Managing From the Eye of the Storm
Updated: Mar 14, 2022
Since the start of the pandemic, I have personally lived through complete financial ruin, several fatal bouts of COVID, and the fall of our democracy - all in my mind. It’s what I call ‘dark dreaming.’
No doubt, you have faced terrible things during these past two years as well. Some have been real, like deep disappointments, dreams dashed, and even loss of friends and loved ones. Yet, other events we have experienced only in our imagination, as an unrelenting storm of “what ifs.”
As a leader, your mood is frightfully contagious.[i] YOUR stress quickly becomes THEIR stress, and a chain reaction is set off - affecting your direct reports, and their direct reports, their partners, and even their families.
Blame it on your brain. Our super-evolved human brains are both a blessing and a curse. They enable us to imagine the future, plan, anticipate, design, forecast, and predict. However, they can also cause us to become stressed and anxious about a future that lives only in our imagination. To make matters worse, our bodies cannot tell the difference between real and imagined danger[ii]. When our imagination runs amuck, it may keep us up at night, make us short-tempered, anxious, or depressed. Over time, this chronic stress can cause serious health issues.
The great news is that your optimism, contentment, and confidence are contagious too.
Your genuinely positive outlook translates into “higher levels of organizational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement”[iii] and a far better quality of life for you at work and at home.
When you catch yourself running off into a scary future (or rehashing a dreadful past event), CELEBRATE! Catching yourself in the act is 90% of the solution. The other 10% is returning your attention to right here, right now. After all, this moment is the only time where you can have any effect and the only moment in which you can take action.
You may need to catch yourself and return to this moment over and over and over and over - many times during the day. If you keep it up, your mind’s habit of running off will likely subside, and more quickly than you might expect. And, you will actually be strengthening supportive neural pathways in your brain through neuroplasticity.
When your ‘dark dreaming’ is persistent, you might also consider using a technique taught by author, Byron Katie[iv] . Ask yourself, “What is true here?” And then, follow up with, “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” Resolve to place your attention on truth alone. You will see that the cause of suffering comes – not from events – but entirely from what we think and believe.
We are all happier, more effective leaders when we live unpleasant realities just once – when and if they actually happen.
Your mindful ability to stay in the present lowers your own stress and allows those around you to breathe easier too. When your mind is focused, your decision-making is more sound, and you see everything more clearly. That’s why, by leading mindfully in this moment, you are more likely to create a brighter future for yourself and your organization.
Lydia Richards is CEO of TeamWorks Consulting, Inc., and author of The Snow Globe Effect: an 8-week mindfulness program for Leaders.
[i] "Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance" Harvard Business Review, December 2001 and “A Leader’s Mood: The Dimmer Switch of Performance” Martinuzzi, Bruna.
[ii] “Understanding the Stress Response: Chronic Activation of Survival Mechanism Impairs Health.” Edited by Harvard Health Publishing, Staying Healthy, 6 June 2020.
[iii] Seppälä , Emma and Cameron, Kim. “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive.” Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2015.
[iv] Katie, Byron, and Stephen Mitchell. Loving What Is. Harmony Books, 2002. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08YNMK69N/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0