Vivek Murthy, until recently the U.S. Surgeon General and tasked with the country’s health, observed about the United States, “I traveled the country listening to people. What I sensed was that people were experiencing a high degree of emotional pain….. I am deeply concerned about the level of stress that our country is experiencing. I think it’s preventing us from experiencing our full potential.”
Mr. Murthy’s remarks could probably apply to a great number of countries in addition to the U.S. We are living in intensely disturbing times. Fear, competition, mistrust, and division seem to outweigh optimism. This makes a leader’s job enormously challenging – and at the same time, crucially potent in setting and maintaining a tone that rises above the fray in order to assure everyone does indeed experience full potential.
Over the past few years, the external environment has seeped into the work environment in ways that threaten to make your work organization as dysfunctional as some of our political institutions are today. As a leader, you are looked to for modeling – and insisting on – behavior conducive to effective decision-making, respectful relationships, and focus on business outcomes. If you fail to see the breakdown in these imperatives as the outside world seeps in, you become ineffective in preventing their unavoidable damage to your organization. And more to the point, you miss a precious opportunity to paint a more civil, hopeful, and pragmatic picture of the world that can actual seep back out into the chaos.
We’ve explored several of these potentially unhealthy influences that are making their way into the workplace, and it is worth your time to keep an eagle eye out for them and to respond appropriately. Here are some of the issues you may want to track.
A tendency to outrage in lieu of action:
A preference for creating sides – you’re either with us or against us:
A self-centered belief in the right to dissent:
A blurring of lines between fact and fiction:
A naïve belief in returning to a better past as a way to avoid a comfortable present tense:
And finally, the incursion of political viewpoints into the workplace:
Dealing with these disruptive factors is something you can do as you see them arising in your workplace. But the issues go beyond the specific. As Dr. Murthy noted, the personal stress level is high, and that carries into the workplace as well. So you as a leader are also called upon to provide the steady guidance away from stress and toward a more civil and benevolent environment.
Learn what leaders have come to express as the touchstones of leading in tough times:
And perhaps the singular most critical skill to acquire in order to lead in turbulent times – and to teach to others – is the skill of resilience. It is what will carry you and them through whatever the world stage dishes out:
As Kermit the Frog lamented, “It’s not easy being green.” And it’s not easy being a leader in these tough times. But Kermit saw beyond what was difficult to what he really could be: “green can be big like the ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.” You and your leadership skills are exactly what the world needs right now. Your leadership challenges, if used to lift everyone to the heights of the mountains and trees, creates a vision that is precious beyond words. We look to all of you to not just tackle the tough times, but to embrace them, and in the process, to change the world for the better.
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant
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