When I think about how it might be east of the Sun and west of the Moon, I find myself in the field of not knowing. I imagine, I sense adventure and exploring lust, as well as fear and reluctance. A similar combination, I reckon, that permeates leaders in the face of repeated and new Covid challenges, even though differently charged.
How to build the courage and capacity to explore the new? To try out new things? To embark on a journey without a clear destination? To venture into the unknown?
These are the questions that call forth to be explored in reciprocity with growing uncertainty the humanity is faced with today. More than ever we witness enormous pressure on organisations to search for new ways of collaborating, organising, engaging, innovating, leading, and learning. While until recently, exploring has been a function of R&D and Innovation departments; leaders are now challenged with the reality of leading the whole collective through the turmoil of not knowing what the outcome of this journey might be.
How to perform and evolve in the field of the unknown has thus become one of the critical leadership qualities, as well as a potential competitive advantage.
1) Invite the fear in the room
Acknowledge that fear exists. It manifests itself in different concentrations and in different forms, such as fear of failure, job loss, inability to acquire new skills, maintaining speed, adapting …
Fear is a primary emotion with a strong impact on our well-being. Fear leads us to sabotage what is good in our lives. It can destroy and lead to actions we regret. It also provokes anger and makes people controlling, rude, manipulative, harsh and cruel.
Its evolutionary purpose is clear – it warns us and protects us from danger. What a danger IS or what it IS NOT is a subjective perception conditioned by various factors.
Regardless of the level of your personal fearlessness, it is important to understand that fear has a corrosive effect on trust, it is distancing us from accomplishments, and affecting our mental health and well-being.
As a leader, you will have to resist the temptation to take the position that there is no reason to fear. Instead, create SAFE CONDITIONS so that your team members can speak about their fears openly. Listen to the voice of fear compassionately and without judgment. Let the fears be expressed and heard, and with this gesture alone, you will take away its power over people. And remember; fear exists only as long as a person is alone with it!
2) Provide the context
As a leader you are better informed about the context of the potential dangers. You know more about the market pulse, considerations of shareholders, opportunities, and trends. Tell your people about the NATURE OF FEAR from the PERSPECTIVE of LEADERSHIP. Tell them what YOU SEE IS AT STAKE.
Revealing the context simply widens the horizon and lifts the stakes from what people fear on individual level to what your collective focus should be.
In other words, if you and your team members are the PROTAGONISTS of the exploring expedition, who is the actual ANTAGONIST? Is it really the fear of losing a job or is it perhaps the pressure to organise work differently? Is it really the fear of not being able to learn new skills or is it the persistence to preserve the status quo?
By providing the context you open the eyes to people for interrelated conditions and help them understand and make sense of the journey ahead. Moreover, you make them interested and concerned about a higher stake as compared to their individual fears.
Once everyone knows the true nature of the antagonist, you all feel invited and empowered to do something about it. The reassurance that you are all in it together it’s the source of confidence and courage.
3) Design the adventure
The confidence and courage which are needed to go on the adventure and sustain you with the unease and fears are not entirely personal virtues. They are rather an outcome of TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS.
Confidence and courage manifest when I know that I CAN TRUST you, when I FEEL SUPPORTED by my peers and when I FEEL ENTRUSTED by my leader.
That is why the first two steps, which can be understood as a spinning of trust, are so very important. If we cross them openly and compassionately, we have established the conditions for the descent into the unknown, and we can be sure that we will persevere on this path. In order not to lose your breath, your will, and freak-out as soon as the feeling of being lost crawls into you, it is necessary to prepare for the journey.
You wouldn’t go unprepared in the jungle, would you? So, here are the essentials to be thought through and packed prior to embarking on the adventure:
- BINOCULARS or clarity regarding the intention and direction of travel;
- MAP or a strategy to find your way back after you explore the unknown sidewalks;
- COMPASS or a set of values and commitments that will guide you when the situation becomes tense and when trust is put to the test.
Thickening the trust (by addressing the fears), understating the stakes (by explaining the context) and having this exploring ‘gear’ co-created, well communicated and showcased, you are equipped for the adventure.
And when you arrive at the field of the unknown and meet the biggest danger of all, which is, the urge to return to the known, the familiar, the old ways; do not get overwhelmed by fear, but by the awareness that you have the switch that turns it on or off in your hands.
The calm sea never gave birth to top sailors and merely observing the sea, never created the waves. Currently, the circumstances of the rough sea offer us the opportunity to accelerate exploring new paths, test alternatives, and train ourselves in a situation.
Confidence, courage, and a pinch of audacity will bring new creations out of us in all areas of life, as well as surface up new top leaders. Those with the strongest internal strength, however, will also create the magnitude of the waves. Let them splash far beyond the edge of the current state of mind in society and let them be strong enough to clear space for the good future of humanity.
How high should they cut you wonder? East of the Sun and west of the Moon – as in the musical accompaniment of this Leadership jazz column, contributed by Diana Krall. EnJOY! East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).