leading…a pandemic edition.

We are just a few days away from the official last day of school. It will look/feel/sound different, but that is pretty much the norm for much of what we do not just at school but in our own worlds. We are in a constant state of pivot. And grounding ourselves in our mission, our passion, and our commitment to serving our constituencies can lend itself to anxiety, fear, sadness, and flat out exhaustion. And yet, we lead on.

In a study of my own core values, when I mine down deep (using Brene or Elena’s value mining exercises), I land on integrity, humor, and courage. If you expand you add authenticity, vulnerability, faith, optimism, gratitude, and independence. If there was ever a time to stretch and exercise our values, now is it. There are times when my honesty (driven by practicality) has caused sadness in others and for this, I feel regret. There are times when my optimism has been taken as Pollyanna, and for that, I feel pride-it means that it’s making people think. 

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In the last ten weeks, we’ve (the global we) have seen world leaders respond to the global pandemic in a spectrum of ways-allowing their core values to show through in their response. From a non-political but sociological lens, I’ve found myself captivated by the study of comparative responses and how those are interpreted by constituencies. How much of ourselves do we share with our people? How much of ourselves to we hold back? 

I was struck by the recent article, Leaders are Crying on the Job. Maybe That’s a Good Thing. 

“Crying is a nonverbal way of saying, ‘I need help and support,’” Professor Wolf said. Tears can make a leader appear more relatable and “warmer”; they can also make a leader seem helpless and less competent, she said. 

What struck me is that way that it places leaders in a challenging position of being authentic to themselves, or, putting on a front. I think what this time in our world has shown us is that you can be both. As with all things, it takes nuance.

With her extensive study of leaders and leadership during crisis, Nancy Koehn, makes this observation in an interview for HBR

“This means that thoughtfully revealing your humanity is fine, but permitting yourself an emotional catharsis in public is not. Airing your own anxieties in front of your followers is distracting, destabilizing, and destructive. People can’t be excited about following you if they believe you are defined by doubt and fear.”

“Courage, dear heart”, as Lucy hears in hears in her head in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; leaders take on courage to make the hardest decisions. We employ courage to know that no decision we make will please everyone, and grounded in mission, we walk forward. We do so with confidence, even if in our inner worlds we have sadness, fear, or pain. We must. And, we must continue to GIVE courage and confidence to our communities so that they can work through their own process and walk with us.

This is not just true in pandemic days but all the time. But the pandemic has amplified everything. It has placed leaders under a microscope in a way that sometimes minimizes their human frailty. But, I hold firm in that authenticity is key. As a person with a heart firmly worn on the outside (enneagram 4, anyone?), I must stay true to my core values of integrity, humor, and courage. I will continue to tell you what I can, when I can, in a way that is not intended to cause fear or anger. I will continue to place a high value on laughter. And I will continue to offer buckets of courage, especially if your bucket is a bit low.

Leading is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the cellophane of skin. It is the hardest work you’ll ever love. And onward, we go.

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