Paul Butler: Living in an age of extremes

Paul Butler

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
— Charles Dickens

I cannot think of any quote that more accurately summarizes our present human global dilemma than the one cited above. I particularly admire how Dickens contrasts so many extremes in this one short piece of prose — best and worst; wisdom and foolishness; belief and incredulity; light and darkness; spring and winter; hope and despair.

I am sure we’ve all noticed the best and worst of human behavior during this crisis. At the grocery store we’ve all been impacted by the panic buying of some. Our governmental leaders are having to remind us all that the selfish behaviors of some who still choose to ignore the health guidelines will put themselves and others at risk of contracting this virus.

Two types of responses

Transitioning into the world of work, I have noticed two types of response in two ways in the workplace under this COVID-19 attack. With the mandatory instruction to work from home for the majority of us I have observed how some seem to have risen to the challenge and some haven’t.
Some workers are so self-motivated they could work from anywhere, given the right tools.

Conversely, I am seeing that some workers are so unmotivated, they’re using any excuse they can to not work at all, regardless of where they are and what tools they’re given.

God only knows how long this virus will invade our daily lives but I think it will be a time of reaping for employers as this becomes our new normal.

How employees work during these challenging times ahead will give clear indicators to employers of who to keep and who to let go. It’s exhausting for employers to have to constantly motivate the unmotivated.

At the leadership level, I am also noticing two types of response to this pandemic. If history has taught us anything, it clearly demonstrates that when turbulent economic waves hit us, effective leaders seem able to ride the waves while ineffective managers and supervisors drown in their own frantic busy-ness.

There’s a calmness and clarity that surrounds good leaders, which is in stark contrast to the frazzled frenetic behavior of ineffective ones. Effective leaders listen, think and adapt as necessary to ever-changing conditions, whereas ineffective ones are so worried about yesterday, they can’t think straight today and aren’t even considering tomorrow until yesterday’s over.

Adapting and communicating

What does this pragmatically look like? Just in the past couple of weeks, I have been so impressed by some clients of ours in how they are adapting and communicating with their employees, whereas others, err … not so much. I have been mightily impressed by our local SCV Chamber of Commerce and their proactive and positive steps to assist, guide and calm panic-stricken small businesses whereas other local business associations seem like they’ve just slipped into silent hibernation with their fingers in their ears.

We will come through this — I’m sure of it. One thing we can be sure of in the working world, just like life in general, is uncertainty: change is the only constant. As stock markets tumble and the horizon shifts, we each need to adapt; learn new skills; improve the way we think; choose our response to what happens around us at work and invest in new skills for the future.
Just as I started with a quote, I’d like to wrap up this week’s article with an encouraging quote by Henry Ward-Beecher:

“Fortunes are not made in the boom times…. that is merely the collection period. Fortunes are made in depressions or lean times when the wise man overhauls his mind, his methods, his resources, and gets in training for the race to come.”

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