A Leader’s Holy Grail: Stillness, Compassion, Candor & Hope

Our human compassion binds us; the one to the other, not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. ~ Nelson Mandela 

A few weeks ago, we wrote about maintaining composure and establishing connection through empathy and authenticity. This week, we explore what you can do as a leader to ensure you are at your best at a time when your people need you most. 

Things are hard. They are likely to get harder as this pandemic continues to ripple through the hearts of our organizations and society as a whole. We know that enormous loss, grief, and suffering are part of this COVID-19 storm, and so, the question becomes: How do we hold this reality and lead our organizations forward with strength and clarity?  

We believe the answer lies in our ability as leaders to reflect and connect inwardly, and then extend outwardly

Inward Connection. What’s going on inside of you? 

Tune-in & Cultivate Stillness. Remaining calm, centered and present during this chaos allows us to be the best version of ourselves. Decisiveness, creativity and innovation are the province of quiet minds. When we are feeling fear or anxiety, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and triggers our fight-flight-or-freeze response. This stress response short circuits our frontal lobe functioning responsible for things like problem solving, judgment, and maintaining focus. While this stress response is essential to our evolution and survival, it is not helpful for leaders navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. What many don’t realize is that there’s an antidote to the fight-flight-or-freeze response. This antidote elicits a relaxation response within us, resetting our nervous system and establishing the composure and stillness so critical for leadership. This stillness allows us to respond to situations as opposed to reacting to them.

To find stillness and heighten awareness, we have embedded four short mindfulness exercises below. Consider listening to these audios an addition to your physical regimen and wellness routine. These exercises may be more familiar to those of you who meditate or practice mindfulness. Nonetheless, for newcomers and meditators alike, these suggested practices will help to quiet your mind during this COVID-19 storm. Consider starting your day with one of these audios whenever you have a few minutes to yourself. Once you have a sense of what the audio entails, you can simply find a few minutes of quiet time, set your timer, and practice on your own.

Mindfulness Exercise: Finding Stillness

1. Research validates what yogis have known for thousands of years; breathing has a profound impact on your nervous system

2. Ground Yourself: A 5-minute Reset for Leaders –

3. The Power of Self Compassion: A Mini-Talk & Meditation for Leaders –

4. Mini-meditation to summon your inner-avatar and access stillness. Summon Your Inner Avatar

In setting aside a few minutes of intentional stillness every day, even if it’s a 2-minute Breathwork, you will position yourself to lead with calmness, clarity and purpose.  

Now that we have addressed the inward reflection and connection, let’s turn outward. Staying connected to your people breathes resiliency and a sense of calm into your culture.  

Outward Connection. What can you do outwardly to lead your team and your organization?  

Communicate with Candor. People deserve and appreciate candor regardless of how unpleasant the reality may be. Candor builds trust with your people. Here’s a brief list of “candor” recommendations to leaders everywhere:

  1. Consistently frame the current reality (e.g. what you know and what you don’t know) and its implications for your organization.  
  2. Speak with clarity about the organizational path forward. Tactical and strategic decisions (inclusive of layoffs, salary reductions, etc.) should be clearly laid out and explained. 
  3. Over-communicate given the isolation and virtual work environment of your people. 

Spread Hope. The positive energy of hope is incredibly important and sorely needed at this moment in time. Hope and optimism should be held in the same space as candor. Consider and articulate your vision for a “post-crisis reality” and focus on the possibility of positive transformation and newly emerging opportunities. Here’s a brief list of recommendations to help leaders instill hope:

  1. Become a storyteller. Stories are a powerful medium to breathe light into the darkness. Share current internal or external anecdotes highlighting compassion, heroism, kindness, innovation, etc.
  2. Leverage history. Cite historical examples of humanity overcoming crises and adversity. ( e.g. wars, pandemics, natural disasters, economic crises, etc.)
  3. Develop and launch “post-crisis” focused projects. Shift your people’s mindset by engaging them in longer dated solution-oriented initiatives. Where possible, complement immediate crisis management efforts with launching project teams that contemplate future “post-crisis” opportunities.
  4. Deliver hopeful messaging amidst these challenging times by highlighting the power of our interdependence and interconnectedness. While we can all debate what the new normal will be, holding a deliberate message of hope and resiliency for your people will provide steadiness to your organization.

An Ode to Hope.

Let us envision a world in which humankind celebrates its interconnectedness with newfound eyes. See kindness going viral to defeat this pandemic and spark an awakening for humanity. Globally, expect political and corporate collaboration and innovation heretofore unseen. Contemplate the world economy rising like the Phoenix from the ashes to create jobs, support our most marginalized population, and help fuel the economic recovery that this planet needs. Visualize an ocean of compassion extending to help heal the tremendous loss, grief, and suffering. Breathe in the air and beauty of a planet with clear skies and oceans, teeming with healthy animals, a home for future generations to hold sacred. Imagine our children growing up in a multicultural world free of bigotry, sexism and hatred…imagine a world like that.  

Find stillness. Extend compassion. Communicate with candor. Be a prophet of hope. 

In this together,

– Carrie Shumway and Cory Carlesimo at CQ Associates