Featured image depicting What Helmuth von Moltke the Elder taught me about being a parent and a leader during the Coronavirus pandemic

What Helmuth von Moltke the Elder taught me about being a parent and a leader during the Coronavirus pandemic

Camille Ford, JMJ Managing Consultant, shares some of her personal and professional lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Camille Ford  |  March 27, 2020

I am not a home schooler. I was never interested in it. Mostly because I thought I would do a far worse job than a trained professional. Well that all changed with COVID-19. The Coronavirus introduced me to some new situations I wasn’t expecting. Not only was I called on to be a homeschooler to my 14 and 9 year old sons for an unknown amount of time, I was also having to work remotely providing some continuity of support to my clients and address the changing business dynamics inside of the company I work for.

Five days into my new role and when I looked back at what worked and didn’t work to keep home and work moving forward, I offer the following: “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” – von Moltke. Sounds brutal when I am referencing my kids. However, when I did some research behind the quote, it’s brilliant for the times we are in now. Helmuth von Moltke was chief of staff of the Prussian Army in the 1880’s prior to WWI and a battle strategist by training. During WWI, battle technology and weaponry were changing so fast the plans became obsolete as soon as they were prepared. To address the new dynamics of war, he created an adaptive military strategy shifting from traditional detailed orders to leading by intention, which allowed for deviations and adaptation in the field as situations changed. Adaptive planning explores a series of options rather than be fixed to one approach.

So, what does this have to do with home schooling my children? When the governor closed all schools, I pulled out a planner and wrote down in every time slot what the kids were going to do to continue to be educated, while I could do my work. Here’s an example:

8:00 – 8:30 am: Make your bed, put your clothes away, get dressed, eat breakfast and brush your teeth
8:30 – 9:00 am: Read
9:00- 10:00am: Online math
10:00-10:30 am :Snack
10:30-11:30 am: play outside or inside (no electronics)
11:30-12:30 am: Eat
Etc., etc.

I did not get to 10 am without interruption, resistance, and negotiation but I held to my schedule. By the end of the day I was exhausted, and my kids were irritated. I had contact with the enemy and only had one plan in my pocket.

On day two, I took the approach to lead by intention and be willing to deal with the ebbs and flows of the day and still be satisfied with the result. As a family, we discussed what was to be accomplished by the end of the day and outlined the series of activities it would take to accomplish math, reading, cleaning, eating and having fun. I let them pick the order of the activities and we negotiated how much time per activity. During the day, if one of the kids offered an alternative and still was in the spirit of the intention, I let it happen. Otherwise, we stuck to the plan we discussed. Not necessarily the original but got the same result.

I also adjusted my day accordingly. Rather than book back-to-back phone meetings with no scheduled support time with my kids, I scheduled breaks and touch points throughout the day to support my kids in making transitions and progress. The approach so far is working. It is not teacher grade by any means, but it is hybrid homeschooler working mother grade. I will take it.

I have shared taking an adaptive approach with my clients who are executives and team leaders that are also needing to approach work differently while working remotely. Here are some of the operating principles they are putting in place to bring their teams together.

  1. Giving time for team members to check in for how they are. This practice allows team members to get connected and ready for the meeting vs. jumping right into the agenda and actions. The practice gives people time to acknowledge there may be distractions and to disclose those in the spirit of getting present to the meeting.
  2. Schedule time before a meeting starts to have informal chit chat that would normally occur before a face to face meeting.
  3. Have a leadership moment that is an open-ended question that provokes thinking. One I used in a phone meeting with about 30 people began with the question: When was a time you were called on to be resilient, what was it like and why is it important? The sharing by some team members of how they overcame adversity and thrived gave other team members an approach to use during these times.
  4. Practice listening. Deep listening is the access to empathy. Notice if you are thinking about what to say or the next thing to say vs. listening to what others are saying.

These times call on leaders to be vulnerable and share their humanity. Taking a traditional approach to getting work done may not be the most productive way. Try new approaches and be OK with the varying paths to get to the outcome. What approaches have you been taking to bring teams together in this current reality?

About JMJ

For over three decades, JMJ has been delivering impactful cultural change to help executives, leaders and front-line workers transform safety, sustainability, and business performance. We combine the deep experience of our people with our proprietary Transformation Cloud platform to deliver breakthrough results, making the impossible possible. www.jmj.com

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