The call for courageous leadership in days like these is more important than ever.

Why?

Because authentic leaders find their mojo in times of great uncertainty.

Now’s not the time for a predefined response plan.

It requires leaders with behaviors and mindsets that deal with the realities, prevent overreaction, and lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow.

The Panic

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

 “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”  M. Tyson  

This quip came from world champion boxer Mike Tyson when a reporter asked him about his “fight plan” for an upcoming opponent.

It captures that sinking feeling of panic and disorientation when things go horribly wrong.

Seemingly overnight, jobs flew out the window, vibrant businesses failed and investments tanked. Everyone I know is struggling to cope. If your health or family routines have been turned upside down its little comfort that this is happening across the nation and around the world. A whole new 27 million North Americans had to claim unemployment these past few weeks.

Science tells us that when we face threatening change, our “caveman software” kicks in. Suddenly fight, flight or freeze responses are triggered and we experience a flood of random emotions from anger, denial, anxiety to just plain old fear. Composure dissipates. We’re not at our best

Now’s the time to take a deep breath, literally and figuratively, and decide what really matters. Rely on your faith, training, experience, skill, and instincts to figure out the next right thing to do. Then move towards that in the very best way that you can.

We’ll likely have to shelter in place for a while longer.

There’s a lot of uncertainty between now and our new normal, the next normal, and the never normal.

There will likely be false “all clear” in some regions. There may be future spikes. But everything will play out.

It’ll be different, but ok.

The Pause 

“April seems like it lasted a year and March seems like a distant lifetime ago”

The forced suspension of plans, travel, schedules, and times with family and friends pale in comparison to the real devastation of lives lost. The daily news updates tell the story.

There’s unfathomable grief for those who’ve lost loved ones to this insidious pandemic. There is care and concern for those who are suffering loss and genuine economic hardship.

The things we learned?
We learned that shaking hands can be deadly.
That the economy can stop overnight.
We’re all more vulnerable and fragile than we’d like to believe.
How people can bond in adversity, and how isolating lockdown can feel.

There is also a slowly dawning reality.

While health care workers and home-schooling parents are busier than ever, much of the rest of the world has come to a screeching halt.

Streets are emptier, the air is cleaner, even at a distance, people seem friendlier and more supportive.

Perhaps a growing recognition that life just got simpler?

Perhaps the whole world as we know it just got a cosmic “time out”.

We’ve suddenly been given a windfall gift of time. A chance to reset. A chance to reflect how fragile, human, and inter-dependant we actually are.

Processing Forward 

When friends, colleagues, and clients are making hard decisions about, layoffs, personal futures, and whether or not to keep the business doors open, the best thing I can do is stifle my internal advice monster and simply “be there” for them.

Many of the questions I’m being asked these days don’t have easy answers.

Talking things through to cope with the present seems to be the foremost healing conversation.

Some sample questions and scenarios I’m coming across:

“When does this end? I wish I knew when this would all be over.”
Often this question masks deeper concerns.  My response is usually something like, “What part of this have you found to be the hardest?”
This allows us to identify and talk through those deeper concerns.

“What’s something you’ve learned during this crisis you would have never expected?” 
This uncovers hidden capabilities and resilience.

“What’s one thing you hope remains after this crisis?” 
We can acknowledge things we’ve discovered that we actually enjoy — like the perks of remote work and extra family time.
It helps to see past the current challenges.

“What’s the absolute  worst thing you could imagine happening from all of this?”
This helps sort through real concerns vs. irrational or imagined concerns.
Those prone to worry have trouble distinguishing between what’s “possible” and what’s “probable”.

What is something you’re looking forward to when things somewhat normalize?  
Having some well-defined goals can have a powerful effect to mitigate anxiety.

Coping with current reality while laying the groundwork better days is leadership job 1.

Until next time,

Lorne

 

Feel free to connect with me here and Let’s Just talk 

 

JUST FLY THE PLANE!

Focus on what matters.

It’s both profound and eerie to be living out this moment in history in real-time.

Everything happened so fast.

And it keeps on happening in waves. It overwhelms.

History, as you and I are living it, has taken a pivot toward the unknown.
We can feel the change, even as so many things stay the same.
But we can’t know where it will end. We watch instead and stew.
We scroll through all the news trying to filter out “what does this mean for me?”

The confirmed cases.
The jobs lost.
Empty schools.
The businesses to be closed.
Quarantine?
Isolation?
Potential worldwide recession?

We watched the world change and the future shrink this week.

It turns out timelines only really matter when you’re feeling safe.

A few short days ago we could speak of five-year plans. Today, even next month feels impossible to see.

Gotta admit that  I’m finding it hard to process all this. This degree of change and overwhelm plays havoc with our human sense of pace and scale.

Just Fly the Plane!

Like you, I’m finding it hard to focus forward right now.

This has become an anchoring phrase or mantra for me.

“Just fly the plane” is a phrase from one of my favorite books called “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. 

He gives an actual sample of the checklist for ENGINE FAILURE DURING FLIGHT.

The very first item on the list is “Fly the Airplane!.
Beyond that, instructions are surprisingly sparse.

In times of extreme crisis, as pilots run through worst-case scenarios,
they need a reminder to focus on the most important job they have, flying the airplane.

Figuring out what really matters at this moment is the job of a leader.

From there on, it’s all about relying on your training, experience, skill, and instincts to figure out the next right thing to do and then do it the very best that you can.

The priority is to focus on our primary responsibilities; our family, our friends, our faith, our businesses.

As we are forced to slow down, there is an opportunity to do the work we’ve put off amid the swirl and busy-ness to which we are constantly subjected.
But we may need to be reminded. It may need to be the first item on the list.

Suddenly, all of that stuff I’ve put off, all of the things I meant to get to personally and professionally are available for me to do now.

Why I Like Checklists

It’s easy to scoff at checklists when we think of them as scrawled reminders or a glorified to-do list.

However, when a checklist outlines what really matters In a concise user-friendly format, it becomes a powerful tool.

A few things on my pandemic strategy checklist are:

1. Keeping some things that are familiar and at the same time establishing some new routines that support self-care- physical, mental, spiritual, emotional.

2. Being available for “friend support” and staying connected with you and others who are important in my life, even though we’re socially isolating and distancing.

3. Practicing self-discipline by putting some boundaries on “worry time”. I.E. not over-saturating with ongoing updates. It’s good to stay informed. Overdoing it can lead to anxiety-fuelled fatigue.

4. Getting back to some of those personal and work projects that have been waiting. Especially those under finished “deep work” type projects that require uninterrupted focus.

5.Taking things (and days) one at a time. Finding ways to help and support others less fortunate.

6. Finding gratitude and joy in the things that I can do. Making a checklist of things to get back to once this blows over.

I can’t pretend to know what happens next.
I do know that you and I still have work to do, and as we try to understand all that’s happening.

We all have to focus forward.

Stay safe.
Stay healthy.
Stay home (if you can)

Until next time,
Lorne

Are you finding this article useful? There’s more at #HeyWhatsNext?

PS I’m working with several clients right now to chart their course through this unique moment.

Each business has challenges, but each call ends with greater clarity.

Each person leaves with a plan that makes sense for them, even in times of uncertainty.
If your mind is spinning and you’re trying to figure out the next steps for yourself or your business, let’s talk.

All you need for our first call is your time and attention; I’ll bring mine as well. Ready to get started? Let’s connect.

The Surprising New Role For Humility in Leadership

 

“If virtues were animals, humility would be the Saola”

In the mountainous rainforest of Vietnam and Laos lives the Saola.

Sometimes called the “Asian Unicorn”, it’s one of the rarest animals in the world. This forest-dwelling species was discovered in 1992 based on finding three skulls with unusual, long, straight horns.

Researchers searched for 20 years but never saw the animal in the wild. It was only after a motion-sensitive camera captured its image on film that scientists caught a glimpse of one alive in nature.

Little is known about the enigmatic Saola (pronounced sow-la) in the two and a half decades since its discovery. None exist in captivity and this rarely-seen mammal is already critically endangered. Scientists have categorically documented Saola in the wild on only four occasions to date.

Humility Like the Saola is rarely found in nature—and nearly impossible to catch by searching for it directly.

In their 2017 book, Humility is the New Smart! Rethinking Human Excellence, authors Edward Hess and Katharine Ludwig work the premise that we are on the threshold of a Smart Machine Age (SMA) led by artificial intelligence.

This change will be as transformative for us as the Industrial Revolution was for our ancestors. The insurgence of Artificial Intelligence will take over many jobs and functions that people now do.

There’s no doubt that AI is already helping/disrupting/raising hard questions in challenging new ways.

Artificial Intelligence now helps us make appointments, drive, gather food, diagnose illnesses and maybe even helps with some other popular human activities.

I sometimes wonder if Siri and Alexa hang out together. If so, what do they talk about? Bixby? Cortana? You? Me?

In the face of all of this Artificial Intelligence uncertainty, Hess and Ludwig offer the following game plan:

We humans need to excel at critical, creative, and innovative thinking and at genuinely engaging with others—things machines can’t do well. We need to reframe our perceptions and assumptions of what constitutes intelligence and begin concentrating on the development of our soft skills.

They even coined the phrase for this: “NewSmart”.

The NewSmart creators go on to offer up a chart to show what it should look like.

 

Old smart NewSmart
I know I’m good at not knowing
I tell I ask
Defend my views Improve my views
Seek confirmation Seek truth
Close mind Open mind
Insecure if beliefs are challenged Insecure if beliefs are NOT challenged
Mistakes are bad Mistakes are learning opportunities
Perfectionism Learning

The crucial underlying mindset for NewSmart is… (tabletop drumroll please) Humility!

“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” Confucius

In 2001, researcher and business writer Jim Collins introduced the concept of Level 5 Leadership as an effective style of Leadership that blends humility with competence and grit.

Ever since then I’ve been both a fan and an ever-learning student of this concept. That’s why the perspective in this book about Humble=Smart piqued my interest.

Back then, Collins’ research had already shown that leadership rooted in humility
could unleash tremendous scale-able results.

Like its close cousin authenticity, humility is that elusive trait at the epicenter of so many good things for leaders, individuals and entire enterprises.

Here’s the thing.

One unfortunate expectation of our modern age is that everything needs some kind of hack.
There’s unrelenting pressure to save time and optimize.

The other wild card factor is human nature. We relentlessly resist voluntary change until the cost of not changing becomes too great. I can’t see people waking up one day and saying. Uh-oh. AI is threatening my job so I better get humble. It just doesn’t work that way.

Sorry, Lifehacker. I don’t think humility is hackable.

What I can offer from decades of lived experience is that humility, like the Saola, needs a supportive ecosystem and a mindset of fierce resolve in order to survive.

It’s a quality that is earned in the journey of life. The journey includes hard knocks, kicks in the pants, failures, disappointments, and loss. There’s no one size fits all formula.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. C.S Lewis

In 2016, New York Times writer and author David Brooks released a thought-provoking book called “The Road to Character.” This is an account of Brooks’s effort to find his way out of shallow punditry—or, as he puts it, to “cultivate character.”

He too espouses humility as the prime ingredient in the bumpy path.

Towards the end, he summarizes what he calls a “ Humility Code”

Any one of this 15 point summary could be the subject of an entire blog post. Here are some of my favs from David Brooks.

The road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature and recognizing we are flawed creatures. We have a tendency to be self-centered and overconfident. However, we are not the center of the universe.

It doesn’t matter whether we work for a hedge fund or charity; there are heroes and schmucks in both worlds. The most important thing is our willingness to engage in the struggle for virtue. After attending to the basic necessities of living, this is our central purpose.

Pride blinds us to our weaknesses and makes us think we are better than we are. Pride drives us to prove that we are better than others and makes it hard to be vulnerable before those whose love we need.

Life for all of us is “U” shaped. We advance, retreat and so on. The redemption always comes in the form of “grace.” When admitting our failure, help comes in many different forms. When we recognize that you and I are unconditionally accepted and we accept what is, the path forward and accompanying gratitude usually arrives.

“When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom”. Proverb of Solomon

Another macro viewfinder that informs this whole topic is Robert Greenleaf’s  Servant Leadership. His Ten Principles have formed the basis of some remarkable 21st-century enterprises including Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, and the Marriott Hotel chain.

Back to our question. Is humility really the new smart way to combat and mitigate the encroachment of the Smart Machine Age?

Maybe. Depends.

It can’t hurt to give it a try.

Until next time,

Lorne