Create Your Own Ground: Becoming Your Own Source of Stability in Uncertain Times
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
In my coaching conversations over this pandemic year, I started to notice a recurring question: "How do I lead my team when I myself have no idea what is happening?". It's a brilliant question, one that I think most of us have asked this year in at least one context or another.
The precedents that we have relied on to guide us are gone. The information that we need to take a decision is no longer reliable. Very little in our external world feels firm or able to source us.
How do we move forward when the ground beneath us has shifted, or perhaps disappeared entirely?
This question did not suddenly surface with Covid 19. It actually feels like the leadership question of our age. Buzzwords like VUCA business environment, the disruptive economy, the shrinking half-life of knowledge (it's now 12 years in the medical field and 3.5 in tech before your knowledge officially becomes irrelevant) have highlighted the importance of agile and responsive leadership. The environment has already been rewarding 'leaders who learn' over 'leaders who know'. It is just that the events of 2020, including the pandemic, have exponentially accelerated the need for leaders to answer this question for themselves. It is no longer a nice topic to consider. It feels more like a question of survival.
I've seen a variety of responses to extreme uncertainty this year amongst coachees, clients and friends. My own natural go-to response is to freeze. I first started exploring this topic about five years ago when I was leading a team in Shanghai and the leadership structure in my small (but global), family-like consulting firm imploded. People who had been there 20 years, who had been my mentors, who were my go-to resource for decisions, strategy and insight started dropping like flies. We would get a new departure announcement every week. Sometimes this meant that a whole part of our business was gone. I had no idea how to move forward. It felt like any decision I made would be nullified by one more gargantuan personnel loss or strategy change.
After two months of paralysis and telling my team to 'just hang tight till we get some more clarity', I realised we would spend the whole year in a state of tortured suspension if I didn't figure out how to move within the uncertainty, within the state of things exactly as they were. My team was based in Shanghai, Singapore and Boston and, as individuals, they meant the world to me. I could see that they were suffering and also stuck. They needed me to create some structure, clarity and safety for them that I didn't have myself.
I started studying learning agility, neuroscience, the nervous system, the gut brain, the vagus nerve and the body's response to stress. I started experimenting on myself. I tracked my energy over the work day. I changed my work hours. I tried out new boundaries. I wanted to understand my role in creating a state of psychological safety for myself, no matter what was happening around me. I watched to see if it would allow me to move through the world differently. Actually, I was looking for any movement at all!
I wanted to find out if I could create my own ground, even as externally, the ground was being pulled out from underneath me.
It took me on a five year journey. I'm still on that journey. It changed the way that I work. It has changed the way that I respond to stress and uncertainty entirely. It required me to unlearn the blueprint for success that I had operated under all my life as a performance-driven American.
In this blog series, I want to choose 3-4 easy things to try during this pandemic period that can create big changes. They will be simple and practical. They won't require a 5-year esoteric journey, though I recommend that as well! I tried all these things and they made my life feel different. I encourage you to do your own experimentation and see what happens! Or, even better, share your uncertainty hacks here for others to try.
The next blog is on "Corralling"!