel valued and understood?
The pandemic has also placed a higher degree of importance on empathy in higher ed. Rather than the more traditional hierarchical student-teacher relationship, students are enjoying a growing influence over what they learn and how they learn it via remote learning options or more experiential forms of education.
Listening and acting upon the input of the consumer will be critical to provide learning opportunities that are both meaningful and relevant. As with any empowered consumers, students and their families who feel they aren’t being heard have many more options now to find an educational setting more in line with their desires and priorities.
Here are 7 strategies for acting on these takeaways and thriving in this new world:
1. Accept Your Battle
As humans, our instincts are to fight bitterly against adversity. The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it. On my desk, I have a copy of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Very few have talked about embracing adversity like him. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon, a husband, and father of three. Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live. He gave his last lecture on September 18, 2007.
“Another way to be prepared is to think negatively,” Randy said. “Yes, I’m a great optimist. But, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst-case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about, because I have a plan in place if they do.”
Randy decided to accept his situation and live out the days he had remaining by making a difference. He died on July 25, 2008, and now he lives on not only through his family but also through the millions he inspired. Once we accept our situation, it allows us to adapt and even thrive in the face of adversity.
2. Leverage Your Solitude
From Beethoven to Newton to Buddha to Darwin, all experienced critical awakenings during self-imposed solitary periods. The psychologist and author Rollo May explained this phenomenon very well in his book The Courage to Create. “In order to be open to creativity,” he wrote, “one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.”
Nicola Tesla, one of the greatest innovators of all time, concurred: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone — that is the secret of invention: Be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
These days, we now have the evidence to support those claims. Research conducted by Greg Feist of San Jose State University found that when people let their focus shift away from others around them, they’re better able to engage in “metacognition,” the process of thinking critically and reflectively about your own thoughts. Sometimes we need to slow down in order to move forward. Solitude allows us to slow down.
3. Guide Your Energy
How we think creates the energy that ultimately manifests our realities. If we go into a situation with a negative thought process, then we are almost destined to have a negative outcome. Buddha, Aristotle, and many others have suggested the same. This also applies to group thinking or collective consciousness.
When a collection of people together guides their mental energy for a positive outcome, the likelihood of their success is usually a lot higher. Their collective energy attracts positivity or negativity. Lao Tzu said, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.”
As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. Our ability to effectively survive, thrive, and lead comes from flexibly riding out our ups and downs. Life’s journey does not always come from blasting through rocks and impediments, but rather from having the faith, resilience, and adaptability to cope with the harsh realities of life. Spending time with people who make you stronger and equally avoiding people who bring you down is key.
4. Achieve Small Goals Every Day
Setting smaller goals for ourselves offers us positive reinforcement when we achieve them. As retired US Navy admiral William Harry McRaven so famously said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed… If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed, will have turned into many tasks completed.” There is a saying that 80 percent of our accomplishments come from 20 percent of our efforts. So what 20 percent of our work is the most valuable? Once we’ve identified it, focusing the lion’s share of our time and energy in that direction creates progress.
5. Influence Others, Then Let Them Influence You
Managing crisis means accepting incredible levels of uncertainty with a calm, cool, and positive attitude. That’s never easy. But the sense of urgency to tackle tough situations always requires an even temper. Even if some decisions involve the most basic of gut instincts, leaders navigating crises need to tell their teams precisely what they want, when, and why — then help them make it happen. Waiting too long to weigh countervailing opinions can spell doom.
6. Empathy Always Pays Dividends
It’s harder to keep everyone motivated, asking questions, and sharing their concerns when a lot is changing. But getting it right just means doubling down on the type of empathy leaders love to talk about under much steadier conditions. This means not just clearly articulating our message but also listening actively — without bias or judgment and with a real willingness to consider different perspectives. It’s about trading messages respectfully and accurately, not just delivering them. Paying heed to their factual and emotional content makes for mutual understanding when that’s badly needed.
7. No Matter What, Move Forward
In turmoil, no mission is static. Purpose-driven organizations act and adapt. There are always problems to solve. To stay agile and respond to changes, ask yourself the following questions:
- What product or service needs, technologies, and socioeconomic factors are already changing — no matter what we might be doing about them?
- What are my most socioeconomically impactful strategies? Where will they be in the next quarter or the next year?
- What does my organization do well right now? What have we always done better than anybody?
- What can we do better by finding new partners or collaborators or by considering mergers and acquisitions?
This is a useful checklist all the time, of course, but I try to keep it front and center during periods of rapid change.
So I’ve been reminding myself that while I can’t predict the future, I can at least try to prepare to live in it, make sense of it, and navigate whatever upheavals arise as strategically as possible. And to do that, I keep going back to these tried-and-true lessons.
For me, anyway, the key isn’t just to wait it out; it’s also what you do — together — that makes all the difference.
For more strategies on how to thrive in our new world, you can read LIFT: Fostering the Leader in You Amid Revolutionary Global Change.
© 2022 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.
- Sacks, Jonathan, “Rabbi Sacks on the Coronavirus Pandemic,” interview by Emily Maitlis, Jonathan Sacks (website), March 19, 2020, https://rabbisacks.org/rabbi-sacks-on-the-coronavirus-pandemic-extended- newsnight-interview/
- May, Rollo, The Courage to Create (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994).
- Quote Investigator, citing a 1934 interview with Nicholas Tesla, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2021/10/06/invent-alone/
- “Why Being a Loner May Be Good for Your Health,” BBC Future, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180228-there-are-benefits-to- being-antisocial-or-a-loner
- “Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World,” UT News, University of Texas at Austin, May 16, 2014, https://news.utexas.edu/2014/05/16/mcraven-urges-graduates-to-find-courage-to-change-the-world/
- Hoque, Faisal, “The Paradoxical Traits of Resilient People,” Fast Company, November 13, 2013, https://www.fastcompany.com/3021513/ the-paradoxical-traits-of-resilient-people