What Can We Learn From Our Mistakes Post COVID-19?

By Nels Lindberg

As of this article being drafted, it’s March 29, and I am looking forward to what this article needs to be about in a few months so it is relevant for our awesome veterinarians when they ultimately read it. But today, March 29, we find ourselves in the middle of one of the greatest world challenges as we have ever seen or studied. It is literally the newest kind of world war and one of which we likely will see more. Our world as we know it is forever changed, much like after 9-11. Prior to 9-11, we could walk into the airport, get our ticket at the ticket counter and walk right up to the gate and hop on a plane. We could get there 30 minutes in advance or with even less time to spare. Post 9-11, we all know what that looks like, huh?

Medical team wearing face masks, having a meeting about Coronavirus

As we move forward, what do you think our world will look like? Maybe we will have temperature scanning machines at airports, trains, subways, hotels and convention centers, screening all of us for an elevated temperature? Maybe we will accept wearing masks in seasonal or times of higher viral loads, much like South Korea? Do you see a day when the weather forecast not only shows weather risk but also “viral load” risk?

All those things being said, maybe one of the most relevant opportunities for all of us is to reflect on our learning opportunities. Leading in a moment of crisis is something some of us have done prior to COVID 19, but maybe others have not. No one ever put us through formal training of leading in a crisis—so much of this work is “amateur status!” Much of it is analyzing and digesting all the rapidly occurring events and information coming at us, working to make timely decisions, firing from the hip, and continuing to make decisions and “firing.” In these processes, we are likely making or have made some errors in judgement, errors in firing, and have learning opportunities. We also likely observed other leaders and people making decisions and executing objectives that we are learning or have learned from, right?

You can rely on your gut, but we must think deeper and apply life skills we have gained over the course of our traditional and non-traditional education. Emotion and instinct, alone, can get you into trouble.

Most of what I have learned is by observation of other very courageous people. For team leaders or veterinary clinics, we were focused on keeping people in our organization healthy, the virus outside of our doors, and minimizing our exposure to the public to help keep those outside of our doors healthy. As one of my mentors said, work to not be South Korean “Patient #31,” whom successfully blew up the pandemic herself alone in that country. (See the Reuters Graphics article: https://tmsnrt.rs/3conxob.)

All that being said, what can we learn from this crisis, because we will have another 9-11, another active shooter, or another COVID-19, and we as leaders must look at what others did, what we did, and what mistakes we made in the first weeks and may be making thereafter. For us, maybe our veterinary clinic didn’t go to curbside service soon enough? Maybe it should have been a week earlier.

Post 9-11, the government thought about our mistakes and created TSA, the Transportation Safety Administration. Post COVID-19, our government will think about our mistakes and work to not allow another COVID-19 to occur. Maybe that will be through a PSA, the Pathogen Safety Administration. What are the mistakes you have made in this process, or in other times for you to learn from and adjust?

Let’s look at several key broad mistakes that can occur in any crisis for us all to learn from.

Mistake #1 – We overreact to an event. We always need to sort out the immediate situation, what is taking place, make people safe, and take action if needed. Our common mistake occurs in over reacting, as we often want to step in and “take control” by “going too far.” Once we make sure our people are safe, we need to step back and think for a minute or a day. We often over reach and create more trouble or challenges by “stepping in” too deep or “taking too much control” when we have great people underneath us doing great things. Don’t step in and micromanage—trust your trusted people.
Perhaps you are like me. There are times in situations when I step in and over step my bounds with leadership below me, when I need to back off. There are times we need to step in, but be very careful of overstepping with your leaders whom you have great trust. If you do, communicate to them why you are stepping in. I don’t always get that done! (Ask Dr. Ty!)

Mistake #2 – Our first assessment is often wrong. In the middle of crisis or situations, there is information coming at us, facts and discussion in rapid fire, and things change. We have likely made decisions part way through but, as the event changes through real time and fluidity, our first assessment is now wrong. New things emerge, the picture changes, and we need to adjust, readjust, continually evaluate the picture, and continue to pivot.

Mistake #3 – We often get too much inside of our own head and allow ourselves to get too consumed by too much noise and white fuzz. That can happen when you or your spouse or family member get diagnosed with cancer. It occurs when you get news of a tragic event of someone close to you. So how do you create real clarity in your mind and get out of your own mind? We do that by focusing on the people around us and the needs of those people. Step away from all the noise, the news, and don’t be consumed by the white noise. Keep thinking about the needs of all your people, which helps maintain trust, relatability and relevance.

For perspective, did you or are you consuming too much FOX News or CNBC, or too much market information that is or has clouded your wealth of prior knowledge to keep moving forward? Or are you successful in creating clarity and routine, often by focusing on the needs of people and customers around you?

Mistake #4 – We use too much instinct and not enough skill. In the initial crisis situation, we all utilize our instinct which has been formed by our prior life experiences and the wisdom gained. This is the initial phase. But once you have made your initial instinct decisions, then we must rely on our deeper training and skill to make informed decisions. You can rely on your gut, but we must think deeper and apply life skills we have gained over the course of our traditional and non-traditional education. Emotion and instinct, alone, can get you into trouble.

For example many of you, like me, have experienced tragedy and many challenging times that have created good gut instinct. But all of us make sure we rely on our skill and knowledge base and the deepening of both.

Mistake #5 – The Greatest Mistake: Leaders in a crisis often step back or pull back from their people or organization. And this is very, very dangerous. This cuts trust levels and connection with your people at a time when they need to see you, talk to you, and simply know that you are there. We must be out in front, be very visible, talk and connect with people more than we ever have and at higher levels than we have ever done. We often have concern of saying too much, or not saying or doing the right things and, in turn, we unknowingly “step back.” And that is the opposite of what we need to do as leaders.

In these past several months, I am certain you all have made many great decisions. But, upon reflection, what are the mistakes you have made? Unique times present unique opportunities. Uncertain times create leadership opportunities. Use these “lemons” to fuel your passion and ingenuity to help create this new post-COVID-19 world!

About The Author

Nels Lindberg

Animal Medical Center
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