These are truly unprecedented circumstances. In so many ways, the disruption caused by the coronavirus is a microcosm of our times: uncertainty, a leadership void, a lack of a clear path ahead, loss of control and personal freedom and the ensuing feeling of mistrust and fear.
Most of us have been impacted in some way by this virus. We may not have fallen ill ourselves but we know people who have. At first we had to change our routines, cancel trips, postpone events, and experience an onslaught of media coverage at times confusing and at times misleading. Now, people are being required to return home as international borders are closing. Our children are returning home as schools and universities are shifting to remote learning, offices are closing, and we are being asked to work from home and practice social distancing. This is uncharted territory for us all, a challenge facing the entire planet with no straightforward solution, no end in sight, and which is creating uncertainty and unease as well as paranoia at a grand and global scale.
It is easy to become unnerved, anxious, frustrated and even panicked. I am tempted to keep checking the news, even though it will likely be more of the same. The number of infected persons is skyrocketing globally. When will this end? Will this end? Has the interconnectedness of our world created a dynamic that is spinning out of control?
Anxiety begets anxiety. It’s contagious, creating a downward spiral. As leaders, we need to be able to counter the chaos and confusion with clarity and calm. We need to have personal practices that help us to remain grounded and centered in the face of fear and uncertainty.
One of my tried and tested practices is to take time off and drive to the coast. This week I took a long, long walk on the beach. I soaked in the gentle warmth of the late winter sun. I felt the damp sand in between my toes and the cool breeze in my hair. I allowed the sound of the crashing waves crashing to wash over me. I let go of all that I cannot predict, understand or control and I re-connected with what I know: the sun that rises, the waves that break, the wind that blows. From this place, the virus no longer felt so scary and the uncertainty became easier to bear. I regained my clarity and calm.
What is your go-to practice for regaining clarity when things get tough? It could be a walk in the forest, a run or a swim. Or maybe a creative pursuit such as painting, dancing, singing, or journaling. It might be having a conversation with someone you trust, a regular meditation practice, or as simple as taking three deep breaths. To lead through uncertainty, we must have our own way to center ourselves, become clear and calm. What is yours? How do you integrate it in your life under normal circumstances? And in this period of extreme uncertainty, how is it even more important in helping you help yourself as well as those you lead?
The key for us as leaders is knowing how to shift ourselves out of fear, confusion and even paralysis into a place of knowing we have the inner resources to handle the challenges in front of us. The quality of our inner state has a direct impact on those around us looking for direction. Just as our fear engenders fear in others, so does our feeling of calm and safety in the world enable others to feel calm and safe. Take a moment to reflect on your grounding practice. If you don’t yet have one, notice what helps you come back to yourself. Maybe this crisis has opened up time for you to experiment. Find what helps you to lead with greater calm and clarity through these difficult and very uncertain times.