Changing Jobs During a Pandemic: Listen, Observe & Ask Questions


Overwhelmingly, senior executives, human resources professionals and recruiters alike point to “listening, observing & asking questions” as the number one skill to focus on in the first 90-days in a new job, in any environment.

How does this emphasis shift when trying to successfully navigate into a new leadership role during the current pandemic?

I say…take the same advice and ramp it up ten-fold!

VUCA (acronym for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is the very definition of organization life during this global pandemic.  We’ve literally never been here on this scale before in our lifetime.  There are SO many unknowns and SO many changing circumstances.

So, taking the time to listen fully… to words… to emotions… to body language… and to uncomfortable silences when people aren’t sure which direction to turn next… is one of the most critical tools in your toolkit.

If your new organization is working remotely, it is that much more critical that you arrange to get in front of as many people as possible for one-on-one and small group video meetings to simply listen and ask questions.  As one senior leader interviewed for this blog series noted, “I booked as many half-hour to forty-five minute sessions as I could with key internal stakeholders, peers, team members, leaders in other functional areas, et cetera, simply so that I could ask them what they do and how they see my role fitting with theirs”.

Beware of entering a new organization with too much swagger.  Even when you have been hired to “be a change agent”, it is important not to behave as if you have all the answers.  At this time in history… to show too much of a boastful “I’ve got this” attitude belies the fact that you have NEVER actually experienced leading in this environment.   Giving short shrift to the listening phase as if you already know what to do, is a key impediment to building followership.

Far better to show that you are listening attentively to your new boss, your new colleagues and your new team members, and to display a mindset of “we will figure this out together”.  This “figuring out together”, begins with asking great questions to show that you are genuinely interested in finding out what’s on people’s minds and learning their ideas.  It conveys your recognition that you absolutely do NOT have a cookie-cutter formula that you are bringing from a previous environment for leading through the pandemic.

Your team will value the wisdom you demonstrate in appreciating that you are all learning together, and that you are not joining this organization with the answers tucked under your arm.

With all the pressure to “perform” in your new role, remind yourself that “listening, observing and asking questions”, is one of the most valuable ways you can contribute at this challenging time.


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