When we don’t know where we go we need to be able to turn to someone for guidance, be it a CEO, a parent, a school teacher, or a spiritual instance.
The company I work for is an example of great leadership. Not only did they have the courage to take drastic measures, canceling all meetings and training early on. But the CEO is sending messages every week, either written or with a video. He creates spaces where people can unpack their challenges, like working and taking care of babies. It is reassuring to know someone is at the helm of the boat, even if we don’t know on what sea we sail.
Sadly, I have another example with school. It started quite well by setting up remote schooling using powerful tools. But when we wanted to share our kids’ challenges, there was no dialogue but rather judgment. In three weeks, the principal, nor the teacher didn’t check with the kids or the families to know how they were doing. It feels lonely, children lose interest, and parents are on the verge of losing it after pushing and pulling in all directions to motivate a bowl of energy that feels bored by assignments and trapped at home.
When The Context Is Rigid, You Need To Soften Your Heart
In the first example, the leader guides the way. S/he connects to the people working for the company, as well as to the financial stability. S/he stands with two feet on the ground of reality, whatever uncomfortable it is, looking at the clear vision of what s/he wants for the people and the company, using the values to support it all.
In the second example, the leader is in control. S/he is rigid, defensive, silent. It seems s/he is not grounded in reality but bolted in a one-way vision, looking down at what is happening. Hands stretched for help, and guidance feels like threats because they might shatter the system. It creates a feeling of “us” (leadership) versus “them” (parents). Everyone feels lost; the leadership, teachers, and families alike.
The confinement is stressful for everyone; there is no competition to know who is making the most effort. Leadership is necessary to offer a firm hand of help with a soft heart of compassion (the ability to feel the suffering of others) and empathy (capacity to feel what others feel). In social distancing more than ever, it is crucial to build bridges between people through connection, open dialogue that grasps the relationship, to listen because ventilating is the first way to cope with it all.
A Leader Guides
In my last book, Raise a Human Being Not a Consumer, The New Challenges of Parenting, I mention how important it is for parents to guide, to be a leader. Before the pandemic, I noticed a shift in the dynamic, with parents putting their children in the driver’s seat. It leads to situations like you can see in the UK TV Show Breeders; parents overwhelmed by their children’s behavior, showing no authority at all. Now, with COVID-19, parents need to lead even more than before.
What I also mention in the book is the confusion between leading and controlling. Control stems from a lack: a lack of trust, leadership, vision, authority. The pressure to be the best, to shine, and have great reviews drive parents (or schools, or leaders like Trump) to control the narrative and people to fit reality in the picture. When you control, you are afraid of losing a grip; you become rigid instead of trusting the process. If you start control during confinement, you are up for a lot of rows, frustration, exhaustion, and what not.
To help parents and leaders alike, here are my two cents to maintain the harmony in the system during confinement, be it the family of the company. It needs a leader that guides, using a firm hand with a soft heart.
A Leader Stays Calm
Our mirror neurons copy what the people of references are doing. So if the leader starts to be scared, frustrated, or fidgety, the rest will imitate. Like the leader of a herd, the leader needs to stay calm and grounded. Speak slowly, smile internally to bring the softness in your voice. Show you know where you go, that you trust all will be well because we are resilient. It doesn’t mean you obliterate the reality of your own emotions and doubts. You deal with it away from the children, with your lieutenants. You are the example, so be aware of which one you pick.
A Leader Welcomes What Is
You can’t avoid employees or children to react the way they do. They have the right to feel what they feel. Your role is not to control what people experience, instead to lead the way to resume balance and comfort. I see it with my children; I get better results with them when I stay calm than when I’m in my own emotion. Of course, the difficulty is to find a place and time where you can unload your stress so that you can be available. I find the toilet to be a great war room or the bathroom. When you welcome what is, you are in the flow, you defuse the emotion, and you ensure the relationship is stable. It creates reassurance, a bit like a newborn wrapped in their parents’ arms right after birth; it reminds her of the safe walls of the womb.
A Leader Accepts Edgy Behavior
Confinement forces us through change. When there is change, there are edgy behaviors: people can become stuck, fidgeting, frozen, talkative, sad or resistant. Everyone has a way to react to change. Some will cross the edge of change quickly, others will stick to what they know. A leader’s role is to accept all manifestations. When you do, you show you respect the person and its emotions. You don’t force, you listen. By doing so, you defuse the tension, and you can start to lead. As a leader, you can cross over the edge and report back how it is. You can accompany someone through the edge. Help people around you take the baby steps they need to adapt.
A Leader Opens the Dialogue And Maintains Contact
Once you’ve let some space for the felt (the experience of emotions) and that you named them, you can open the dialogue. Asks questions like: “what is happening for you right now?”, “what do you need to feel better?” “what is trying to happen?”. I like what Thich Nhat Hanh suggests when someone is angry; I think it applies to fear too:
- “I don’t feel well; I struggle, I feel mad” (or the leader can say “I see you struggle, you feel mad”)
- “I do my best not to be mad or sad or react, but it is difficult” (or the leader can say “I see you try your best to react to the situation”)
- “Can you help me?” (or the leader can say, “how can I help you?”). I like this last one because instead of dividing and isolating people when they are mad or vulnerable, it maintains the connection and puts the other person, sometimes the source of the emotion, in a position of humility and compassion. I’ve tried, and it works.
When you feel you control, maybe you are driven by your own fears. Find a place to unwind, unpack, and reconnect to your balance. Then, become the leader your family, your school, or your company needs.
If you want to learn more on how to be a leader in your family, you can buy the kindle Raise a Human Being Not A Consumer.
Sara Bigwood | Development Coach ORSCC | PCC