It seems that we are at that point when history is standing still, taking a deep breath and deciding what to do next. Phrases such as unprecedented, global pandemic, economic meltdown, work from home and we are in this together are raining down upon us from a virus shaped piñata. While some people from a place of privilege can choose to ignore this unwanted candy, some of us will have to roll up our sleeves and pick up the wrappers strewn on the ground. A line from one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, rings in my ears as I picture myself armed with a broom in hand. “There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.”
The age of lockdown is like a helium-filled balloon; you hold on to it tightly without knowing for how long, until it deflates. As a profession whose mission is to justify its existence to the shareholders and talk up a big game of intangibles, advertising has to get a grip. It may be the only profession that has spent eons living in its own bubble without paying heed to what is happening around it. Pakistani advertising has operated for decades as an aspiration filled tuna, contained within the bread slices of terrorism, wars, political upheaval – and succeeded in not being bothered by them. The commercial break was literally just that; a break from the anxiety of the news and to show possibilities of commerce that can bring you peace of mind. At the end of the day advertising is in the business of making people behave and feel differently. Maybe this is the moment for those at the helm of the profession to take a leadership role in helping, not only itself but other industries as well and cope with the present crisis. At any rate, here is what this mere mortal has learnt so far.
Calm the %^&* Down
Yes, economies are going bust. Yes, funds are drying up. Yes, there will not be profitable scenarios in the future. A wise woman once said that when you worry you suffer twice. Remind yourself that you are human and if there is one thing we are good at, it is surviving. We are hardwired for survival and we will find a way out of this. As a leader, remember that your team take their cues from you. If you panic, they panic and no good ever came from panicking.
Keep Feelings In Check
Anxiety is an omni emotion right now. Your team members have family members that are also anxious; there will also be unusual demands from clients who are also anxious. As the person who has to oversee these storms of anxiety and compile a weather report, you need to first keep a check on your own feelings. Many books have been written on the benefits of self-knowledge on leaders and this is the time for the pop up quiz. A knee jerk reaction will confirm you as a jerk. Use the four minute rule to think about your own response. Move away until you figure out your strategy to deal with the situation and then respond calmly. A good leader always responds to situations by thinking about what the team needs to feel right now rather than about what will make you feel better.
Say “I Don’t Know”
People who think they know everything are foolish and you will appear to be so if you pretend to have all the answers. There are no experts on the pandemic economy (no one has yet lived through it to tell us about it). There are no books to refer to, no best practices, no consultants to call on – yet, isn’t that great? When old answers don’t work, we have to ask new questions. Many of us have this false image of a heroic leader as someone who can pull a sword from a stone and shout “Charge!”. I don’t fit into these parameters. The leader makes mistakes, doesn’t know everything and can’t do everything. What makes him or her special is that he or she is not scared. Don’t get me wrong – being afraid and fearless are two different things. You can be frightened out of your mind yet do the job before you; the one no one else wants to do. I say don’t know, find or make up the answer and make sure that those answers are not questioned. You don’t want your last words to be: I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
Make Your Home Work for You First
There is no escape right now from home and all the bittersweet emotions it harbours. Your issues with parents, in-laws, children, spouse or domestic staff have all received a huge dose of steroids. Remember that you will struggle professionally if you are struggling personally. Approach the problems at home with the same analytical mindset you apply at work. Apply the simple rule of “would I say this in front of my boss/colleague” with relatives. Once again, a false image of a happily married woman or man who has it all is imprinted in our brains. Now is the time to change the image. Your family now know what you do at work; they pop up on your Zoom calls and overhear your debates with team members. It’s a great chance to involve them in your work. It would be unrealistic to make blanket statements regarding family circumstances, yet the Urdu adage “If you live in the pond you can’t be enemies with the alligator” applies. Make your home work for you first in order for work from home to work.
Stay sane, stay safe, reach out, and if you have not read Terry Pratchett whose wisdom I have so brazenly plagiarised here, now is the perfect time to do just that.
Disclaimer: This article was written using 100% recycled words.
Atiya Zaidi is ECD, BBDO Pakistan & Co-founder, Shero Space, a career coaching and mentoring company. [firstname.lastname@example.org]