I have an incredible opportunity to work with a group of medical students regarding leadership development. A group of individuals that medicine so badly needs as it moves into the future. Part of our conversation yesterday revolved around the concept of maintaining calm amidst chaos. One of the students referred to Churchill’s walking the rubble every morning during the Battle of Britain in the early days of World War Two.
Her excellent question, verbatim, was: I’ve heard many great leaders talk about the necessity to maintain an even keel, but what does that development actually look like, how do we train ourselves to think that way?
Such an even keel cannot happen situationally. In my view, it is a trained, strategic response based on values, intentional focus, and a 30,000 foot life view that sees the big picture and how the current chaos fits into that picture. That picture that allows you, the leader, to apply the powerful mixture of reality and optimism. Keeping your people aware of what they are up against, at the same time infusing them with the optimism that this is an experience they can overcome.
How do you get that perspective? Let’s look at some quotes that sets the groundwork:
To start…Thorton Wilder, in his great play, Our Town, has one his characters, Emily, who has died, come back to life to visit her town for just one day. As she reluctantly leaves this chance to visit, after the one day, she says these poignant words: “Do … human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
Being present… in the moment… being mindful… are all currently popular phrases that emphasize the importance of the minute-to-minute focus necessary to gather the data that you need to communicates either the reality or the optimism. Most high drive people don’t do well here. You are usually too focused on the outcome and results.
And for those that might say, “what about those times where there is not optimism to share”? Consider the following statement by author Sarah Bran Breathnach:
“Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”
Sound too sappy to be real? “Heaven on earth…” a little much there? A little too spiritual perhaps for the pragmatics of business leadership?
I can understand those feelings, and would only suggest that you not let scepticism get in the way as you experiment with this ‘attitude of gratitude’ that has massive data validating that gratitude is a leadership gamechanger. It puts you, the leader into a completely different mindframe.
And if you are still struggling with some aspects of the quote let’s modify it for the professional world:
….when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our business life, but are grateful for the abundance that’s present – appreciation from and for others, amazing opportunities that constantly surface, reliable and loyal associates, the health to pursue dreams, challenges that, in retrospect, took us to an entirely new level of performance and opportunity – the wasteland of discouragement falls away and we experience heaven on earth.
From a different age and culture comes yet another perspective of this same topic. The ancient Roman philosopher Horace admonished, “Whatever hour God has blessed you with, take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.”
Are you getting the picture? If you want calm in the midst of chaos, there are some choices you need to make. Dwell in the present or past? Baggage, or letting it go? Anger or compassion? Decision or inaction?
Some closing thoughts:
My professional path before coaching was clinical counseling. One of my areas of specialty was grief. In the first session with a client, a question or comment would always surface regarding regrets. If the client answered with a sad and moving story regarding regrets, then I knew the grief path was cluttered and that recovery would be difficult.
However, if there was sadness, but also gratitude that those last conversations had occurred, that what had to be said was said, that inaction had been replaced by decision and action, then I knew, that while the grief road would challenging it would be one of healing, uncluttered by what ‘could have been’.
Harriett Beecher Stowe said it well: “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
Again, what does all this have to do with leadership?!?!
Because leadership has daily, weekly, and monthly graves. Situations whose doors are closed and are unlikely to open again, for a variety of reasons. Some are small. Others are significant. Again, your choice of considering the following before that door closes:
You cannot lead if you are not in the moment
You cannot lead if you are distracted by the anxiety of the possible bad to the degree that you overlook the enormous good
You cannot be present if you are tormented by what you could have done if you had been present…if you had not been distracted.
So, be with your people! Give them the calm in the chaos that you embody with your example of gratitude, reality – which includes inspiring accountability, vision, and compassion.
Leadership at that level is legacy leadership, which is leadership at it’s best