What Are You Learning During This Challenging Time?

This is clearly a unique time in our world for us as individuals and our organizations. If ever we need to use our resilience skills it is now.

I have been focusing on being open. It is natural to want security, safety and to feel a sense of control during times of uncertainty. We naturally contract, make judgments about how people and things “should” be and it is easy to blame or to try to distract ourselves when we feel stressed. I have been asking myself, “Are You Open?” Then I stop and pay attention. If I feel grounded, present and optimistic about what is possible, I am gratefully open. If I am pessimistic and contracted, I sense that I am closed. I then pay attention to my emotions and the stories I am telling myself. Are things really as difficult as I am imagining? How can I reframe this as a challenge and opportunity for learning? I then work to cool down and to shift into a more open state where I pay attention to the possibilities and potential actions. We each need to identify our strategies for cooling down. There are lots of opportunities to strengthen the muscle of being open and resilient.

Leaders need to encourage team members to adapt an open mindset and to be open to what is possible during this time. A client of mine, the president of a large organization, has made changes that would have taken years to make that are putting the company in a stronger competitive position. More is required than just cost cutting. His leadership team has worked to be aligned and engage in open conversations. They are collectively imagining a new future together and taking bold actions. They recognize that there will be no returning to “normal.”

This can be a time of significant change. In the face of such challenges we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our organizations. It takes awareness, being open and real dialogue to collectively agree on and make such transformational changes.  

It is useful to remember that hardships are powerful learning opportunities for both leaders and teams. We can gain deeper self-awareness, compassion, curiosity and courage.  Leadership research demonstrates that dealing with hardships is a critical experience for developing impactful leaders. While success cannot be guaranteed there is much to learn during this time of the global COVID crisis, financial strains, structural bias tension as well as climate change challenges. This is a unique time for leadership teams to identify and align around a compelling vision and to gain commitment.  It requires agility and collective action. It is not easy and success is not guaranteed. However, learning can be. I hope you will remember to be open and take care of yourself and your team amidst this experience.

What will you say that you learned during this time?  How will you have grown in your leadership and life journey? How will your team and organization characterize this time?

Have You Told People How They are Making a Difference?

The purpose of life is to make a positive difference—Peter Drucker

I had the good fortune to attend the retirement celebration for a former client and friend. The event took place via Zoom and many of her colleagues, friends, family and community members attended. It was amazing to have so many people share how G. had made a difference in the major health care system she had been a part of for almost two decades. It became clear that she has been integral in creating a welcoming environment. She focused on continuous improvement and was integral to significant cultural change efforts.

Person after person confirmed her assets of being authentic, empathetic, supportive and committed to making a difference. Clearly, she has contributed and personally impacted many people. I hope she could take in how much she is valued, her contribution and legacy. She has built a community and has many positive relationships. People also shared that she enjoys travel, music and theatre and has built fun into her life. From this perspective I thought: that is a good and worthwhile life. I hope she feels valued and can appreciate what she has done.

I wonder how often we affirm people and let them know the contribution they are making. It would make all of our lives more meaningful if we did so. Often in organizations and in life we are running to the next activity. Sometimes it is hard to see impact until after the dust settles.

Ironically, G. wrote me an email to thank me and confirm the difference my work had made in her life and the organization. I am grateful for her thoughtfulness.

Who can you thank for their contribution and how they have made a difference in your life and organization? Can you appreciate how you are making a difference now?

We Can Support Each Other

Clearly so much is happening in our world these days. It is easy to feel challenged in the face of so many needed systemic changes. We can each do our part to make life better for others.

I recently have been hosting Leadership Conversation Circles with the goal of leaders supporting each other.  In small groups one person shares a challenge they are facing and the kind of support that would be useful. For example, one person talked about the fact that people are not being trained for jobs and there will be a shortage of workers for some positions. He asked fellow leaders for suggestions on how he can communicate his concern more and help communities educate workers for the needed roles. It will take companies, chambers of commerce and others to join together.  After he shared his concern and request, others asked questions, brainstormed and offered suggestions. The leader left with a clearer view of his question as well as an introduction to a leader in another city that had organized such a program as well as an introduction to someone at the Board of Education who is responsible for this issue.  

Another leader shared her overwhelm with the organization of her home office during this period of working from home. She asked for different perspectives on her challenge. She learned that she was not alone with such disorganization and that made her feel less judgmental toward herself. In addition, it became clear that she had tried various systems on the market and she really needed someone to support her in working with the way her mind works. Another person in the group knew of a coach in her area who had also had training in how to organize. She left feeling understood with a perfect connection.

A third person focused on a personal challenge that she was having with colleagues and her frustration with interactions. She left the meeting with a whole new understanding of how her colleagues may be experiencing the situation. She felt understood by the group and had a new way of engaging with her colleagues. 

Each leader brought a different challenge to the group and each left with greater understanding. All of the participants gained a deeper understanding of how they can effectively lead. Most importantly, the leaders were open and shared their concerns and were grateful to support one another and to be supported. We are interconnected and we need each other.

Many of the participants followed up with each other and made lasting connections. Participants said the experience was “transformational”, “enlightening”, “fulfilling” and “uplifting.”

We need to create opportunities to listen to one another, ask powerful questions and to genuinely support one another. We all benefit from the experience.

Will We Commit to Transformation?

I have had a lot of conversations recently about systemic inequities and racism. I have supported many organizations in creating more inclusive cultures and have conducted hundreds of focus groups around race, gender and other differences. I have coached many leaders and teams around these issues. It is from this work that I developed the OASIS Conversations process. I could see that we are not skilled in talking with each other about these challenging issues and creating environments of respect. It is easy to feel misunderstood or blamed. It is hard to admit that there are inequities that each of us has contributed to. We are each conditioned by our background experiences. While most of us don’t intend to be biased, we are often unaware of the impact of our statements and actions. The OASIS process supports us in noticing our judgments and reactions and shifting to being open and understanding to co-create shared solutions.

There is a great cost to individuals, organizations and communities for a lack of inclusion and inequity. We are at a unique time in our history where, while there is uncertainty in many arenas, there is also significant opportunity. We need to make changes within ourselves, in our organizations and in society. Will we commit to transformation? We need to be more open to one another.

I continue to be committed to learning, making a difference and contributing to the solution. And the solution is not easy or readily apparent. It is going to take each of us to make the commitment for increasing our understanding, engaging in conversations and taking action.

First, it is valuable to educate ourselves. We can’t pretend to understand the experience of others. Do we know what it is like to not be able to catch a cab because of the color of our skin or the fear a mother has when her black son is driving? There are a lot of resources to study to educate ourselves. When we understand the history of our country and the experiences of others that will help us to be more empathetic. We have all been impacted by our conditioning.

Then we need to be emotionally intelligent. We need to recognize that we are each having different experiences and that we are literally paying attention to different observable data. What is apparent to one person is literally not visible to another. We are each making different assumptions and experiencing different emotions and judgments.

We can learn to be more open and curious and truly listen to one another. We can become more self-aware and shift to being open-minded and open-hearted. 

As we truly listen to one another and empathize with compassion, the solutions will naturally emerge.

We need to have these conversations in our families, workplaces and in our communities.

We need to also change processes and structures to ensure equity.  We need to elect politicians who can change larger policies and we can change practices in organizations and communities.

I appreciate that leaders in organizations are coming forth with commitments to invest energy and resources in creating more inclusive and collaborative cultures. Many are committing to donate to organizations that are working on addressing systemic bias.

We can each make a commitment to action. I will be facilitating groups where people support each other in being open-minded and taking actions to make a difference. We know that transformation will take time, effort and discomfort. This time of uncertainty may be the perfect time to create more open and collaborative organizations and communities.

Commit to one action today to be a part of the collective solution where people know that they matter and to collectively make the world better for all.

What do we do now?

Clearly, this is a time of disruption and uncertainty. It is not easy. We are seeing more and more challenges in our lives, workplaces and world. Some of the challenges such as inequities and environmental issues seem unsurmountable. How do we collectively come together to address these challenges when we have such different perspectives?

It is easy to challenge and blame others for not seeing or understanding what is apparent to us. I recall often the experiment that I share in my OASIS Conversations course. In this classic experiment, conducted by Daniel J. Simons, participants are asked to count how many times a ball is passed between people in white shirts. With this focus, more than half of participants fail to see a person dressed in a gorilla costume walk out and through the group throwing the balls. We have limited ability for attention to take in all of the observable data that is available. This is our human condition. This makes it more understandable when others do not see what for us is so clear. The way to develop next steps and answers to address the challenges related to race, inequities and other issues is to engage in real dialogue.

Rather than judging and blaming each other or forcing our views on others, we need to listen to one another and with compassionate curiosity understand what others are experiencing. Then we collectively need to create new ways of living and working together.

You’ve heard Einstein’s adage “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” It will take leaders to encourage empathy, shifting from “me” to “we” thinking and to collectively explore new solutions to create an environment that works for all. 

We can each be a leader in our sphere. We need to acknowledge our own emotions and embrace the uncertainty, and with an open-mind and open-heart we can be optimistic about new possibilities.

I believe a critical practice for resilience and thriving is to ask ourselves often, “Are you open?” And then we need to acknowledge our thoughts and emotions with kindness. Then step back, cool down and shift to being open. When we are open, we are prepared to listen, learn and collectively co-create a positive future.

Make being open your intention.

You are welcome to learn more on June 5 at this webinar.

Embrace Resilience

It has been remarkable to experience the changes related to the pandemic. Across the world, people stopped activity and focused on a common challenge. We can see that changes are evolving and our lives and world will be different.  We know that change is a constant. How do we be resilient during this time of uncertainty?

There are many levels of resilience required. At a personal level, I believe we need to make the intention to be open to what is emerging. This means we need to acknowledge and accept our range of emotions and trust that we are capable of seeing new possibilities and adapting as needed. We need to take care of ourselves with the basics of rest, healthy food, exercise and meaningful connections to enhance our energy. When we practice being open, we will recognize patterns and needs, be able to draw on our strengths, experiment and learn. It is through adversity and challenges that we grow.

Resilience at an organization and community level is also needed. Here we need to engage in open-minded conversations with others and create the conditions for awareness, innovation and collaboration. We need to focus on being inclusive and respectful of different points of view and perspectives. Given the uncertainty, it is too easy to exaggerate polarization and fail to listen and understand one another. When we are centered and open, we are in a leadership position to be compassionate and support collaborative conversations. We need the multiple perspectives and diverse talents and strengths to create positive environments and clear agreements.

Let’s work to be grounded, open and clear about our intent to be resilient and a positive force as we collectively create new possibilities. 

Explore an Issue You Care About

There are so many challenges facing us and our collective society. Do we have adequate health care for all? How will we strengthen our environment? How do we ensure peace amidst polarization? How do we address food scarcity? How do we support those who are isolated and lonely? How do we deal with biases and create inclusive compassionate environments? There are so many more. 

It is easy to feel overwhelmed at the mountain of challenges in our own lives and in our communities. One response is to say it is too much and to feel helpless. Another option is to choose one issue that you care about, say climate issues. Then make the commitment to learn more about that issue. There are many resources available. Then you may choose to work with or support an organization that is focused on that issue. You may simply donate or write letters to politicians or plant trees. It sounds simple, but what if each of us devoted some of our time and talents to an issue we care about?

There is great value in picking an issue and devoting time to learning and supporting that issue. You will get the benefit of feeling more on purpose which provides meaning. You will connect with others who also care about the issue and you will see benefits for the planet or community.

Also, connect with others who want to make the world a bit better and support each other with your projects. I have hosted some of these groups and it is amazing how we can easily provide resources and ideas for each other. We create awareness, feel less alone and are more committed to taking action.

Take the first step today of devoting some time, even if an hour a week, to learning more about an issue and exploring. 

Conversations with Peers are Essential Now

I facilitate virtual courses for leaders on how to engage in open-minded conversations and to create positive and productive relationships and environments. In addition to the content and coaching, a big benefit of such a course is for participants to connect with peers across the organization and to learn from one another.

During this pandemic period of uncertainty, leaders need one another more than ever. Many leaders are working from home and are under a lot of stress both personally and professionally. When they give empathy to each other it enables them to better support their teams.

In addition, they share ideas of how to operate in this new environment. For example, one leader mentioned that staff were worried about resources being taken away from some projects and thus job security for his team. Another pointed out the need for the project and how the changes were temporary to respond to Covid-19 issues. The first leader was relieved and had a way of responding to his staff.

Peers are positioned to provide empathy and support in a way that others are not.  I believe this is a time for peers to convene in small groups using the virtual platforms and technology to provide support to one another, to engage in creative problem solving and to encourage engagement and positive cultural change.

Peers could be convened to find creative ways to move forward with the goals of the organization and to work on projects that will benefit all. During this liminal space it will not be business as usual. It is an opportunity for new structures and new ways of communicating. Participants in my programs say the convening is a respite and positive experience. It is rewarding to hear about the impact on staff and the organization as they take collective action.

Platforms such as Zoom offer functions and ways of connecting that are efficient and effective. For example, all participants can be seen and the chat function allows all peers to be heard and a way to generate innovative solutions.

Support peer conversations for greater impact on all levels.

What Are You Learning from this Experience?

Experiences such as the coronavirus pandemic remind us that we are not in control. We can’t control such external circumstances but we can manage how we respond. First, we need to notice our reactions, our fears and concerns. We can give empathy and compassion to the part of us that is concerned. Then we can be open to more creative responses. 

It is normal that we have a range of emotions when faced with uncertainty and disruption. It is also good to remember that some of our best learning and growth comes from challenging situations. Some have called this post-traumatic growth.  We don’t usually wish for more difficulties but I know that out of my hardships came my strengths. For example, I now see the benefit of struggling to earn money for college and it is out of some of the challenges I faced in the workplace that I pursued my doctorate, research and then developed leadership programs.

My coaching clients report many new insights from this coronavirus experience. Some are appreciating family and health more. Some report that changes have been made in a few weeks in their organizations that would have taken years to implement.  They appreciate their teams and the importance of team cohesion. 

It is useful to reflect on what lessons this experience is offering you. We actually each have the opportunity to reset.  We can re-examine the habits we want to pursue and reflect on what is most important to us. We can look for opportunities for growth. 

Pause and reflect on what you are learning from this experience and how you are growing.

Who Do You Want to Be During this Pandemic?

During this time of uncertainty and disruption we are each experiencing many emotions—fear, worry, concern about health, finances and the future. Many of us are working long hours and are tired. We have additional stresses such as home schooling, not being able to see family and friends, the need to socially isolate and the disruption of habits.

When we are stressed and contracted we can be irritable and not our best selves. It is easy to be swept away with negativity as we hear fear-inducing news reports.

A useful exercise is to reflect on who you want to be during this time. How are you taking care of yourself? What habits can you incorporate that support your health and well-being. Are you reaching out to those you work with and care about? Are you being courageous and taking positive action?

In a virtual workshop I am facilitating leaders focused on creating respectful environments for their teams. They took time to really listen to hear what their team members were experiencing during this time. They gave empathy and appreciated some of the challenges. They found it rewarding and experienced more connection with their team and more energy. 

Having the intention of being present, empathetic, caring and connecting with others benefitted not only the leaders but those around them. They found the same behaviors enhanced their family life too.

Take a moment to reflect on who you want to be at home and work during this time and set your intention.