Leadership is contagious, it is emotionally infectious. It takes only 8 seconds for people to pick up on the tone and mood of a leader during an interaction. With the swirl of negative news and the sense of urgency to take action, the leader’s first inclination is to dive in and get things moving. Unintentionally, the initial impression can be discouraging and adding to the sense of fear people are feeling.
Ironically, we are more connected during the pandemic than we were before, mainly through technology. With a constant stream of Zoom meetings and staying in touch through social media, personal conversations have increased. Naturally, we share our concerns about the uncertainty facing us, around our health, our economic future, and where the world is going. And our lives have been disrupted, our dependable routines have been uprooted.
We experience a greater feeling of stress, which heightens our tendency to ruminate on what may happen. The pressures lead us down roads of mental catastrophes – we could lose our job, we could face bankruptcy, we could get sick. This rumination can even make us feel disoriented at times as to what is real, and what is not, and our decisions and attention can be affected.
A few months ago, there was a sense of grief in the air – a realization of the world as we knew it changing irrevocably. There were things we would miss, but changes and opportunities to look forward to as we moved through the crisis.
As the upheaval around us has continued, without end in sight, the feeling now is becoming more of distress. We try to mask it to others, but within us, we are anxious about what is ahead.
We are becoming overwhelmed with negative news, with competing messages, we are moving to a place where everything is urgent. We are always on, as it seems we need to be – or it feels that way.
I am familiar with this headspace. Having faced mental health issues for many years, I appreciate the sense of stress, of ruminating about issues now and next (and in the past), and the rising tide of anxiety that wells up inside. The news, the screen time, the endless decisions, all of it affects our sense of time and space, we worry, we lose sleep, and we try not to let others see it. It is a lot of pressure to carry.
Now, more than ever, we need leadership – leaders who are centered and grounded. Bravado, ignoring the issues, and placating us with soothing comments about ‘everything will be okay’ is not helpful. Nor is a frantic and frenzied racing to put fires out supportive.
For a business to move forward effectively, leaders themselves need to be ready first, so they can support and encourage the people who work with them to be realistic and adaptable. If we cannot find the future, how can we support others around us to see the opportunity and have hope?
As a start, it is essential that leaders invest the time in four core principles of resiliency – get enough restful sleep, exercise, meditate or journal or whatever gives you pause to reflect and be present with your most important relationships. Even if you feel the time is not there, or face misplaced guilt about putting you first, protecting your wellbeing as a leader is critical to support the people around you.
The role of the leader then becomes providing a positive and proactive perspective for the organization.
A friend, himself a successful entrepreneur, mentioned a term last week that stayed with me as a guide for getting centered for others. He said we needed to find a way to be conscious leadership.
The image of the conscious leader intrigued me. We can help our companies be ready for what is ahead only if we are prepared internally. But with a constant stream of noise swirling around us, and fires on all sides, we just react. It feels a bit frantic, and we can be abrupt, and impulsive to the point of careless as everything is needed right now. And we are tired.
This is the anxiety cycle where we slide in times of extended crisis – our stress goes up, our confidence goes down, and our judgment gets clouded. It is not an encouraging image.
Yet, I am optimistic. I see a future, one with opportunity. For me, the concept of conscious leadership is the answer to finding the future, no matter the storms, and keeping it in view.
In thinking about conscious leadership, I see a mindset framed by knitting five aspects together.
I feel it starts with being deliberate. By having clarity of vision and purpose, we know where are going and why it matters. The vision is the foundation of context for us to make decisions as best we can, being able to adapt as needed. Clarity of vision enables us to be deliberate in the face of uncertainty and adversity as we know where we are trying to go and can figure our path through it all.
While being deliberate, we are also aware, sensing the trends and movements happening around us, and taking time to reflect and be open. It is about being informed, asking questions, gaining perspectives, and making sense of it all in context to our vision. We are mindful, appreciative of others, and how events are shaping their feelings and thoughts. And we are responsive, deciding thoughtfully to take timely action in view of the environment and our vision.
Being conscious, centered in a purposeful vision is more important now than ever. Even though it may feel you are drowning in the face of rising tidal waves and have no time to think about purpose, it is a centered focus that helps to see above the turbulence and get into the best position to move with the tide.
We cannot predict what will happen or pretend to know what lies ahead, but we can be authentic as to why it all matters. The world around us is emergent, shifting, and evolving, and we need to be comfortable to test our way through, change if needed, and figure out what will work best. We can only do that if we are conscious entrepreneurs centered in our vision.
To support our companies to be ready for what is next, we need to take a break from the distractions to get into a position of conscious leadership, so we are ready. Leaders need to provide both physical and psychological safety for their teams.