The Lessons of Leadership In Tumultuous Times
Updated: Jul 31
We may face many setbacks, but we must not be trounced.
In actuality, it is important for us to face the losses, to be able to know who we are, to grow. Of course, life will heave us challenges, but then again, it is during those challenges to which we learn our true selves.
As I write this post, my colleagues and I have been working from home for 11 months. Even though leadership is central to the work we do in product management, I have discovered it is even more imperative during these turbulent times. After all, there is no guide or plan on product management or lead during a pandemic.
When our leadership decided that we should work from home, my colleagues and I thought telecommuting would last maybe a month. We were not anticipating it could be a year or longer. As we settled into the unknown, I started to notice the apprehension, fear and discontent in myself and the folks I work with it.
As the country was going through civil unrest, there appeared to be even more bad news than good news. I found that I had to compartmentalize continuously. For instance, on the day of George Floyd‘s death, I had to be emotionless. As a woman of color, I was not surprised it happened. My fear for my boyfriend, brother, and nephews came thundering back ten times more than usual. The fact that I had no control and could not keep them from such a fate paralyzed me even more, but I could never show it; I had to be detached.
That day I attended and guided my meetings, pretending like the world had not changed, I joked with my coworkers, but deep down, I was hurting. After completing work, I would become reclusive and spoke to no one about my concerns. I held it all in, thinking I had to be the only one feeling sad, isolated, and worried about getting sick from COVID. In addition, with the unrest going on, I did not feel safe being outside my house in the evenings.
This was the way it was weeks after; I feigned contentment and led my team. My ‘aha’ moment came about three weeks after the George Floyd event when my mentor (who happens to be Caucasian) reached out to me and led me through a small moment of grace. She reminded me of the importance of empathy. My life journey has preceded me to this very moment; the question was will I meet this moment with the grace it deserved.
We had a frank discussion about the state of the world, our country, race relations, my role in corporate America as a Black woman, and the coded language used to describe the conduct of Black men and women. We discussed the opportunities I had lost because of racial discrimination and being a woman.
We talked about the many times I had wanted to give up, and how if I had, I would not be where I am today. I am an immigrant who moved to America at age 11, and here I am doing great product management work that will add to my employer’s incredibly large global footprint.
She helped me see that I am probably not the only one feeling dejected by the events transpiring in the country and that I can make a difference. I can be of service to my family and colleagues by continuously checking in on them. This means when I call or Slack a colleague, I am not asking them for a report but really checking in and asking how they are coping and how I can help.
During these sessions, I discovered some of my colleagues were experiencing unease about the world, their families, careers, and the uncertainty of what life will be like after COVID. I had coworkers who were struggling about how to tell their children about COVID and death. I also discovered my female counterparts were dealing with the guilt that COVID intensified. They were finding it hard to attend meetings early in the mornings and be 100% present while helping their children with their remote learning. Some were also taking care of their parents. They felt like they were failing.
The more I talked to my colleagues, the more I uncovered they needed to vent. Weddings, birthday parties, and travel were put on hold due to the pandemic. But, just like me, they needed to laugh, even if it was about the most mundane things such as how cute baby Yoda is, the meaning of his name, if The Big Bang Theory is better than Friends, and can we get our sprints named after episodes of Frasier.
Like you all, I felt powerless at times. In the middle of my personal pity party, I experienced a recognizable shift to gratitude. I also realized my love of product management was there in the background. The reason I got up every morning was there, except now I wanted to include service to my family and colleagues.
While I miss seeing coworkers, collaborating with them in person, or even debating about who is the GOAT - Drake or Kanye, or who is the most powerful Avenger (I still believe it is Captain America), having meetings in conference rooms, travelling for work, visiting customers, and most importantly I really miss the whiteboards and the smell of markers, and I really, really miss our cafeteria especially Poke Thursday and Fridays. I have learned things do not need to be picture-perfect for me to be appreciative. The small gestures add up.
Since we have been home, I have learned my everyday act of kindness makes a difference to my relatives and coworkers. Some have not been able to travel, see or hug their loved ones in almost a year.
I implore that you pass on some compassion to your cross-functional and scrum teams by acknowledging their fears, listening, laughing, providing encouragement, asking, “What can I do to make your day better,” “How can I help” “How are you,” letting them know they are not alone, and my favorite send them a “virtual cupcake.”