Category Archives: Leadership

Quick summaries of practices to increase leadership capacity and capabilities.

Resilient leaders are always anticipating.

Resilient leaders stay focused on the horizon, anticipating the new models that are likely to emerge and sparking the innovations that will define tomorrow. ~ Punit Renjen (Deloitte Insights)

Resilient leaders anticipate opportunities and threats. That’s a statement I read on a website last week and I completely agree. It got my attention because many times that is not what I see happening.

It’s a frequent practice for me to begin a strategic planning engagement with a client by interviewing the key leaders. I typically ask questions that would fall into the categories of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. After all these years it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does, when leaders can’t really identify opportunities. This is something outside of their organization. It’s external, it could be a change in the market, technology, competition, consumer attitudes, etc. It is not internal to their organization. Yet, when I ask that question (and I ask it several times different ways), I get answers like, we need to improve our physical infrastructure, or we need to do more employee development.

This is a sign, for me, that the organization is not likely to be resilient because the leaders aren’t thinking like resilient leaders. If leaders don’t have their heads up, looking outside the organization, and aren’t attuned to what’s happening in their environment, their organization is likely to struggle, if it isn’t already.

Old Habits Hinder Resilient Leaders

This also reflects another concern and frustration I have with how resiliency and our old habits of strategic planning don’t align. Many organizations want to do an environmental scan to initiate the strategic planning process. What frustrates me is that they wait, every three to five years, to pause and look to see what’s happening outside of their organization. Waiting, years, simply doesn’t work any longer. It’s holding on to a rigid process from the 90s, which is before we had access to nearly any data point, trend, or analysis we could imagine at our finger tips.

The degree of change that happens in a single year is staggering. I recognize that the past 12 months have been anything but “typical,” but it is our reality. Consider the number of changes that have been thrust upon us in just a single year. And, many of these changes won’t go away, or at least won’t return to the same extent they were in pre-COVID days.

If 2020 has taught leaders nothing else about resiliency, I hope that it’s taught us to be constantly aware of our environment, continuously work to anticipate the future, and be ready to adapt or pivot on a moment’s notice. We’ve become more resilient because we’ve been forced to.

As COVID positivity rates improve and restrictions are gradually lifted, let’s not forget the important lessons we’ve learned and the new habits we’ve developed that have made us more resilient.

Being Resilient Leaders

  • Live with a sense of urgency to be aware of our external environment
  • Create structures and systems that support adaptability (i.e., a workforce that really can work from home)
  • Look to the future with anticipation, discovery, and opportunity

Be resilient, not rigid, and lead with bold grace.

Resilient Leaders Lean Into the Future

What we [resilient leaders] need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you – what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind – you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy. ~Jeff Bezos

While the calendar on the wall has been replaced with a new year, the challenges that greeted us in 2020 remain our close companion into 2021. We embark on another year teeming with uncertainties. This calls on us to dig deep and be resilient leaders, capable of leaning into the future.

Let’s get practical. When we feel the pressure of leading through uncertainty, again, that is laden with pandemic fatigue, and all we want to do is complain, how do we muster resiliency? Caroline Webb, author of How to Have a Good Day provides a recommendation. Start asking yourself rewarding questions. Each of these questions is a source of motivation. They each give pleasure to our brains and can change how we feel and think about a given scenario. In other words, this practice can help build resiliency. Here are three rewarding questions suggested by Webb for resilient leaders.

Resilient Leaders Ask a Rewarding Question

Rewarding questions give your brain a reward of some kind, like the boost we get from learning something new, feeling competent, or having a sense of purpose. These questions get us back into discovery mode.

Learning Something New

If something has gone wrong, or if the pandemic has thrown you yet another curve ball, ask the simple question, “What can I learn from this?” If you want to take the idea to another level, add an emphatic statement ahead of the question to shift your thinking into the mode of joy and discovery.

  • “How fascinating! What can I learn from this?”
Feeling Competent

If you feel like you’ve run out of options or answers for the ongoing changes and what seem like barriers, ask questions to feel competent. This type of question focuses your thinking on when you’ve previously overcome challenges, and those challenges don’t need to be related to your current situation. For example, questions like:

  • “When have I handled a difficult situation in the past?”
  • “What personal qualities helped me to overcome that situation?”
  • “How does this tell me I’m well-equipped to handle this situation, now?”
Having a Sense of Purpose

When you want to complain or maybe even throw in the towel, ask “What really matters?” Answering that question can help to shift your thinking and bounce back from adversity or another really difficult situation. With both individuals and groups, asking the question “What’s your purpose?” can be overwhelming and a bit daunting. However, we need to focus that same type of thinking onto the current scenario. So, think about your intentions and ask:

  • “What matters most, right now?”
  • “What do I really want to have happen here?”

Ask rewarding questions, become more resilient leaders, and keep leading with bold grace through the uncertainties of 2021.

Resilient Leaders are Comfortable with Discomfort

In avoiding our discomfort we also decline the invitation to grow and engage in necessary and meaningful change. ~Kelly Barron

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

As I write this, I can think of numerous situations where clients are avoiding discomfort and consequently limiting their ability to become resilient. In some cases it’s become a way of being or the modus operandi. The issues are obvious. Tension due to one or two team members who aren’t willing to be vulnerable and consequently it stifles any sense of trust among the team. The discomfort keeping someone from being more assertive in expressing their ideas to their boss. Then there’s the discomfort of giving needed constructive feedback, so they just hope they’ll “get it” on their own and they won’t have to actually say anything. Or, the discomfort of having to continually pivot due to a global pandemic!

In some instances, I’ve seen these scenarios continue on for a significant period of time. Why do we put ourselves through this? Why do we avoid this discomfort with such determination hoping that in time it will either resolve on its own or simply go away?

We Don’t Like Feeling Discomfort

There are probably a number of reasons. The most obvious, we just don’t like feeling discomfort so we try to avoid it. We don’t like it so much that we’ll tolerate a lot of irritating discomfort until the situation turns into a crisis. A physician friend once told me that he can tell patients what they need to do to improve their health but most don’t change their current M.O. until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of getting better. The same is true in organizations. We’ll avoid addressing an issue or confronting a situation until the discomfort of avoiding it is greater than the discomfort of dealing with it.

Kelly Barron says, “Turning toward instead of away from discomfort begins with the ability to pay attention in a kind, open, and non-reactive way. And it means having the willingness to stay with the unease long enough so that it informs you.”

Steps to Accept your Discomfort and Become More Resilient

Next time you feel discomfort follow the steps below to observe, accept, and learn from your discomfort. Stay with it long enough so that it informs you.

  1. When you sense the discomfort, close your eyes and imagine that the discomfort is six feet in front of you. Imagine that for just a few minutes you are going to put that discomfort outside of yourself so you can look at it.
  2. Give the discomfort a form. What size is it? What shape is it? What color is it? Again, just watch it for a few moments and acknowledge it for what it is.
  3. Finally, reflect. Was there a change in your discomfort when you allowed yourself to get some distance from it? Did you have a different reaction to your discomfort when you gave it a specific size/shape/color? What did you learn from this feeling of discomfort? How did it inform you?

When you become more comfortable with discomfort, you will become more resilient. And when you are more resilient, you can lead with bold grace.

Building Resilience

When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. ~Unknown

We are building resilience. It’s 2021 and I don’t recall a time when the “new year” was greeted simultaneously with such exuberant delight and relief. The sentiment that “we made it” is how many of us rang-in the new year.

I spent 2020 exploring leadership from the perspective of bold grace. After a year – and what a year it was(!) – I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. In 2021 I will spend time unpacking each of what I now believe are critical elements of bold grace. And I invite you to join me on yet another exploration of leadership.

Building Resilience Begins with Mindset

One of the aspects of bold grace is resilience. In 2020, I wrote this about resilience:

I believe resilience is proactive, and I typically think of “tough” as being more reactive. Being resilient means you are always preparing, developing a mindset that keeps you resilient. It’s not something you work towards, and then stop working because you’ve accomplished “resilience.” It’s more like the athlete who gets in top physical condition, and then keeps working to maintain that physical condition. That feels very proactive to me. Tough, on the other hand, feels more like the athlete who maybe doesn’t prepare as much and just endures the pain really well.

I still believe this basic perspective to be true. And, what I’ve been reading recently (from neuroscience to money management) has also emphasized the importance of mindset for resilience. Which brings me back to the quote: “When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away.” That’s all about mindset. And that’s also resilience.

One Way to Build a Resilient Mindset

A number of years ago I worked with a client who was exceptionally driven, smart, and maintained a very full calendar. I can still hear her saying to me, “I just need time to think.” She was right. One aspect of building resilience is spending time to just simply think. What’s so hard about that?

Well, here’s what I learned from Caroline Leaf in Think, Learn, Succeed. Leaf wrote, “In a series of eleven studies done by Timothy Wilson and colleagues at the University of Virginia and Harvard, a number of the participants of all age ranges battled spending six to fifteen minutes alone with nothing to do but think, daydream, and ponder. The majority of the participants didn’t enjoy being alone with their thoughts, while some preferred even shocking themselves to sitting and thinking!” As Leaf points out, many of us would rather aimlessly scroll through social media or use other apps on our devices than just sit and think.

Just 16 Minutes a Day

Our brains actually need thinking time for its health and functioning. There’s a lot more science behind all of this but I’ll spare you the details. Leaf suggests that spending just 16 minutes a day “thinking” can develop a mindset that will in turn build resilience. Leaders who get caught up in the day-to-day crises and don’t allocate time to just think are wearing down their resilience. You can’t lead with bold grace if you aren’t building your resilience.

Why not start the new year with 16 minutes every day of thinking to develop a healthy mindset so you can stop living in the problem and start living in the answer, and lead with bold grace.

Will you give life or drain it in 2021?

In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange. ~Brennan Manning

When I began the year, 2020, with the desire to explore bold grace as a leadership approach, I never imagined what would unfold in the following months. The year now known most commonly as “unprecedented.”

One of the debates over the past year, and there were many, was the dispute over what matters most – a person’s character, or the position the person supports. In other words, could someone be of  poor character but be highly regarded because of the position they support. Could someone hold a position that might be considered morally questionable and still be deemed as a person of character.

I have drawn my own conclusion; it’s not an either/or choice. I believe that we can’t separate what we do or support from who we are or our being.  

Defining Bold Grace Leadership

As 2020 draws to a close, I began reading Moral Leadership for a Divided Age by David P. Gushee and Colin Holtz.  The authors quote two women who wrote Black Womanist Leadership. I believe their definition of leadership gets at the core of bold grace.

“Toni C. King and S. Alease Ferguson, in Black Womanist Leadership, define leadership as ‘the desire, ability, and efforts to influence the world around us [bold], based upon an ethic of care for self and other [grace] and fueled by a vision that one sustains over time [bold grace].’” As authors Gushee and Holtz, said “King and Ferguson rightly call attention to character and action…”

It is my goal not to simply glide into 2021 without pausing to both reflect on 2020 and then refocus as I move into 2021. If I want to stay true to the idea of bold grace, then I need to refocus on not only what I want to do in 2021, but also who do I want to be. What action do I want to take and what character do I want to reflect. Because one will surely influence the other.

We Give Life, or We Drain It

Our encounters throughout life are intertwined with both what we do and who we are. As Brennan Manning said, “in every encounter we either give life or we drain it.” Giving of life or draining it is a result of both our character and our actions.

I’m guessing that we can all most likely agree that 2020 was filled with circumstances that felt draining. Unlike 2020, we know what’s before us in 2021, at least more so than we did 12 months ago. With that knowledge how can we be life giving? What can we do and who do we need to be to allow our encounters to be filled with character and action that gives life.

Begin 2021 with bold grace in both action and character.