Leading through change and uncertainty

The top of a lighthouse with birds flying past.

There’s more pressure on us than ever before, as we’re being asked to do more with less and constantly change in response to our shifting external environment. If you feel exhausted by the amount of change, pressure and busyness in your life, I get it, and trust me – you’re absolutely not alone in the struggle.

In this article I want to share with you what I have learnt about navigating through change, both in the research and through my own experience, in a way that creates space for learning, joy and contribution.

My research into global studies and our own Inkling data demonstrates that in order to flourish as humans we have four universal needs that need to be met:

A growth mindset

At Inkling we define this as the skills to process what is going on in our external and internal world in a way that allows us to manage our negative thinking patterns, challenge unhelpful beliefs, stay open to the possibilities, learn from our experience, stay focussed and present under pressure and be comfortable and open to the full range of human emotions we experience.

Research has shown that 90% of our happiness and ability to effectively problem solve is not due to what happens to us in our external world, but rather how we process that experience. We know that in Australia at any point in time at least one in five Australians are diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and that in all of these cases, people are likely experiencing acute and/or chronic stressors in their lives.

As a leader it is critical that we not only facilitate a change of thinking within our teams but for ourselves as well.

In order to flourish in our increasingly unstable and changing world, we need to broadly teach the skills of a growth mindset in schools, workplaces and communities. I believe that instilling a growth mindset at an individual and organisational level is critical to supporting your team through change, and a positive knock-on effect of curious and resilient individuals who can manage the pressures of our changing workplaces will follow.

Meaningful connections

The need to be truly heard, understood and respected is vital to our ability to be our best and move through the ups and downs of life. Meaningful connections are like gardens, they need to be prioritised and nurtured in order to flourish. They require trust, authenticity and genuine compassion and openness.

Having access to deep and meaningful connections is actually a matter of life or death. Research by Sarah Pressman, of the University of California, Irvine, demonstrates that while obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, and smoking by 50%, loneliness reduces it by a whopping 70%.

Yet, in our increasingly busy lives we find less and less time to genuinely connect with people both inside and outside work. Even when we find the time, we can be very distracted, often by our smart phones or our own thoughts; this limits the true connection we desire and need to flourish. This is when emptiness can start to creep in, often slowly over time, having a lasting and devastating effect.

I believe that we need to actively fight against the growing lack of connection in our society. While people are quick to blame social media and technology, we need to focus more on how we use them, as there are wonderful examples of where they increase connection and unite people across the globe. We do need to think about creating time in our busy lives to prioritise our connections and focus on being present. In our workplaces, we need to put down our phones, cultivate skills of empathy, inclusion and lean into courageous conversations.

At Inkling, we spend time together weekly building skills to help us build a courageous culture, where we have open, authentic and meaningful connections with each other.

A strong sense of purpose

We need to feel deeply connected to meaning and purpose beyond the day-to-day grind of our daily activities. We want to know that what we do makes a difference.

The research tells us that we have lost our connection to meaningful work. In 2012 Gallup conducted the most comprehensive study ever carried out of how people around the world feel about their work. They studied millions of workers in 142 countries. They found that:
• Only 13% of people are “engaged” in their jobs – meaning they are enthusiastic, committed and feel able to contribute in a positive manner
• 63% are not “engaged” and this can be seen as a form of sleep walking through the day without contributing energy or passion into their work
• 24% are “actively disengaged” which means that they are both consciously and unconsciously acting out their unhappiness by damaging their colleagues and the company they work for. This is where toxic cultures start to arise.

Based on this study, nearly twice as many people hate their jobs as love their jobs. The sad truth is that the message of finding your passion and pursuing as a career can be an unrealistic and almost naive message to send to people; for many the need to survive means they do not have this luxury. This does not, mean that a sense of purpose is lost.

Being deeply connected to your values and choosing to live these daily can be incredibly rewarding and contribute to a bigger sense of purpose in your life. Research from Dr. Brené Brown suggests that only 10% of companies actually live the values they put on the wall, which suggests most organisations have more work to do to create cultures that hold people accountable for living and behaving in line with the company values, or simply not out them on the wall in the first place
Dr Brené’s research also suggests that the most courageous leaders operate from one or two core values; giving their day-to-day greater meaning and purpose. Do you have clarity around of your top core values? It’s important that we are regularly checking in with ourselves and our team to ensure we are living these in our work, and it’s something we do monthly at Inkling.

Be fully engaged and present in our lives

In our experience we need to develop the skills to maximise our own performance, both physically and mentally. We need to manage our energy; we need to be experts in our own self-care. If only we took care of ourselves in the same way we love our pets or our children. I regularly spend my coaching sessions and workshops with senior leaders talking about this universal need. Every day I meet leaders who are burnt out and so far from being able to function at their best because they have pushed too hard without enough time spend in recovery. Play is often seen as something children do, and the idea of taking time out for yourself is equated with guilt and selfishness.

Self-care is only one of the areas we explore at Inkling when we consider engagement in our lives, and one of the most important when it comes to navigating change and uncertainty. Funnily enough, it is often the first to go out the window in times of stress as we lean into numbing behaviours; binging on food, alcohol, tv, shopping, sex, gossip or even working more to distract ourselves rather than be present and engaged in what is going on. There is enough research that suggests if we don’t take care of our bodies, our brain stops functioning and the vicious cycle of exhaustion, being time poor and more stressed begins.

One of my learnings about self-care is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each of us has different needs in order to feel nourished. I challenge you to ask yourself, what does self-care mean to you?

I see many of us using self-care and the concept of ‘balance’ as another way to beat ourselves up for something we haven’t achieved! The self-care I believe in comes from a desire to nurture our bodies (which may actually mean skipping exercise and sleeping longer or planning a long lunch with friends who guarantee belly laughter over a Sunday spent pre-preparing healthy food for the week). There will always be a juggle and I believe we need to embrace this messiness of life. At Inkling we help people explore the science in this space and then make the right choices for themselves.

These four universal needs impact one another and are deeply connected yet are each important and warrant individual attention. When these four needs are met you unlock magic; enabling an ability to move through change with joy, learning and connection. It does not mean the absence of pain and suffering, but rather provides a way to navigate without it becoming all-consuming.

If you can support these needs to be met in a team environment, I believe that it creates a culture that fosters trust, innovation, and collaboration. Unlocking this ‘magic’ drives improved individual and team performance, and will help leaders through times of change, uncertainty and the ‘always on’ period of transformation that we are currently experiencing in today’s workplace.

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