So here we are just past the first peak of a virus outbreak. A BIG shock for our NHS leaders and the world. Part of me wonders if this is a big wake up call to the reality that things can change at any time, in any way. We really aren’t in control of anything, we never were.
Right now leaders, especially in the NHS and care systems, are being called to radically adapt their leadership style. This will likely be a big challenge for some and relished by others. And of course, the challenge of facing tough decisions, in a context of anxiety, creates a very emotionally charged environment for leaders and those they are serving. What can be required in these emergency contexts from one’s leadership style is the ability to be direct and ‘get things done’. And quite often this style is perfect for such a context that needs a quick, strong, clear direction.
But how do you keep heartfelt compassion for yourself and others – and stay focused on empowering high performance in all that’s happening?
It’s vital in this context to look after yourself, to ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’, which of course takes incredible discipline and boundaries. If this doesn’t happen, there a danger of burnout, plus an attitude of resignation and resentment. You may essentially operate out of fear and discomfort.
It’s crucial that ‘responding at pace’ doesn’t become ‘reacting at pace’, particularly reacting out of fear, anxiety and resentment. When we’re operating from a fear-based mindset (often unconsciously), there is no room for compassion. The modus operandi is rigidity, reactivity, low energy, and limited patience. It’s impossible for compassion and kindness to thrive in this emotional state. So how can we make compassion deliberate in times of crisis?
It is a massively tough call to consciously and deliberately maintain openness, trust and courage. However, leaders and their teams will learn to scale up at pace their capability, capacity and ability to handle whatever comes up. This is where high performance can powerfully emerge – teams realise the importance of honesty and openness in the most challenging of contexts. Teams recognise that relationships are vital and make time to clear up clashes and misunderstandings so they can get back in the game quickly – and together.
FEAR is really at the essence of this challenge. The basic reality of the human condition wants to negate fears with autopilot behaviours and protect oneself (the ego). The tragedy is that this mindset closes down openness, trust and courage and thus opportunities for creating and maintaining a compassionate, caring outlook.
Perhaps we could consider these fears as an illusion – especially when we project our fears of the future as if they are real. Fear can become a lens through which we choose to see the world – and then act accordingly, reacting and behaving as if it’s true.
I realise the uncertainty of what’s happening now could challenge this illusion to its limits. However, the more conscious leaders can be of their own fears and beliefs – the more likely they will be able to step outside of this. This awareness in itself is a golden nugget. It gives us the ability to consciously choose something different. If our leaders can do this right now, even some of the time, they could change what unfolds.
The great thing is that in our conscious awareness of our feelings, we become aligned with the context – ever changing – faster and with more resilience. And we will always get feedback, in one form or another, as to what’s working and what isn’t. BECAUSE we are awake and hopefully open to what comes.
One of things I have learnt this year about my own leadership is that not I, nor anyone else, know the future. I can hope, dream, aspire, worry, predict – give it my all – however I have no idea what will transpire. There will always be an element of going for something – being willing to risk (even with robust evidence) and never knowing the outcome.
None of us ever really knows what the future holds. This is the reality everyday with or without a pandemic.
There’s a big difference between hoping and expecting. The former is open to possibility, the later a heavy and limiting demand on the outcome.
Here’s my three T’s then, the qualities I’ve learnt and I’m recommending for leaders to embrace in light of all that is happening:
- Trust and Willingness – patience, patience…internally…willingness to let go and trust yourself, others, the process. A willingness to be open NOT knowing the outcome. Willingness to be with things as they are – even if you don’t like what’s happening. The more you resist, the more you disconnect from yourself and your compassion
- Tenacity – the determination to keep going, keep the faith, trust that all is not lost if things don’t go as planned. There will always options, even if you don’t like them. Be open to A LOT of course correcting, diversions, difficult choices to be made. You can be dispassionate and compassionate at the same time
- Truthfulness – being honest with yourself and others even when that is truly heart-breaking or difficult. Telling the truth is the most liberating, freeing experience and is the one that keeps you connected with yourself and your compassion. This in turn will enable you to be patient, compassionate and open with others.
Nicci Statham is an incisive executive and life coach who specialises in leadership behaviour change. She works with NHS and public sector leaders and is passionate about empowering clients to transform their leadership & life through changing their attitude and behaviour. Follow her on Twitter @awareleadership.