Leading through uncertainty: Making conscious choices
I love to wake before dawn. With a cup of warm tea in my hand, I sit and watch the night turn into day. I relish these quiet moments before my family rises, when the world outside is still silent. My phone too is silent and out of reach, invisible to me though it is bursting with content and desperate for my attention. I choose a slower start that allows me to step consciously and softly into the new day without being swept away by events that can sometimes feel out of my control. In this time of coronavirus, it’s especially true.
A few days ago, my husband entered the room, phone in hand, as the sun was rising. He read the notification: “Stock market plunges. Gun sales surge.” My stomach lurched as his words collided with the stillness of my morning. My mind shifted into high gear, as my thoughts churned: People are terrified; they are buying guns to protect themselves. People will turn on each other in this crisis; they will resort to violence to defend their families. There will be mass panic. We are doomed.
In the face of fear and uncertainty, how easily I latched onto that narrative. I was hijacked – body, mind and spirit. How did that happen? The stress of the current moment took me down a path I would not have chosen.
The situation we find ourselves in today is steeped in uncertainty. We have had to implement sudden changes to our lives, and we have no clear sense of when — or even, if — life will return to normal. And what will the new normal look like?
It’s natural to feel anxious at a time like this. What matters is how we process the situation, and the decisions we make. Does our anxiety take us down a path where we believe we need guns to protect our loved ones from a world that’s out of control? Or can we make a more conscious choice?
At this moment of crisis, we have an opportunity to create the kind of community we want to be part of. For example, we could respond by reaching out to family members or picking up groceries for neighbors. In our work lives, we could talk to our team members, listen and support them, or have those career conversations that we’ve been putting off for so long. Maybe you always wanted to try yoga or improve your mile time, read a book or even write one. This could be the time!
In any given moment, we can choose what is important and where to invest our attention and energy, knowing that our choices, combined, will have real impact.
I am reminded of the Cherokee legend about the two wolves:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
We are far from powerless. We may not have chosen the coronavirus, but there are so many things we can choose. They could be small things like how we structure our day, how often we check our phones or read the news. They could be bigger things, like the kind of leader we want to be, our values, how we think about the purpose of our organisations, how we connect and listen to people around us.
All of these choices will determine the quality of our lives on the other side of this crisis. We can be stronger and more connected as individuals, families, communities, teams and societies, or we can keep our heads down and let the days go by until this is over.
Take a moment now to reflect. What are you feeling? How can you use this time to make conscious changes? Have you latched on to a narrative that is keeping you stuck or disempowered? Are you perhaps acting defensively, feeling frustrated or disillusioned? Can you be better served by openness, hope and kindness?
In any moment we can choose how we respond and how we show up to lead. We all have the chance to shape a better tomorrow.
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This blog is part of a series on leading through uncertainty.
Part I: Leading self