• Catherine Fitzgerald


Looking at the world through the lens of business we can easily expand our focus to the ripple effect a thriving business sector has on our society. The pandemic, on the other hand, has provided a glimpse of the negative impact on our business sector. The spread of the virus throughout the world has not only struck down individuals, but the resulting quarantine has wiped out thousands of previously prosperous businesses leaving them gasping for air or completely obliterated. Humanity has pushed its limits this year, much like a teenager looking to see where the boundaries are as they strive to gain control of their lives amidst the internal chaos of puberty.

As I reflect on the landscape personally and professionally, I wrestle with several questions, but they can all be summed up with this; Can we find answers that will give birth to a new way of thinking, a new way of doing, and most importantly, a new way of being?

This experience has forced all of us to test the standard “NOs” from the past and we have found that many of them were not valid. When we examine the way businesses have shifted, accommodated, and pivoted to survive we can see the truth and recognize that what we were told to accept as truths were myths to keep the top-down, command-and-control systems in place. For example, we have found that there are workarounds that allow more people than ever to work remotely and yes, they are still productive, despite the challenges. We have learned that we can treat employees as whole human beings, rather than treating them as one-dimensional worker-bees, mandated to focus entirely on productivity metrics and numbers, all the while denying the existence of a personal life.

In some circles, we have begun to create safe spaces for meaningful dialogue and difficult conversations to try to better understand one another.

This year, we witnessed our shared humanity every time we were on a video conference with someone’s home in the background and their pet entered the camera view, or their toddler innocently entered demanding attention. The images have permeated the media, all the ads that have incorporated Zoom calls, our tv shows with masks on all of the actors, and of course the nightly news with the details about the constant need for PPE (an acronym for Personal Protection Equipment that most of us were unfamiliar with until now.) Yes, this year has brought many new or formerly hidden realities into the spotlight. Many (though not yet enough, in my opinion), have taken a stand against systemic discrimination and prejudice within our society. In some circles, we have begun to create safe spaces for meaningful dialogue and difficult conversations to try to better understand one another. I believe there is a growing awareness of the gifts that diversity and inclusion bring to our lives, though surely, we have a long way to go on the road to embracing our differences and celebrating them together.

Fine-tuning our understanding of the metrics that define the differences between failure, survival, and flourishing in business speaks directly to those same measures in our society. If we recognize the opportunities before us to evaluate our circumstances and consciously make choices with intention, I believe we will make progress. The solution to our resilience both personally and professionally lies in expanding our awareness and the depth of our knowledgebase. Beginning with an authentic desire to understand, not only the numbers or financial outcomes in business but also to understand the dynamics of the interpersonal relationships within our workplaces. If this experience has taught us to broaden our definition of a “good employee” beyond the standard adjectives “productive, achieves designated outcomes, etc.” then I believe we have not walked through these very tough times in vain. By using equal doses of compassion, empathy, and awareness of our responsibility as we lead teams in this new age, we can look beyond achievement to strive for values-driven meaning, purpose, and quality of life.

When I was given the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, I did not make room for considering that leading might be different than doing.

As I reflect on this, I realize that I have learned so much this past year from the Millennial and Gen Z teams that I have coached. I have seen that they care deeply about maintaining quality and purpose in their lives, their whole lives, not just their weekends and vacations but their daily experience at work. The teams I have been engaged with are multi-cultural, multi-national, and of like-mind when it comes to productivity and FUN! As a woman on the cusp between Boomers and Gen Xers, I have seen and accepted a different workplace for much of my corporate experience. When I was given the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, I did not make room for considering that leading might be different than doing. It seems pretty straightforward from where I sit now, but at the time it was not a consideration. It embarrasses me to admit that considering whether my team was happy or fulfilled in their work-life was not on my radar at all. It was more about hitting the marks and keeping those upstairs happy than it was about the quality of the employee experience.

As I think about it, I had been promoted because I did my job well, not because I was good at developing others, which I believe was and is a common experience for over-achievers. Couple that with being a female in a company with 42 Regional Sales Managers nationwide, 2 of whom were female! At 27, I was not about to rock the boat. My mantra was, simple, be professional and try not to draw attention to the fact that you are the only woman in the room. I was given the targeted outcomes but as far as how to get there with a team instead of flying solo, well I was on my own to figure that out. Sure, there were a couple of high school and college leadership experiences and a few books to help in defining my own take on the role, but sadly those did not lead me to consider my role as anything but the scorekeeper for the team both individually and collectively. I did not realize at the time that leading a team is the opposite of what I had excelled at… I was a fixer, give me a problem and I will give you a solution, but help someone to develop the necessary skills to see their own solutions?

Wow, I am almost embarrassed to type that! But then I have spent some time considering my path and have focused on stepping away from blaming and shaming. As a result, I will accept that I did the best with what I had at the time and there was no malice intended. Today given the same circumstance I would handle it differently. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn and practice a more successful way to lead! Maybe we were busy fighting a different workplace battle in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s? The glass ceilings in title and salary, and the quid pro quo of sexual innuendo from the good ole boys’ clubs, which is thankfully now illegal and labeled as sexual harassment. I can say that we have come a long way as I look back at those battles. Today, as part of that let us just say “more experienced” generation, we have the opportunity to choose to be “teachable” and to embrace the ideas and perspectives these new generations bring to the workplace.

  • Are we willing to choose to be open?

  • Did this past year challenge us to evaluate what we have accepted in the past to remain employed?

  • Are we looking more deeply at our level of happiness and fulfillment in our current position?

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