During my quarantined life, I recently reread my tattered copy of “The Little Prince.” Given the strange world we have navigated this last year, it seemed an appropriate time to revisit this classic and take stock of important life lessons.
I read it with fresh eyes, drawing parallels between the strangeness of pandemic times and the prince’s fanciful space travel. As life has been pared back to the basics, I was particularly struck by the author’s emphasis on what is most essential for healthy navigation of life’s challenges.
While we are moving forward, daunting challenges still surround us. Our workplaces are entering a transition phase to some version of normal. These are positive steps forward, but the harsh reality and impact of the pandemic are not yet in the rearview mirror.
Team members face many obstacles to make the transition and recover from the disruptions of the pandemic. Successful transition will depend on the emotional intelligence of leadership to listen and understand how employees are feeling, and then translate that feedback into policies and practices that accomplish the work but also factor personal lives and needs into the equation.
Leading teams through reliance on emotional intelligence has never been more important. Anxiety about vaccinations, COVID variants, family, changing work routines, finances and much more can deliver powerful stressors to team members.
Demonstrating empathy will be key to the success of leadership in understanding employee needs and balancing organizational goals with a workplace culture that recognizes their myriad life responsibilities. Demonstrating empathy also means that leaders must be aware of their own vulnerabilities, needs and worries, so they can relate more effectively to the experience of team members.
Communication during this transitional time is critical. Teams need to hear clearly from leadership about what is happening, how office protocol is changing and how they can best bring value to the organization despite shifts to hybrid schedules and reliance on virtual spaces to meet. Regular communication about priorities and goals builds morale, feelings of optimism, team mindedness and motivation to power through disruptions.
In “The Little Prince,” vignettes illustrate the challenges grown-ups face in perceiving what is most important. The prince travels the universe discerning life lessons as he converses with characters he encounters. During his visit to Earth, one of those life lessons comes from a fox who tells the prince: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943).
Just as the prince was on a voyage of discovery, the pandemic has sent us on an unexpected journey prompting us to look inward and recalibrate how we see our work and lives. One of the valuable lessons I garnered from reading this treasured book in 2021 is that this is a time to manage not just with our heads, but also with our hearts.
Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation