As I write this, most people are vacillating between struggling to absorb the new reality of our rapidly changing landscape and facing wild demands to fight every fire now appearing in their personal and professional lives as a result of the COVID outbreak. We hear from senior executives of their desire to take a pause, to back up and consider deeply best moves, weigh decisions, and remove felt fear from the formula of how to navigate collective fear. But so many in the next breath say “I don’t have time”.
But actually, in the grips of fear, that is exactly the moment to take a moment.
One thing we know to be true about fear it is that it distorts. From a physical perspective, this distortion is a flood of adrenaline that shortens breath, narrows vision, and impedes cognitive and immune function. Left unchecked, adrenaline production shifts into cortisol production which persists until said moment is taken and fully registered by the amygdala.
Taking a moment to consider all we’re seeing is key. The fault lines that have been inherent to all of our functional systems have been laid bare. Consider these indicatorst
Heightened divisions among peoples who formerly worked towards common ground.
Distrust of government, NGOs and media. This is found even among those of us who respond to that distrust by putting faith in strong-men authority.
Social infrastructures revealed to be riddled with systematic bias, reliance upon deception and abandoning of fundamental social contracts.
Insecurity of the mass population with respect to both short-term and long-term ability to attend to basic human needs.
Declining belief in the importance of fostering a compassionate society as something that serves the sustainability of the collective.
Irrational fluctuations in global financial systems. When was the last time stocks declined simultaneous to bond and gold declining in value?
Abuse of natural resources in support of commerce and consumption with an assumption that they are inexhaustible.
It doesn't require scholarly specificity to acknowledge the long-present connections between these dots. No matter your personal biases on any specific issue, the resulting mosaic is that we’ve been living in a web of false convictions for more than a few decades. No matter your stand politically, we now incontrovertibly know the ground we long took for granted to be solid is actually quicksand.
So what does this mean for leaders? Is this moment really about COVID? About the bear market?
The task of the leader is to look at the forest, deriving understanding and vision, and empowering his or her team to address their respective trees.
We cannot see with such clarity when gripped with fear about our own wellbeing, or by extension, the perpetuation of the scaffolding that we’ve assumed would support our wellbeing.
By seeing the big picture, we are able to act on the task of posing painful questions, inconvenient insights, in support of fostering new systems that stand true to the nature of what supports all life on a small, fragile, incomparably beautiful planet.
"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. "
This striving is the task of the leader. To make that effort we must begin by taking a moment, pausing long enough to consider the whole of these systems, the fundamental insecurities their fallibility provokes in all of us, and cut a path to greater integration of all interests so that we together can survive and flourish.
The world needs you. Now is the time to take that moment, and step up to the plate.
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