I remember a colleague once confided in me about the various hats she wore, as a mother, daughter, sister, friend, student and professional. We conversed about balancing our commitments and pursuits. I listened as she spoke about all that she was handling, thinking about the shifts we make as we move in and out of our many roles. I was reminded of this conversation while examining how my views of leadership have changed in response to the pandemic.
Dr. Brene Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” Using this definition as the basis of leadership, I like to think that regardless of having formal authority, we are each able to lead by example from where we are.
When we think of leadership, we often think of work. But leadership is just as present at home and in every other dimension of our lives. For me, this became all the more apparent during the pandemic. I had moments where I asked myself how I could lead my work team when I could not seem to get things together at home. Despite my best efforts to educate and set ground rules at home, we had various mishaps. Some could be substance for a sitcom, though it didn’t seem that way in the moment. The reality was that because I was working, and often in meetings, I had little time to address the mishaps. My kids had to discover and test the boundaries in this new work-life experiment. This was a test for me as well.
In going through this challenging experiment, it was obvious that my position and authority as a parent are not what lead my children to listen and cooperate. I have to meet them where they are. That is how I have always operated with my work teams. The difference was that I had to carry this into my life at home more intentionally because I was now wearing the additional hat of caretaker while working.
There were moments of true personal crisis, such as loss of a loved one, that challenged my leadership capacity. Never before had I been isolated, experiencing the deep pain associated with grief while attempting to be strong for my kids. It did not take long to recognize that I could not mask my grief. I did not have any private place where I could have alone time, and I had to be there to care for my family. So, I processed my grief by confiding in family, friends and a couple of colleagues, and by reflecting on it while cooking, exercising and cleaning. These outlets and spaces were crucial for that reflection and healing to occur.
The pandemic has created more extreme situations, which results in more extreme shifts in how we respond. We all have multiple hats we wear, but how often have we pivoted between them so quickly, or in some moments merging them into one?
Through this grand and devastating experiment of adapting to life during the pandemic, I feel that we have been able to see more of the whole person. We have had to bring together our roles, finding new ways to move between or blend them, and infuse leadership in different aspects of our lives. Learning to flex in these ways will help as we recover and emerge into whatever will be the new normal.
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Christine is Deputy Director, Office of Ethics and Integrity of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or the federal government. Christine also serves as a Community Volunteer Leader for the American Red Cross, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County Chapter, and on the advisory committee for her city pool and fitness center. She is inspired to write about endurance, volunteerism, and career management, among other topics. In her “spare” time she is an avid swimmer and runner, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and pets. Her motto is: “Work hard, play hard.”
This writing was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or Federal Government.