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01 FEBRUARY 2021
What kind of pants are you wearing?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.

We often use the expression, “It’s time to put your big boy/big girl pants on,” when telling someone that they need to start acting in a mature, adult way. With Covid-19 infections spiking at an unprecedented rate, maybe it’s time for all of us to put our big girl or big boy pants on in order to do our bit in reining in this out-of-control virus.

The measures imposed on citizens by governments around the globe in attempts to restrict infections have revealed that people simply don’t like being told what to do – even if the restrictions imposed on them are in their own best interests – and they will simply ignore such restrictions when it suits them, claiming that they have been “deprived of their freedom” or their right to “live their life”.

Such a reaction can be compared to the very common response parents get when they curb their teenage child’s movements by not allowing them to go somewhere for a reason they, as parents, deem valid.

What’s the typical reaction you get from your teenager when this happens?


Almost every parent of a teenager has had this thrown at them at some stage in their parenting careers.

Having worked extensively with teenagers over many years, I can say that the human teenager is probably the most selfish, self-centred species on the planet.

Now that’s not intended as a judgement or criticism of teenagers. It’s stating a truth that merely reflects a phase in their lives when their self-awareness is awakening, causing them to become self-absorbed as they start to explore their own identity, and tend to see themselves as the centre of the universe. This is a perfectly normal phase of their growth and maturation process and, hopefully, as their parents teach them that the world does not revolve around them, they continue to mature as psychologically healthy human beings, and emerge from their teenage years as caring adults who are able to engage in meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships and, in time, have children of their own

Speaking of which … It’s said that the ultimate revenge for parents is when their children have children. Many a grandparent chuckles to themselves as they hear their children, when they become parents, using phrases on the grandchildren that they used on the “now parents” children when they were young.

I mention all of this to point out that the self-centredness displayed by teenagers, while normal at that time of their lives, is not intended to be permanent. It’s something that well-adjusted and well brought up teenagers grow out of.

But, alas, too many teenagers do not grow out of this phase for many reasons, and remain emotional juveniles – even though they may become academically or technically highly qualified. And that’s what’s behind the juvenile reaction displayed by those “adults” who refuse to wear a mask, refuse to wash or sanitise their hands when necessary, refuse to socially distance and refuse to limit their social interaction to reduce their risk of catching the virus or infecting someone else. One can almost hear the teenager inside them protesting, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Meanwhile, thousands continue to die unnecessarily. And THAT’S not fair.

In contrast to this, a friend of mine returned from a business trip to the US just as the pandemic was starting to spread. I called him to ask him about his trip and clearly remember him saying that he was self-isolating because of the virus. This was in the early days of the pandemic so self-isolation wasn’t as common as it is today. When I asked him why he was doing this, he said that, if he caught the virus, he would probably survive, but he didn’t want to be responsible for passing it on to someone else who might die from it.

I was struck by the emotional intelligence and maturity of his response.

And now is the time for leaders and managers to assert their emotional maturity and emotional intelligence to encourage their employees to demonstrate responsible behaviour, not only in the workplace, but also in their homes and wherever else they may need to go (emphasis on “need”) in the course of performing their duties and living their lives.

In a world where everyone – yes, everyone – has become a novice, there is a desperate need for emotionally mature leadership and equally mature followership. Sure, none of us likes to have our daily activities and freedom curtailed, but the alternative could be having our activities permanently curtailed by a box, commonly known as a coffin.

I’ll let you in on a little secret … I simply HATE wearing a mask. It fogs up my glasses, muffles my speech and makes me quite hot and bothered – I almost undergo a personality change when wearing one. But I wear one whenever I step out of my home – and wash my hands thoroughly as soon as I get back, because those who know far more about the virus tell me that that’s what I should do. So I put on my big boy pants and do what I’m told.

If you’ve always been proud of belonging to the “Look, ma, no hands” brigade, it’s time to grow up and do the responsible things. Please, please, please … Put your big boy or big girl pants on and start making mature decisions and acting responsibly to play a positive role in getting rid of this virus so that we can all get back to a more normal life!

HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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