Home Thinking Aloud What To Do When “Normal” Isn’t Coming Back

What To Do When “Normal” Isn’t Coming Back


by Adam Markel, author of “Pivot: The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, and unemployment hitting levels not seen since the Great Depression, many business owners wonder how they will continue to cover salaries, let alone stay in business. The “normal” economy is history, and no one knows what will replace it.

“We now know what truly radical uncertainty looks like,” states an analysis of the latest US economic data in Foreign Policy. “A huge part of the world’s population has had the basic functioning of its life radically disrupted. None of us can confidently predict when we will be able to return to our pre-coronavirus lives.”

How can we respond to such massive uncertainty and disruption? Leaders, companies and teams have to be looking out for each other. We’ve got to foster what I call a “got your back” culture.

If you are a leader who wants your company to be able to survive, adapt, and thrive, everyone you work with has to know that you have their back. This includes your team, partners, employees, outsourced workforce, clients, and customers.

When people have each other’s backs, it builds resilience. I learned this when I was 19 and working as a lifeguard on the south shore of Long Island at a place called Jones Beach. The ocean currents there are often strong with lots of big surf and rip currents, and there were often more than a hundred thousand people there on busy summer weekends. One day we heard three whistle blasts, telling us a swimmer was missing. Our leader sent us into the surf to search for the missing swimmer for more than an hour. We didn’t find him.

Later, after the beach was closed for the day, our leader told us we had to learn something from this horrible experience. To make sure no one went down on our watch again, we would have to be impeccable. And the only way we could do that was if we had each other’s backs.

As lifeguards, we had to be at 100% all the time or we risked someone drowning. To do that, we practiced what I now refer to as resilience training. We would work an hour on the stand in a very intense, focused way, sometimes making rescues. Then other lifeguards would spell us for an hour so we could take a break, eat, swim, run, or just relax.

Switching back and forth between intense activity, focused performance, and periods of rest and recovery is how we build muscle in strength training. It’s also how we build resilience.

Unfortunately, many leaders and organizations don’t understand this. They don’t take care of themselves, and they don’t allow their employees to take care of themselves. They are perpetuating an exhaustion model that’s unsustainable.

Shifting your organization’s culture from “watch your back” to “got your back” starts with letting people know you care about them and showing them that the company has a commitment to their well-being. Some tangible ways leaders can do this include:

Give people an emotionally safe space.

We use a process at the beginning of our team meetings called “what I feel like saying,” where everybody gets to share what they want to. We’ve practiced this through the years to create an environment where people feel safe and can be vulnerable. We do this because it helps create resilience, both for individuals and teams.

Give people permission — and encourage them — to care for themselves.

This includes sharing best practices. It could be meditation, yoga, a certain diet, books they’ve found valuable, or what they’re doing to sleep better at night.

Check in to see if people are in fact taking care of themselves.

Just because you give them permission to do certain things doesn’t mean they are actually going to do those things, especially if they have become habituated to operating when they are exhausted.

Establish rituals for recovery.

Your ability to perform at your best in the long term, and your team’s, is based on creating rituals or what I call a recovery map for how you cope with stress. This is a good time to establish those new rituals.

Times like these call for us to practice greater levels of resilience, teamwork and self-responsibility. Cultivating an emotionally safe culture will allow us to reestablish connection, transparency, and trust as we meet whatever future awaits us.


adam markel

Author, speaker, and resilience expert Adam Markel inspires leaders and organizations to build resilience into their lives and systems to meet the challenges of massive disruption. Adam is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly best-seller, “Pivot: The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life“.


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