Leaders Must Move from Certainty into Agility to Succeed

June 3, 2020

How Practicing Gentle Acceptance Helps You and Your Team

Verne Harnish kicked off Summit 3.0 in May 2020 by declaring, “I don’t know if you have been scaling up or scaling down, but we do know one thing, all of us have to scale forward. We have to reignite both our companies and our economies.” He then introduced Dr. Susan David, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and bestselling author of Emotional Agility, whose TED Talk has been viewed more than 7 million times. For anyone to talk about reigniting businesses, she’d be the one – and she knows that it starts inside.

Understanding Emotional Rigidity

Traditionally, most people think about difficult experiences, particularly when they’re internal struggles, in black and white terms. They’re either good or bad. Positive emotions or negative emotions. There’s nothing in between.

Dr. David calls this “emotional rigidity.” It’s wrong and can be toxic to your business.

Humans need internal agility. It’s core to the resilience of ourselves and businesses because the way you navigate your inner world – your thoughts, emotions, stories, stress, hardship, and grief – drives your entire world. This includes how you love, live, parent, and lead.

When people experience complexity and stress, they tend to lock up emotionally. You can get so caught up in your stress that you just move into “doing” mode. You complete tasks without asking yourself, “Am I doing the right thing?”

Humans can get so stuck in this state of rigid certainty that fear become the only response when faced with the unknown. Moreover, even pre-COVID, researchers at the World Health Organization showed that depression is now the single leading cause of disability globally, outstripping cancer and outstripping heart disease.

You deserve more – and so does your team.

Moving Beyond Rigidity to Agility

When people say things like, “I feel so stressed. I’m zooming, and I’m tired, and I have really hit a wall and I just want this feeling to go away,” experts and leaders like Dr. David and myself get it. We really do. But those “I don’t” goals – “I don’t want to feel sad,” “I don’t want to feel disappointed,” or “I don’t want to fail” – are dead people’s goals.

What do I mean by this?

·       Only dead people never get stressed.

·       Only dead people are never disappointed.

·       Only dead people never experience the sadness that might come with rejection or failure.

Thus, when Dr. David talks about agility at the personal and organizational level, she’s really talking about resilience and healing. This specifically includes creating the space for you to recognize that you need to heal yourself so you can be effective when it comes to your emotional state.

You are young, tall, sexy, and confident when you walk down the street, until the day you realize you are completely unseen. You are healthy until a diagnosis brings you to your knees. It’s just that some people can’t cope with those changes.

I fundamentally believe that you can’t have a meaningful life, a bold career, or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. The only certainty is uncertainty. In other words, the beauty of life is interwoven with how you first understand and then live into Dr. David’s combination of agility, resilience, and healing.

We as a society need to develop skills to navigate this reality successfully and sustainably. And this has never proven truer than how people, businesses, and governments have responded to the 2020 pandemic.

How to Embrace Emotional Agility

When faced with difficult emotions, most people either bottle them up or push them aside. You pretend that everything is okay or skirt the issue of what might be going on. But while you think you’re ignoring your feelings, what you’re really doing is getting stuck on them.

In Emotional Agility, Dr. David addresses the fundamental skills that help people to be healthy and well in the world, especially when it’s not as you wish it would be. Our world would have us believe that positivity and happiness are simply goals we can pursue; however, they often require much more. She contends that hardship, stress, suffering, and discomfort demand you draw on your internal resources. And it’s up to you to develop internal resources of courage, wisdom, connection, values, and purpose – the stuff that makes you truly human.

So, how do we begin to develop greater levels of emotional agility as human beings? Here are three strategies I find helpful, especially when I’m going through a difficult experience.

Practice Gentle Acceptance

When I say gentle acceptance. I don’t mean passive resignation, and I don’t mean hopelessness. Gentle acceptance simply means, “It is what it is.” If your business has fallen, and you’re struggling to pick up the pieces, your response should be, “It is what it is.” It’s only when we face into the reality of the situation that we are able to start making changes.

Gentle acceptance is the equivalent of going outside when it is raining and saying, “Gee, it’s raining.” The opposite of gentle acceptance is “It’s raining. I wish it wasn’t raining. Why does it always rain? Just when I think I am getting over the rain, something else comes along to slow me down.”

Gentle acceptance is really powerful, but it requires a change of attitude and perspective. You can only start rebuilding the city, rebuilding your business, or even harnessing opportunity within your business when you stop blaming the bombardment of life events for our inactivity and accept that such things just happen sometimes.

Practice Compassion

We all need compassion, both for ourselves and for our teams. More importantly, we need to learn to show it to ourselves and others. That’s the hard part. Far too often, compassion is thought of as being weak and lazy, but actually when you are compassionate, you’re putting your best self forward.

Use Your Emotions

This seems counterintuitive toward how many of us were trained and educated, but good leaders should take advantage of their feelings. When difficult emotions arise, don’t push them aside. They are signposts pointing you to things you care about, which means they signal opportunities.

If you feel bored, that boredom might be a signal that you value learning, and you don’t have enough of it right now. If you are feeling frustrated because you feel you’re missing all these opportunities around you, use that frustration to forge your pathway forward into positive activity.

Step into Your Courage and Become Agile

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who survived the Nazi death camps. In his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he offers these beautiful and powerful words:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose. It’s in that choice that lies our growth and our freedom.”

When you allow your emotions to drive you in unhealthy ways by your emotions, there is no space between stimulus and response. You feel undermined, so you shut down. You are stressed, so you go into autopilot mode. You don’t have the answers for your team, so you avoid them. There is no space then to bring in other parts of ourselves.

That, by definition, is not emotional agility. It’s not agility; it’s a concept I call “regility.” You’re trying to REturn to how things were before and go backwards instead of actually adapting to what’s happening and looking for a way forward.

Emotional agility requires courage, which is not the absence of fear. And in our current climate, it’s quite honestly not about avoiding difficult feelings. Courage means taking stock of your emotions with curiosity and compassion and then put the best of yourself forward. Simply put, true courage is fear walking.

Are you interested in learning how to face your emotions head-on? Do you want to know how to practice gentle acceptance and compassion in your life and your business? Are you ready to become the emotionally agile leader your family and team need right now? Contact me today for a free consultation. I’m excited to help you find the transformative courage that lies within.