Disaster can be a powerful teacher – simply because it can’t be ignored. We all excel at selective hearing, but we can’t ignore something that hits us where it really hurts – and the Coronavirus is hurting us badly. Even if you are not impacted physically and are able to stay optimistic, you can’t escape the blow to our economy, finances and social wellness. The situation is certainly challenging all of us to find new ways of working together. Even more so given that South Africa faces 21 days of lockdown from tomorrow evening.

One thing that we have learned is that our habits often define us, and when we change them, it changes everything. We have been following (and taking for granted) the same behavioural patterns and social routines for longer than we can remember: We greet in a certain manner, we drop our kids off at a certain place at a certain time, we work in a certain way, we gather for specific reasons at routine times. These routines are not conversation starters around the braai because they are unconscious – as a matter of fact, we usually talk about the breaks in routine because they are conscious. We don’t talk about the municipal water supply when rainfall is good, but rather when the dams run dry. We don’t talk about a day of replying to emails, but rather about a big presentation coming up or our holiday plans. We don’t talk about breathing normally, but we do when we fear losing this ability.

I believe that this is one of the main reasons for the hype around the Coronavirus – it is forcing us to adapt behaviour by adopting new habits e.g. washing hands more regularly, keeping our distance from others physically etc. just like the water crisis forced the entire Western Cape (and beyond) to change the ways in which this precious resource is used.

It’s astonishing to think that a physically tiny virus has the power to cripple economies and move leaders across the globe to have conversations that are very different to the ones that they had a year ago. It is, however, not the talk, but rather the actions that make all the difference – the small actions that we can control are key to making the necessary big changes. Collective individuals who are committed to changing small habits are able to effect large-scale success. Capetonians did it during the water crisis, and we can do it now in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis.

Both scenarios prove that we are able to change our habits and behaviour. If we can do it when external factors (like the water crisis and Coronavirus) force change on us (i.e. reactively), we can also adopt new habits as human beings (i.e. proactively). Through internal drivers such as the right motivation and incentive, we can change our ways by committing to making new daily habits part of our routine, no matter our age or circumstances. After all, you are never too old to learn. Don’t wait for external factors to change what you have wanted or needed to change for a long time.

The same applies to organisational transformation. Every employee needs to be motivated to change their habits for the organisation to achieve what is required. As a leader, you will only be successful at realising organisational change and improving results exponentially if you inspire employees to change their habits proactively and entrench this in their daily routine. As we all know, though, changing habits is not a single conversation or an overnight process.

In fact, neuroscientists believe that it takes 21 days to entrench a new habit (coincidentally the length of South Africa’s lockdown).

As a leader, we have to be able to reach beyond relaying inspiring messages and organisational values. I believe that technology is one of the most powerful tools for doing this (communicating) and for changing habits which is why digital learning platforms and leadership communities are crucial for leadership development.

If you think about it, one of the reasons that apps exist is to help change habits. Instead of having a shopping list on the fridge, you now use a synchronised shopping list app. Instead of phoning to claim from your insurer, you now submit the details via their app. Apps have even increased the likelihood of you shopping online rather than going to the store. There is an app for you whether you want to be more productive, read more or facilitate improved teamwork.

Because we believe that authentic, engaging leadership also requires entrenching good habits and daily practice, we have developed an app for that too. ThinkLead® helps you to set goals for the behavioural change that you want to achieve based on your desired personal (leadership) brand, keeps you engaged and connected with fellow leaders, and supports you to stay on track with entrenching new habits by providing daily prompts regarding the required practices. Becoming and remaining leadership fit becomes a conscious movement.

Given the restrictions that the Coronavirus places on our face-to-face engagement, digital learning platforms and digital leadership ecosystems are now more relevant than ever before. To bridge social distance, we must be even more intentional about engaging, inspiring and building relationships i.e. we need to keep our distance but not be distant. We cannot allow the words “out of sight, out of mind” to ring true during this crisis – the situation that we find ourselves in must bring us together in new, sustainable ways. For us as leaders, this is about more than just standing up to lead those who are looking to us for direction in these times of turmoil – we must lead the way by example. Changing our habits will change everything.

Use the 21 days of lockdown to your advantage by entrenching a new desired habit that will serve you well when things return to “normal”. What new habit will you have rewired by then?

*Brian Eagar is a founder and the CEO of TowerStone Leadership Centre, whose vision focuses on empowering leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success. Visit https://www.towerstone-global.com/