The greatest window of opportunity

Open Window - sWhy this is the best time for change that we may ever see…

For the last seven or so years, I’ve occasionally laid on events, seminars and so forth for both my business and non-profit communities. At first, I did one, maybe two a year, but they steadily grew in frequency and popularity over the years to the point where I was doing something most months.

This year though, has been a step change for me. As the pandemic grew and lockdown came in, it quickly became apparent that leaders needed far more time with me and their peers than ever before: to share challenges, garner ideas, and to gain some degree of perspective on everything that was happening. And so, I look back over 2020 and find I’ve hosted over forty seminars for charity leaders since the end of March. That’s more than one a week.

Over 200 different executives from across the sector have joined me for at least one of those sessions, to talk topics from crisis management to collaboration, from sales skills to systems change, from value propositions to volunteering, and just about everything in between. And after each one, I invariably walk away having learned at least as much as anyone else on the call.

And one of the biggest things I’ve learned from the whole of the last nine months, is that this pandemic has shown that we all have far, far more potential than we think.

As a personal example, last week I brought together around 20 CEOs for a conversation on the future of volunteering. They ranged from the big volunteering organisations like RVS, Oxfam, NSPCC, St John Ambulance, Scouts, Guides, and Red Cross, to stroke and cancer trusts, animal, conservation and environmental charities, right through to community trusts and hospices.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and even before the end of the session the group was asking to meet again to build on the collaboration potential that had rapidly become apparent. Would I have expected, back in February, that I could bring that calibre and diversity of CEOs together, and get that kind of outcome? I suspect, even with my hubris, that would have been unlikely.

That same experience has been replayed to me in innumerable conversations over recent months, as people have shared how their own organisations have changed, and how they’ve stepped up way beyond any prior expectations in response to the needs of the moment. In most of my client organisations, the genuine transformation in beliefs, behaviours and culture is palpable.

Across the sector’s leadership we’ve witnessed a new level of agility and responsiveness, a step change in decisive confidence, an increasingly pervasive “can-do” mentality, and a huge acceleration in the pace of change, systems rollouts, collaboration and problem solving at just about every level.

The worst thing any of us can do right now, is put those huge advances down to “crisis response”.

The crisis was the catalyst, not the source, of this phenomenon. The source was the vast untapped potential within each of us, that simply never had the opportunity to show itself before.

There is a lot to be said for Marianne Williamson’s most famous (and most often misattributed) quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

The question for all leaders right now is not: “Can we keep this up once the crisis ends?” The question is: “If we can achieve all that in the teeth of an unprecedented headwind, what can we achieve with a calm sea, the wind at our backs, and full mast of sail?”

In the next couple of months there is, for all of us, the greatest window of opportunity for positive change that we may ever see. It is the opportunity to redefine our culture and our expectations, to build on what we’ve seen and achieved, to become the best that we’ve shown we can be, and more.

But it is a short window. Unless we act now, I guarantee come the Spring we will slip back, remarkably quickly, into our pre-pandemic patterns, and that window will close all by itself.

And so, my Christmas offering to you is this:

For my CEO community, the next monthly call on January 7th will zoom in on the gains we’ve made during the pandemic and how we can build on them for 2021. If you’re not registered for these calls and would like to join, drop me a line (strictly CEOs only).

And I’ll take it one step further on Tuesday 19th January 5pm-6pm, in an evening session open to all, where I will talk you through specifically, how to identify the elements of culture that have made the greatest positive difference, and how to engage them and embed them across your organisation for the future. Let me know if you’d like to join me.

In the meantime, as this will be the last of these emails in 2020, let me wish you all a great break (for those who will get one), a very merry Christmas (for those that celebrate it), and a far, far better New Year than the old one turned out to be.

Best wishes, Martyn.

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