How can we navigate tough times and be successful during a pandemic?
Published May 28, 2020
A Q&A with McGraw Hill authors, Amy Posey and Kevin Vallely
The world has been thrown for a loop with the coronavirus pandemic, with many having to put their lives on pause. Educators have had to shift their courses online, students are adjusting to home learning, and parents and caregivers are juggling between working from home and homeschooling their kids. So we spoke with McGraw Hill authors, Amy Posey and Kevin Vallely, who wrote Wild Success: 7 Key Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn from Extreme Adventurers, to gain some insight and advice on what we can do to ensure we are embracing and learning from the current challenges and the ones we will face ahead. Check out what they had to say!
How can we ensure the ones we are working with during this pandemic – whether it be our kids, families, or work teams - can persevere in this crisis?
Kevin: The important thing here is to think like an adventurer and look at the big picture. Ultimately, we will get through this and we will be better for it in the end. To be a successful adventurer you must embrace the fact that there will be setbacks along the way. Challenges, like COVID-19, give us the opportunity to recognize what’s important in our lives and what isn’t. Every adventure I undertake, including this COVID adventure, allows me this reboot. The journey through challenge changes you. It’s up to you to ensure that change is for the better.
Amy: I agree with having an adventurer’s mindset – realizing that we grow strong through adversity and that it’s part of life. What you can do is break down the challenge into more manageable “chunks,” so that it feels and seems less intimidating. How are you safe and productive every day? How do you celebrate those small victories in the midst of the larger unknown? Our brains really need us to recognize those small progress steps we make in order to get the motivation to keep going and persevere. Recognition of those little victories releases dopamine, a feel-good and motivational chemical in our brains, and can counteract some of the cortisol that gets released when we are stressed or uncertain.
Why is having a purpose so important when it comes to partnership - whether in education, business or elsewhere?
Kevin: Purpose is all about contributing to something greater than yourself that exceeds your efforts. The research shows that leaders and organizations that are purpose-driven have higher impact, higher growth, and foster better decision-making.
The key here is aligning your partnerships with your purpose. Our relationship with McGraw Hill speaks to this loudly. For Amy and I, our purpose is to inspire others through our experiences – both in the wild and in the boardroom – to become the best version of themselves that they can be. McGraw Hill’s purpose is to unlock the full potential of each learner and to accelerate learning. Our purposes align perfectly and partnering will only enhance it for both of us.
Amy: Purpose is vital not only for performance, but for alignment. If you have a shared purpose when you partner with someone, and that purpose is clear and easy to understand, you’re more likely to partner more effectively. You have a shared understanding and your decision-making and communication all go in the same direction. Purpose is replacing “vision” for a lot of organizations because it’s about setting a direction and impacting others (whereas vision is really about a direction).
In your book, you mentioned the importance of pairing mentors with mentees. What do you think is the biggest takeaway from this and how could this be particularly relevant during the current crisis?
Kevin: I see mentors as role models. During a crisis like COVID-19, we need someone to help us through – someone we can emulate. Who in your life is a role model you can look to in moments of uncertainty and challenge? Having a strong role model during difficult times can help us navigate the uncertainty. Being able to see how your role model would handle a crisis will help you better handle it as well.
A close friend of mine is a firefighter in West Vancouver, Canada. He told me a story about one of his first responses to an accident situation and the importance of finding a role model in moments of uncertainty. “It was a Saturday evening when we got the call,” he said. “It was a head-on collision on the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler, BC and we feared the worst. When we arrived, we could see the wrecked cars on the road ahead of us. I was pumped full of adrenaline. It was my first situation like this. I was terrified. My partner, John, was a captain at the fire hall. The moment we stopped our truck, I grabbed my stuff and started running to the scene. After about 30 yards, I realized John wasn’t with me and I stopped. I looked back and saw him carefully packing his gear after which he began to stride calmly towards me. Later, he explained how important it was to mentally prepare for moments like that. "You need to be as calm and clear in your actions as you can be," he had said. "No rash actions. No panic. The victims expect it of you." He’s been my role model ever since.
Having a mentor and role model will make you more resilient and will help you better navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Amy: Right now, there are a lot of people who haven’t faced a crisis in their careers. There are a lot of people who have already been through one or two big challenges like the recession or 9-11. The lessons we’ve learned and the emotions we’ve felt can be helpful for those who haven’t been tested. Those stories are useful for context and perspective. By pairing mentors and mentees to share stories of resilience, you build empathy with the mentors (remembering what it’s like to feel a challenge) and the mentees (learning that what they’re going through is normal and human).
What advice do you have that you have learned on your expeditions for all of us coping with the stress of COVID-19?
Kevin: My number one advice is to remain positive. I recently spoke with the Chief Legal Officer of an important client of ours. He shared with me how important positivity was for him. He explained that his company at the time, a few years earlier, was facing an existential restructuring to transform it into what it has become today, but they couldn’t see how to effectively do it. Even though everyone felt discouraged, the CEO gave everyone a real pep talk. She said that it is important to smile and not look dejected to your teams. It is our obligation as a leader to be brave and stay positive no matter what.
Adventurers understand this well. Positivity is critical to our success. As I skied to the South Pole in 2008, myself and my two teammates made a pact that we would say nothing negative in the tent each night. Negativity had no place on our mission. We knew full well that most extreme expeditions like the one we were on devolved into team members hating one another by the end. We weren’t going to allow this to happen. We’re still friends to this day and we succeeded in our mission. In fact, we broke the world-record in doing so.
Amy: I 100% agree with Kevin – staying positive and reminding ourselves that we’re capable of facing difficult things and coming out on the other side stronger and more resilient is key.
Check out the book trailer for Wild Success below!