“I feel called on to “lead”, even as I am not sure what to think.” On return to campus planning, this beautiful writing speaks to the challenge of leading in fog. https://twitter.com/brlamb/status/1448448092190109697
This week was a big one. I’ve been so focussed on recruiting and developing the team, getting work practices established and building momentum I’d lost sight of the deadlines we were working to. After a session with my colleagues we mapped and planned out the rest of the year, and it’s going to be … busy to say the least.
This isn’t dire times, and honestly it comes at the right time to help us focus on the tasks at hand. But it felt like it came from out of the blue – or out of the fog.
The deadlines weren’t new, they had always been there, they was just shrouded and hidden from sight by the fog. Fog is environmental, a side effect of specific conditions. It’s not always there, it’s not always as thick, it can hang around or be burnt off by the sun. It flows like water yet it doesn’t move like water. It doesn’t fall it hangs.
Leadership and management is so often through fog. It’s moving people and organisations into the unknown. It’s operating outside of the norms and without real sight as to what’s there before and what’s also travelling through the fog.
So much of my job is responding to what comes out of the fog, not on planning the journey or what we do once we arrive.
It’s navigation, and doing it without signposts and visual aids. It’s using the feel of the ground, the whiff of scent in the air, the topography of where we stand and gauging the shape and slope of the ground we walk. You can’t look up, there’s no stars to guide you, nor signals or signs to utilise — it’s touch and taste and smell that guides us. It’s intuition, avoiding what doesn’t smell right, what doesn’t feel good.
Occasionally you stumble across a rock, there’s plenty of trip hazards too, but you get up and feel your way through it. Sometimes you need to wave your arms and grope around, trying to feel what’s out there. Sometimes it’s to keep your balance. Sometimes you tread lightly and stay on your toes. Sometimes you have to stop and wait, to see if it clears up or to get a sign of where to next.
Leading through fog is not the same as other conditions. It’s why transport often comes to a halt on fog affected days. It puts people in a strange place too, their behaviour changes and becomes less rational. When we lose our senses we struggle as a individuals and as a group, and leadership in that situation requires something else — a different approach, a different way of seeing.
The best part of the fog is that it lifts. It goes away and we regain our senses and things become clearer. The unfortunate thing is that for the last 18 months that hasn’t actually been the case. The fog descended quickly and its stayed for a long time. For anyone trying to lead in this environment it’s just exhausting. The fatigue set in months ago and there hasn’t been any respite, it doesn’t look like there will be any time soon. There’s talk about a return to “normal”, but I’m the ground there’s no clarity. The fog might not seem so soupy today, but the visibility hasn’t improved that much. What can we see ahead now? Like a week ahead?
With summer coming I hope the fog begins to burn off in the sun. I’d love to be able to see the future with more clarity, to plan something like a trip to see the family or maybe an actual holiday. Being able to come out of the fog, utilise all my senses, and see into the distance will be a welcome change.
Photo Credit — I took this at Rock City of my “view” through the fog of the seven states.