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Are you someone’s They?

Are you someone’s They?
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What are they saying now?

Have you seen what they’ve said?

Well apparently what they’re saying now is…

They’ve changed their minds now and…

They mean…

They want…

They what?

Who are ‘They’?

‘They’ are our political leaders, scientists and experts. ‘They’ are the people in charge. ‘They’ are the fact givers, the decision makers, the bosses, the leaders. ‘They‘ are the grown-ups.

Covid-19 has acutely highlighted the need for these people, for the experts, for advice and for timely and clear facts. It has shone a light on our political leaders and the need for good communications that focus on detail rather than opinion and exposition. It has exposed the need for real leadership.

But leadership is not a special person or a group of people. Leadership – especially now, as the world is in the middle of a paradigm shift – shouldn’t always be sought or given exclusively from ‘They’.

Let’s start exploring this by noticing – really stopping and noticing what’s going on, not just looking. This means noticing both internally and externally. What are you feeling right now? What are you sensing? What are you witnessing? Here’s what I’m noticing:

  • A lack of meaning, a questioning of the world order, untested assumptions, unclear aims and goals.
  • A lack of value and a feeling of exclusion, exacerbated by self-isolation, alienation and disengagement.  
  • A lack of structure: What are the rules? How should we work now? Which goals are still important? How are we communicating with each other, is there an agreed approach?

We’re witnessing this vacuum of meaning, value and structure in the bombardment of catastrophising media coverage, in confusing messaging, in our communities, and in our homes. We’re seeing it in the faces of our loved ones, strangers we pass on the street, and our news readers.

When we look to ‘They’ for answers sometimes we are left wanting. And when that happens, all that matters is what we do. In this way, we can reframe how we understand and think about leadership:

  • Leadership is not a special person but a very real and vital form of action. Importantly, it is an action that can and should come from anywhere.
  • It is a collective form of action for the good of everyone.
  • It is a behaviour – courageous behaviour that challenges the status quo and looks to address the absence of meaning, value and structure.

Ask yourself: Are you someone’s ‘They’? What might people be looking to you for during these tumultuous times? What we need right now is advice, facts, support, ideas and tasks to work on – and probably a whole lot more to boot.

Earlier this week, Impact hosted a webinar on Leading Virtual Teams. It was an online space that drew in nearly 200 people. I found it really profound watching these hundreds of names and locations pop up; it seemed to elevate the webinar to something that was more than a learning and leadership and development space. It became a space for wisdom to be shared. It became a space for the hopeful, the scared, the pragmatic and the patient. It became a space for much more. We held that space, we asked questions and we listened. What emerged was a collective empathy, as participants started solving each other’s problems.

For me, creating this webinar was exactly the right thing to do at this moment. It provided an important communal space for people to talk about their anxieties and feelings. It made us collectively lean into this moment and empathise with one another.

So, consider now how we want to lean into this further and how we will all emerge into a new future. Will we come out of this more empathetic and ambitious for each other? Or will it be straight back to business? Will it be somewhere in the middle?

I can only hope that this crisis will make us pay attention and notice things in a much more profound way. With that in mind, here’s a thing I’ve noticed: I think the term ‘Social distancing’ is a misnomer. I am witnessing physical distancing but increased social connecting – people are reaching out and listening to each other.

What will ‘They’ need from us when this is over? How will we view ‘They’ when we have renewed energy and optimism?’ I know one thing for sure: in their absence, maybe you can become one of them.

I’d like to end with a quote by Toni Morrison: ‘We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.’ With that in mind here is a poem by Laura Kelly Fanucci that has buoyed my spirit.

When this is over,

may we never again

take for granted

A handshake with a stranger

Full shelves at the store

Conversations with neighbours

A crowded theatre

Friday night out

The taste of communion

A routine check-up

The school rush each morning

Coffee with a friend

The stadium roaring

Each deep breath

A boring Tuesday

Life itself.


When this ends,

may we find

that we have become

more like the people

we wanted to be

we were called to be

we hoped to be

and may we stay

that way - better

for each other

because of the worst.


Dom Fitch is Head of Creative Change at Impact.