Hang in there with me for a bit. This is Part 1 of a 2 Part-er
I’m trying to capture the prevailing mood of what’s happening these days.
We’re navigating the vague ambiguities of just about everything, and I’ve got
to admit, I’m struggling to come up with the words.
There’s a new kind of antsy with the current “half normal” weirdness we find ourselves in. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown.
The best descriptor is the secret phrase that got me through French in high school.
“Je ne sais pas.” ~ Simply “I dunno.”
August usually signals one of the more carefree months.
“Normal” means barbecues and beaches, a buffer time to ease off a bit, and recharge.
Later on, comes that creeping back-to-school, back-to-work, Sunday-night feeling.
But in August 2020? What kind of school? What kind of work?
What this will mean for many of us is a return to the home office (or couch) where we’ve been Zooming in varying degrees of casual since March.
“Take a simple idea and take it seriously.”
This pithy quote stuck with me and served as a visceral kick-starter.
The Idea: What if I start talking with fellow leaders about the toughest challenges that they are facing right now in our COVID-impacted world?
One of my projects over June and July was to invite 40 Leadership Conversations with leaders I know.
A huge “thanks” to those of you who participated in this.
I started personally inviting leaders to a focussed 15-20minute conversation with me around”
What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging and existing leaders in your sector today?”
The conversations have been rich and varied.
I’m still wrapping up, collating, and compiling results.
Why 40 Conversations?
Well, that seemed like a nice round sample number.
A bit of a stretch for me, but doable if I buckled down
(BTW, if you’re wondering “why didn’t I get a call on this?”, there’s still time.
More is better and I’d love to hear your story, so just hop on my scheduler, pick a time, and we’ll make it happen.)
Why now? We all have a bit more time.
Bigger Picture Why?
I need help articulating current realities for an Executive Leadership course I’ll be offering in October.
Leadership realities are often way more fluid than can be captured in the latest business bestseller. LE
Our Topic? What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging leaders in your sector today?
Here at HeyWhat’sNext? HQ, I like to ask the hard questions, keep us on our toes, mix things up, try new things.
This month is no different.
Most leadership newsletters give you a litany of best practices.
How many give you an opportunity for real-time feedback on leadership issues?
Here’s “40 Conversations” Part 1 Let’s get to it.
Today’s Toughest Leadership Challenge: Tackling Uncertainty
THE Bigee: Dealing With Uncertainty
The one thing that was top of mind for most everyone I spoke with was the topic of “uncertainty”. Most leaders I know are Ok leaning into a certain amount of the unknown. COVID has ratcheted this up to a whole new level.
Privately, it has everyone a bit freaked out. It casts a pall over everything.
A trusted friend, who is always a good bellwether on all things leadership says, “Yeah it’s very weird. Usually, I have a sense of plans and direction, but suddenly all my reference points have been wiped out. It’s hard to know if we’re even moving in the right direction.”
When we come up against situations that are charged with anxiety and ambiguity — a pandemic, a recession, a job loss, an unwanted family change — most of us have trouble thinking about an upside. We can easily become paralyzed by circumstances. It’s tough to see the bigger picture let alone figure a way forward. Scientists call this a status quo bias.
There’s Always Options
The key here is not to get stuck in “paralysis by uncertainty” It easy to be overwhelmed by the array of possible negative outcomes. Start rethinking things in the broader context.
To my way of thinking there are three distinct mental models that are clear options when thinking through the chaos of uncertainty.
- Accept and Navigate
One is that of defeatism and victim mentality. “Nobody ever tells us anything” and “They’re doing it to us again” are some of the common narratives of this mindset. It’s surprising to me how many “progressive” organizations, actually have little open and transparent communication. So “us against them” rumors are an easy way to explain what’s going on and why.
It comes quite naturally. Most people can quickly identify what’s wrong. It’s less instinctive to focus on what’s right and build upon that. It takes much more courage to correct a problem than to point and complain about the problem while waiting for somebody else to fix it. For some, it brings on personal existential crises.
Left unattended, cynics and naysayers can easily hijack our emotional well-being. You might need to point out that raising complaints without possible solutions can be unproductive and even harmful. If team members or co-workers insist on remaining a victim, I’ve gone so far as to encourage, or even help them to find another work setting. Unfortunately, with this mindset, things aren’t that different in a new job,
The second mindset is that of a survivor. These are the “let’s just get by” folks. Imagine a body of water where the surface is the status quo. Survivor mentality says “let’s just wait and see what happens” while furiously treading water. Sooner or later survivor mentality succumbs to victimhood or eventually “gets it” that change is necessary and either adapts or looks elsewhere.
The third mindset is that of a navigator. These folks look at an upcoming change and say “Hmm, this is really happening. How can I make this work for me and others on my team?”
Leaders who foster a climate of openness and welcome genuine dialogue about what’s happening earn a whole lot more respect and trust. It’s been my experience that with the right leadership coaching approach, staff colleagues and even family members can unlearn victim and survivor mindsets and actually become navigators.
Challenging the fear-based narratives by weighing objective evidence against imaginary outcomes needs to be on-going. Keep desirable alternatives or what you would prefer to happen front and center. Harness the power of imagery —you have a clear picture of what outcome you want from this situation. Ask yourself, what would a successful outcome look like? What would you be doing with the key players involved? How would you be feeling? What mindset have you adapted to rise above the difficulties and problems?
If anything, over-communicate and be very “present” during times of high uncertainty. Make the vision of the future, the picture, a very real presence in your communication. If they see a vision that you have, they will find new ways there. If they don’t see your vision, they will only find ways to do the tasks.
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
French philosopher Michel de Montaigne
During times of necessary, non-productive downtime, we often get stuck imagining extreme either/or outcomes.
Creative leaders who are adept at managing uncertainty think realistically in terms of probabilities.
I.E. It’s possible that a meteor can land directly on your house, BUT it’s much more probable that it won’t.
They also think in non- binary terms that include “both /and”.
If we can remember there is a context vaster than we might initially have thought, filled with more options than we might have envisioned,
we are much more likely to find what I call the best minimum viable outcome.
(A Minimum Viable Outcome is the most basic outcome you want to achieve)
Most importantly, with that broader mindset, we can weather the discomfort of unproductive uncertainty with greater optimism and calm.
Remember Those Options?
I recently reread Victor Frankl’s account of his years in concentration camps. I was struck by his observation of how critical it was to their
survival that his fellow prisoners could find meaning in their lives, even with their suffering.
His conclusion is a powerful testament to the potential for growth even in unthinkable circumstances.
He wrote: “Everything can be taken [from a person] but one thing: the last of human freedoms
— to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The opportunity to exercise that freedom is available to all of us — and it is key to finding a way forward in uncertain times.
Stay safe! Stay strong!
Until next time.
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