The Ease of Influence

The Ease of Influence

Here’s the great irony. Leaders are often wary of change because they fear resistance from their followers, the time it will take to adapt to the new change, and the fallout of a dip in productivity during the shift to a new state. But what we have re-learned lately is how easy it is for leaders to influence the masses for good or for ill. 

Are you wearing a mask as you go out in public? Why or why not? If you say yes, it is likely because you trust the leaders who are advising you about the rationale for doing so and by the modeling they are providing. If you are not, it is likely because you trust the leaders advising that not wearing a mask is a mark of your personal freedom, are modeling not wearing one, and are even advocating that it may be a mark of weakness or a harbinger of infringement on personal freedoms to do so. 

How did we come to this? After all, the science around mask wearing is clear. The countries that are successfully fighting the current pandemic are doing so, and common sense would suggest that the use of masks and social distancing are relatively easy fixes to stay safe.  The mask, after all, is neutral, but leadership influence is not. 

Where we do seem to agree, is that seeking that elusive concept of herd immunity against Covid 19 to end our seclusion, restart our economy and return to some semblance of normality is a good idea. Whether through a vaccine or otherwise, we want our lives back. But I worry that in the process another kind of herd immunity has taken place. One that has inoculated a good percentage of the population against the truth. When a message is repeated often and loudly by a leader whom we follow, it’s not truth that matters, it’s the influence of the leader that does. Most importantly, we follow what  leaders do, even more than what they say.

So, to be clear, the irony is this — leadership influence is much easier and more powerful than we suspect. It appears we can be led right off the cliff, like the lemmings into the sea. We can also be led to great heights of productivity and generosity. I’m sure historians would be laughing about now asking wryly, haven’t you been paying attention to mankind’s relationship with leaders?  Didn’t you take notice of Attila the Hun, Hitler, and Henry the VIII on the one hand, or Moses, Gandhi and Joan of Arc on the other? It has always been true that leaders can’t exist without followers and during times of crisis there is an even greater longing for strong leadership. We all want someone to assuage our fears, help us feel safe and give us back some semblance of control and stability. Toxic leaders know how to exploit such needs, and yet, to thicken the irony, more positive and less self-serving leaders are less likely to advance their leadership quite as strongly, desiring to take great care with such power. It is also true that devolution to baser ways of thinking and doing marks paths of lesser resistance. It’s always easier to default to worst case scenario thinking and reptilian reactive responses. It is indeed more difficult to practice the discipline of optimism, hope and positivity. We need leaders to help us want to do this kind of work. 

So, hear this. As a leader, you hold in your hand the capacity to tear down, destroy, and defeat. You also hold the capacity to uplift, empower, and envision a fairer, safer, and more just future for those you lead. If you are the latter type of leader, think carefully about your influence. Now is not the time to be reticent. Now is the time to lead.

Staying Safe at Home: New Meanings for a New Normal

Staying Safe at Home: New Meanings for a New Normal

We have all been under some version of a Stay Safe at Home order for the last couple of months.  While this has certainly become a common phrase in the lexicon, what does it really mean for us humans, in our role as a family member, citizen? On the surface, of course, it means to shelter in place as much as possible and employ the physical precautions that we have learned to practice. Even now as our country begins to open up, we know that the safest place is still at home. My grandson even made me a reminder! (Featured Photo: The Rock that Rocco made)

But as usual, what’s below the surface holds more meaning and the potential for more opportunity.   I’ve been thinking about each of the words in this now ubiquitous phrase and wonder what others think about them as well.  As you read what follows, I hope you will consider your own perspectives about these words and their significance in your life.

Stay

In the past we have used this word a great deal in the English language within idioms

Stay away

Here to stay

Stay the course

And we have even pejoratively labeled homebodies as “stay at homes.”  I guess we all are now!

But what about the power of stay? Might there be strength in the ability to stay steady, stay strong, and stay present? In the pre-Covid 19 world it’s fair to say that there wasn’t much staying going on. Rather, there was a great deal of rushing to and fro, pushing through discomfort and a general acceptance of forging ahead to get ahead  We seemed to be always on our way to somewhere else, some other pressing appointment or task that had to be completed right away. Very infrequently did we take time to stop, or if we did the guilt crept in because somehow we weren’t progressing, doing what we “should” to keep up and keep moving ever onward. I used to relish the rare occurrence of a canceled appointment, giving me a very welcomed hole in my schedule to take a bit of a break, and allowing myself the luxury of pausing to find my bearings. 

And so I wonder, might our current context be an opportunity to stop, breathe, think, and stay quiet for the possibility of hearing something you haven’t heard before, seeing something you haven’t seen before, feeling something you dared not feel before? Personally, I have appreciated this new place of peace and contentment, and I have noticed an urge for creativity within my new brain space, and a desire to serve my extended personal and professional family in new and unexpected ways. 

Safe

Surely, be “safe” in today’s world includes washing your hands, staying at a healthy physical distance from others, and being generally vigilant about where you go and what you do. I don’t know about you, but this can easily lead to a bit of paranoia, wondering if the virus is lurking around every corner. These safety steps can feel exhausting and severely test our patience, yet we need to take the recommended precautions not only for our sake but the sake of those around us with vulnerabilities, both seen and unseen.   

But what other kinds of safety can we more purposefully employ now that we have the opportunity to do so?  Beyond physical safety, and perhaps as important is our psychological wellness. What are we doing now that can strengthen our resilience for the unknown future? I have long found in my own research and the research of others that adversity, such as we are experiencing, can build strength and a greater sense of efficacy — a feeling of “I can do this and I will do this.”  Fortunately, taking the time and making the space for resilience can be found in simple thoughts, kind words and generous deeds, and in the choices we make every day to do better, be better, and as a result, feel better. 

Additionally, safe at a distance doesn’t mean we have to be distant from others. What a boon it is to virtually and intentionally connect with old friends, nurture current friendships and connect to family members in new and deeper ways. I find myself grateful for all of these deepened relationships — which in turn add to my resilience, optimism and overall sense of emotional health.

At Home

My daughters’ home as drawn by one of her fifth-grade students.

There is that well worn saying, “Home is where the heart is.”  And while we may be physically cloistered during this virus, we can certainly experience a more full-hearted sense of home that brings peace and serenity for our deepest spiritual well-being.  

The nonphysical home is the one you will find in your center, your inner core. It is where your most highly prized values live; it is the engine that drives your authenticity; it is where you are most vulnerable; and, it is the source of your courage and commitment. Not only am I enjoying my physical home by using it in new and creative ways, and exploring my neighborhood on more adventurous walks, but I am also taking a deep dive into my spiritual home. 

The questions I am focused on now include: What am I most committed to right now, and what is my essential purpose right now? How can I make the most of the gift of reflection about myself and my place in the world? For me the answer resides in being there for the ones I love, for the ones I work with, for the ones I have the opportunity to serve who are struggling during this time. What feeds my soul now is my ability to “be good to others” through listening, cooking, delivering meals, sharing positive sources of information, being flexible with deadlines, and generally giving people a break of some small sort to make their day just a bit better. 

What new meaning of home, and of life. is being revealed for you?

So now, when you hear Stay Safe at Home, I hope you will pause a little, smile a bit, and think about the possibilities that are right here, right now. Perhaps you’ll find yourself, like me, discovering what it means to Stay Safe at Home through new lenses.  Maybe this time in our lives can help us all to think less about what our next move should be, and more about what our current state can be.  The opportunities seemingly abound, if we can just find the way to open the door and let them in. 

What’s on your mind and in your heart as you Stay Safe at Home?