Real Leaders

Self-Inquiry Is the Key To Leading In The COVID Era

As a nation, we are experiencing the most profound loss of certainty in the 21st century. The incredible loss of reliability and safety opens up an unprecedented moment to reconsider the role and effectiveness of business leadership. With the success of so many companies up in the air, organizations rely on tried-and-true tactics of the past to stay afloat. But resilience and survival depend on our leadership abilities to listen, learn, and act in profoundly new ways.

Leaders in our world are trained to articulate visions, set goals, and oversee implementation. Inquiry within themselves and their teams is not always a key pillar. But, during a time of crisis, the failure to be present with what’s going on in your team, company, or with your stakeholders can make or break a company. Such a radical change, of course, will require all hands and hearts on deck.
The times call for renewal in our commitment to develop skills to thrive within uncertainty, frameworks for collective well-being, and techniques to harness emergent solutions. But what will that take? How will the current leaders of today’s companies and organizations help steward their teams through troubled waters? 

Thankfully there are deep bodies of research and techniques to guide leaders into these liminal spaces of inquiry. While these guiding methodologies are immensely valuable, after building and advising hundreds of companies and organizations, we at JumpScale and LUMAN have relied on four key pillars: self-knowledge, self-regulation, purpose, and organizing. 

Take Time For Self Reflection

Self-awareness or self-knowledge is critical to understanding our motivations, mental states, drives, and impulses. Through introspection, transparency, and self-inquiry, we can tune in to our own core operating systems. To refine your inquiries in this domain, it is essential that you feel responsible and accountable for your success and failures, knowing that every action serves a bigger purpose and vision for oneself and the world. To do that:

  • Where am I telling myself, “that’s just how it is,” “I have to do what is expected of me,” or “I wish things were different  but…” 
  • Do I notice when you make excuses or blame others for your outcomes. 
  • In what areas am I relying on others to take the lead in my life? 
  • How am I maintaining the culture or priorities I wish to change?

Respond To Situations, Don’t React

In our age of uncertainty and change, one’s leadership capacity is in direct proportion to one’s capacity for presence. Self-regulation is practicing all of the skills required for presence, resilience, and connection to others regardless of what is happening. We identified a few core individual competencies that are key to becoming a self-regulating leader.

  • Practice Self Care: Extreme performance requires extreme self-care, as any good athlete will tell you. Keeping your body healthy, flexible, and strong serves as a first step to creating emotional and mental adaptability. Adaptability is about keeping your system dynamic and fluid to weather any changes.   
  • Embrace Empathy: Empathy is the capacity to connect to one’s own and other’s emotions and experiences. It is also the capacity to identify, stratify, and name emotions that supports the management of personal and interpersonal emotional states. 
  • Be Accountable For Yourself and Others: Accountability is making agreements with integrity and being transparent in their fulfillment. In a VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world, all we have to stand on is our integrity around our commitments. We will need the capacity to make explicit requests and agreements and have tools for what we do when those agreements are broken.
  • Plan For The Future: The ability to see tomorrow. Before building anything, we need the ability to visualize it, to anticipate dynamic changes, and to project into the future. Vision requires learning from the past, anchoring in the present, seeing similar patterns across domains — and feeling psychologically safe enough to imagine what could be.
  • In each of these capacities, it’s essential to ask yourself several questions to know where you stand as a leader.
  • Which of these areas is my weakest link?
  • When do I get derailed and lose my capacity for presence? 
  • How much do I feel part of a larger narrative about the future?

Determine Your Purpose

Everyone has a unique calling, life purpose, and skillset. Self-knowledge and regulation help us trust ourselves to stay focused on what’s most important in every moment. The more you align your contributions and service with your unique purpose and skills, the more satisfied you will be. The Japanese have a beautiful concept, Ikigai, meaning “A reason for Being.” Your Ikigai sits at the crossroads of your passion, purpose, skills, and what you can get paid to do. Purpose serves as a timeless anchor allowing for stability in an uncertain world. It serves as a decision-making tool for employees on all levels of the organization and creates a sense of urgency.

There are many inquiries and practices to validate our purpose. Ask yourself this:

  • What is the unique contribution I am here to make?
  • What keeps calling me?

Evaluate your beliefs about working within your purpose. Many of us harbor limiting beliefs that tell us our gifts are not valuable. Find those you admire, not to follow their path, but to fully understand the path that inspires you.

Examine The Organization Of Your Company

Clarity of self and purpose in an ever-changing world is a tall order. Building the skills for resilience and presence as we take on challenges larger than ourselves requires courage. But, the ability to create and validate an idea, mobilize people and resources for a project can bring joy and a sense of accomplishment, even while suffering and struggle. While traditional organizational models are still common, we are quickly moving toward models of shared leadership and self-optimizing systems. We are in a time of entirely new ways of organizing ourselves. As we evolve where and how we work, we will need to evolve how we organize and lead. What works best for your company? Ask yourself the following:

  • How am I building a learning organization that is adaptable and resilient to the challenges ahead?
  • What is my company’s Theory of Change, and does it align with your organizational model?
  • How am I focusing on my people as part of what makes a successful organization and not an afterthought?
  • How am I supporting my team to innovate continuously?

Call To Action

None of us have a crystal ball to predict with accuracy what the future might bring.

While these pillars are helpful starting points, each organization has its unique vision, mission, and values to reflect on and build from. For leaders to be of service to their organizations throughout these deep processes, their ability for self-inquiry, self-care, and resilience will be put to the test. They will be stretched. There are no honest short-cuts. Many teams will find creative ways to distribute responsibilities, act quickly to solve immediate problems, and keep leaks from sinking the ship. Yet anyone who steps into a leadership role will need to accept the importance of this ongoing inquiry process to help them stay present to changing circumstances.

Our invitation to you, do not use these times as a measure to judge your failings but as a calling to your greatness. Join our ongoing inquiry as we commit to strengthening our teams and striving toward a thrivable future – together.

Tirza Hollenhorst is an entrepreneur and a futurist. Trained as a biologist and engineer who previously built a technology company and facilitated international, cross-sector collaboration around corporate responsibility. Tirza is the founder and CEO of LUMAN where she brings her experience in business, science, and innovation together to transform organizations and prepare them for the future of work. 

Daniel Roth is an experienced social entrepreneur, movement strategist, and integrative healthcare professional focused on sustainable development, indigenous cultural revitalization, and healing arts. Over the last two decades, he has launched over a dozen non-profit organizations, campaigns, and coalitions. In 2018, Daniel founded JumpScale, a wellbeing-oriented investment advisory firm and innovation lab. Prior, he served as Director of the Cornell Campus Sustainability Office, started New York’s first car-share business, and served as a Board Member of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. 

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