By Mark Samuel and Sarah Samuel –
The recent pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty in every area of our lives as our finances, personal health, and immediate futures are subject to so much that is out of our control. Many have been forced to make big changes that impact their day-to-day lives, their businesses, and their families. How do we continue to be conscious leaders and step up for our communities and the people who count on us during these unsettling times?
Being a conscious leader amidst chaos and uncertainty is not so different from doing so in any other time, though it may require more flexibility and creativity as big and unexpected constraints appear more quickly than we might be used to. Moving successfully through a crisis requires sharp self-awareness to recognize if and when you are responding to the situation with fear, restriction, or limitation that cuts you off from wisdom, creativity, and resilience. We refer to this as the “Stuck Cycle.”
Falling into the Stuck Cycle has little to do with outside circumstances, although it can often feel like it does. Rather, it has everything to do with our reaction & response to outside circumstances.
There are six common traps people fall into that lead them into the Stuck Cycle. However, there are also remedies for each that you can start using today if you fall into any one of these traps:
Trap #1: Ignoring the Situation
It’s not uncommon to ignore an extremely challenging situation. You might avoid a conflict with your boss or procrastinate on a critical project for which the stakes are high. In the case of a crisis like COVID-19, you might continue business as usual, refusing to take the necessary precautions to keep you, your family, and your employees safe. When we ignore situations, we play a dangerous game of pretending that if we don’t look at it, it’s not there.
Remedy: Openly Recognize the Situation You are Ignoring
In order to take steps toward resolving the problem, it is imperative to openly recognize the problem. There is no need to form an opinion or story about it or even to fix it. Just claim the reality of what is. Look at it openly and know that it doesn’t control you or mean anything about you. It just is, and that’s okay, even if it doesn’t feel okay. A problem must be looked at with honesty, otherwise it will impede any forward movement you try to take as you attempt to work around it.
Trap #2: Denying Your Involvement in the Situation
When a problem gets so big that you can’t ignore it any longer, you can still feel so intimidated by it that you choose to deny your involvement, moving you further into the stuck cycle. At this stage, you might be thinking things like,
“This isn’t my problem to solve,”
“I shouldn’t have to deal with this given my age, position, or circumstance,”
“No one prepared me to deal with this challenge.”
This is a form of going unconscious to alleviate any sense of responsibility for addressing a challenging or uncertain situation.
Remedy: Courageously Taking Ownership for Your Part of the Solution
Too often ownership is thought of as admitting fault. People think if they weren’t part of creating the problem, they shouldn’t have to be involved in the solution. In reality, if the problem is affecting you then the problem is yours. Otherwise, you will become victim to it, feeling powerless and angry.
In the case of COVID-19, the Conscious Leader identifies any way in which they can be part of the solution – listening compassionately to people who are negatively impacted, moving their business from in-office to remote, donating money, or checking in with loved ones. Even just staying home, washing your hands, and taking other steps in line with healthcare recommendations is taking ownership for your part of the solution.
Trap # 3: Blaming Others for the Situation
We’re all familiar with the blame game. In the case of COVID-19, people are blaming political parties, other countries, the media, and each other. Blaming gives us a false sense of control and can even make us feel like we’re doing something to solve the problem, even though we’re not. Also, you’re not off the hook if you’re reserving the blame for yourself. That only puts more negative pressure on you, causing self-doubt, which zaps the energy you need for finding creative solutions.
Remedy: Forgiving Others and Ourselves
To get out of the blame game, it is essential to practice forgiveness, beginning with yourself. No matter how dedicated you are to being accountable, you will make mistakes, miss a deadline, or forget an important commitment. Remember, accountability is not about being perfect; it is about recognizing when we’ve made a mistake or could be doing better and doing whatever is needed within our agency and responsibility to resolve the inadequacy. The sooner you forgive the humanness involved in any breakdown, the faster you move back to the growth cycle, where you can focus on resolving the problem and making improvements.
Trap #4: Rationalizing to be “Right”
It’s hard to maintain the blame game without proof that we are right. At this point, we create and build upon a story to prove our righteousness and identify excuses for choices we’ve made. We schedule meetings, take surveys, or call our friends to feed our side of the story. As it relates to COVID-19, rationalizing might look like seeking out evidence that unwanted change is an unnecessary response. Rationalization is the favorite playing field for those who have strong analytical skills. The smarter you are, the easier it is to get trapped in this stage, using spreadsheets, graphs, and surveys to make your point. Whether evidence and data are used to blame others or exonerate yourself, you’re working a lot harder to avoid the situation than you would need to work to deal with it.
Remedy: Neutral and Future-Focused Self-Examination
No matter how solid your argument, it ultimately means nothing because rationalizing looks only in the rearview mirror. In the same way that you can’t drive a car by focusing on what’s behind you, you can’t solve a challenging problem by only paying attention to what got you there. Instead of rationalizing why you can’t respond, become curious about how you can. Try asking a question such as, “What can I do differently to improve the situation?” Curiosity is the soil of invention, creativity, and discovery. If you stop asking questions, you get stuck in your old ways, beliefs, and attitudes. You draw incorrect conclusions, make wrong assumptions, or feel trapped because you don’t see a way out. Self-Examination puts you in the driver’s seat for learning, making decisions, and eventually taking action to make a difference.
Trap #5: Resisting Change or Getting Involved
Resisting change or direction from others is not uncommon. We want to stay safe, comfortable, and in command. We can resist a big organizational change, a rule we don’t like, or a virus we wish didn’t exist. When it comes down to it, resistance generally has that familiar, infantile feeling behind it:
“I don’t want to”
“I shouldn’t have to”
“It’s not fair” or
“You can’t make me!”
It’s a last attempt to exert your control over the situation.
Remedy: Learning to Grow and Adapt
Rationalization and resistance thrive on assumptions, judgments, and emotion-based conclusions that keep you inflexible and therefore stuck. If you want to grow, you have to learn. Learning requires openness, curiosity, and willingness to seek out ideas, attitudes and perspectives that are different from your own. Learning requires courage; it opens the door to the unknown, the unpredictable, and the risk of mistakes, but this is necessary to create a new reality. If you stay safe inside your comfort zone, your only hope is to create the same thing you’re creating now, which might work as long as the world stays stagnant. But when something you didn’t anticipate such as coronavirus or even something much less disruptive interrupts your comfort, you will have no choice but to either adapt and learn or let it crush you. When you experience resistance, take a breath, become present, and get curious. Through your openness, new ideas will come to you effortlessly.
Trap #6: Hiding from Anyone or Any Situation that Reflects Your Stuck State
It’s exhausting to be stuck. It takes great effort to blame, rationalize, and resist the changing world around you, whether you are responsible for that change or not. In fact, it’s so exhausting that eventually you’ll want to run away and hide. We can hide by burying our heads in the sand, by avoiding the person we need to speak with, by labeling ourselves as incapable and leading with insecurity, or by willfully remaining ignorant and confused.
Remedy: Taking Action to Move You into Progress
The purpose of taking action isn’t to be right, to win, or even to succeed. The purpose of taking action is to gain experience, which becomes the legs you stand on. It’s through our action and gained experience that we learn what works and doesn’t work for us, and it’s continued action that either creates momentum toward greater fulfillment or provides the feedback to learn and course correct. We will make mistakes when taking action, but the lessons from the experience will propel us to new heights of peace, confidence, and appreciation. In the age of COVID-19, those who have taken action to socially distance themselves without falling into the stuck cycle have also gained the rewards of discovering new ways to relate to their children, to their teammates at work and to themselves, not to mention those who are gaining invaluable experiences by stepping up to support their communities in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery systems.
The strangest part about the stuck cycle is that it takes more effort to justify why you can’t solve a problem than to do what it takes to solve it. In the time of coronavirus, it is imperative that we do our best to take care of our families, our communities, and ourselves. The benefit is not just the soothing of crisis, but the growth, expansion, and confidence that comes from overcoming adversity. We are in unknown territory. How will we be? What will we build?
We wish you the best in dealing with the consequences of COVID-19. Stay healthy, stay at home when you can, and take care of each other. If you would like our support in dealing with this crisis or restructuring your business to better deal with future crises, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here for you.