Read on for suggestions on how to thrive and be
kind in these crazy times.
As we begin 2021, we look back on a year of
uncertainty when our existing way of living was disrupted in both our
professional and our personal lives. The coronavirus pandemic brought with it
lockdowns, restrictions, and economic challenges for many. Instead of spending
time on planes and in meetings, many of us found ourselves working primarily
from home and through virtual online platforms. The phrase, “You’re on mute’
became one of the most commonly-spoken all over the world.
The stresses and strains of 2020 began to
increase for executives as the year progressed.
From surveys with
more than 600 leaders on programmes from April through
December, 1 I found that less than half felt that they
were operating at their best, with around 40 per cent reporting that they felt
they were in survival mode, feeling greater levels of anxiety, frustration, and
2021 is a new year
and yet it is unlikely to bring with it significantly greater levels of
certainty. So one of the questions organisations need to reflect upon is how
can they create a climate where their people can openly share how they are
feeling in order to be able to cope during changing times.
The Actualising Tendency 2 refers
to the motivation of all living things to fulfil their potential. A sunflower
seed will grow, whether it is planted in healthy fertile soil in a field or
whether it lands between two paving slabs. However, the conditions it finds
itself in make a difference to how well it flourishes.
Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology and Nobel Peace Prize
nominee, believed that we all have within us the capacity to know what we need
to grow. He referred to three conditions necessary to encourage an individual,
a group, or a community to thrive: first, there must be a congruence between
what is felt and what is expressed; second, it is important to cultivate an
attitude of unconditional positive regard—an acceptance or caring; and third,
there must be an empathic understanding that involves a sensitive and active
We are a social species as we are people who
care for each other, support each other, and truly listen to each other takes
courage and yet is vital for the health and well-being of humanity. Creating these spaces via technology takes considerable
leadership, patience, and thoughtful planning.
technique that can be helpful is to ask people to share one thing that is
bothering them, annoying them, or concerning them that is outside their
control. Open this up for everyone who wants to participate. Neuroscience shows
us that the expression of negative emotion reduces the intensity of the emotion
in our brains, so by sharing what frustrates us, we somehow feel less
It is important that leaders do not try to solve the issue or provide
solutions. Rather, it is to offer the space where everyone feels secure enough
to ‘unmute’ their voices and speak up. Following the ‘venting’ people are then
better able to move from their areas of
concern into areas of influence and to discuss what they can do to move
things forward. This sense of autonomy increases psychological wellbeing.
When we are able to co-create safe spaces and be
secure bases for each other, everyone benefits. In times of planetary crisis,
imagine what we could acheive if we extended our congruence, unconditional
positive regard, and empathic listening to include all ‘persons,’ all living
things, be they human or other-than-human.
Change starts with the individual. So, as we
start a new year, focus on your inner voices and ask yourself how you can be
more congruent, more respectful, and listen more deeply today. Start now. In a
changing world, finding ways to be kinder and more compassionate with yourself
and then with others is a necessary and worthwhile pursuit.
May 2021 be a year
of recovery, resilience, and regeneration for us all.
1 Surveys by Professor Goldsworthy, IMD, wth
executives from across the globe
2 Carl Rogers (1980), A
Way of Being, Houghton Mifflin Company
Affiliate Professor of Leadership &
Organisational Change at IMD and a former Olympic finalist, Susan is passionate
about working with people to turn knowledge into behaviour.
She is co-author of three award-winning leadership books, Care to Dare, Choosing Change, and the recently released Where the Wild Things Were, for people of all ages to raise awareness of
biodiversity loss and the need to protect what we still
can in our magical, more-than-human world.
Copyright © 2021 Singapore Institute of Management