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Our challenge as leaders is to look our fears in the face and then turnaround and provide stability for our teams.
In the face of a crisis, our bodies are programmed to survive. Our brains fire up our sympathetic nervous systems flooding us with hormones and neurotransmitters. In what is known as the flight or fight response, we put up our fists or we prepare to flee. These same chemicals can cause tunnel vision, loss of hearing, stomach clenching, and uncontrollable trembling. We all have been there at some point in our lives. But people, here is the issue: even though things feel crazy right now, we are no longer in the wilderness. Survival is no longer about running away from impending danger, it is about finding the resilience to stay and face our fears head on.
A few weeks ago in between back-to-back meetings with various teams at LUNA, I found myself with a distinct guttural urge to run very far away. Others’ fear fueled my own anxiety. Questions about the economy and personal safety I couldn’t answer left everyone on my zoom calls feeling edgy. My instincts to flee surged and for a moment I considered giving in to them; but what message would that send to my team? At some point during a break I had to will myself to slow my respiration. I closed my eyes and searched for the override button to get me out of my head.
This is where the heart enters in. Our heart starts beating before we are even viable. It provides a measure to gauge our emotions and physical health. It is the engine pumping oxygen through our every cell. Our head might tell us to run, but it is our heart that allows us to stay. Moreover, the heart is credited for our ability to connect with others, to be vulnerable, and to love. I learned long ago that in order to be true to myself as a leader I needed to lead with my heart first. If I didn’t care deeply about my work or the people I work alongside then I wouldn’t give a damn about my offerings or survive in my role over time.
Our head might tell us to run, but it is our heart that will allow us to stay.
During this pandemic, we all have well-founded fears. Our challenge as leaders is to look straight at our fears and then turnaround and provide stability for our teams. If someone looks at you and asks: “How will this end for me?” Or, “When will my role go back to what it was?” Or, “Will we survive this?” Instead of fighting your flooded brain, look instead to your heart. A simple response focused on the person works: “I can’t tell you those answers now, but I can tell you that your work is meaningful.” Or, “I can tell you that you matter to this organization. I can tell you that you matter to me.”
When we look at survival skills and how they play into resilience, research tells us that compassion for others and self is essential. Confidence in your own contribution, knowing your survival is important to others, and having someone else to fight for are fuel for the heart. The duality of self-confidence and interdependency provides motivation to dig your heels into muddy waters. As a business that is known for its compassionate culture, LUNA places such a value on self-care that we don’t just encourage it, we expect it from our staff. Employees are told that if they don’t care for themselves and their families first, they won’t be productive at work. We teach the importance of expressing gratitude. We actively identify people who are struggling. A culture of care is critical to cultivate before a crisis, but it is essential to withstand a crisis once it has hit.
If we didn’t care about our staff, it would be easier to let them go. If we didn’t care about our reputation in the community, we could discontinue all but the most profitable of our services. If we didn’t care about sustaining our business for the sake of our stakeholders, we would fold it up now and give into our survival instincts to run away. But alas, we do care. And because we care, we can take the next step towards action. We can recognize that compassion and caring are important elements of our resiliency plan.
My LUNA colleague and dear friend Stevie Cromer heads up our Culture Department and has built a brilliant enrichment and wellness program for our staff–one of its pillars being wellness. We recently decided to share some of her work around LUNA’s culture of care during this crisis in her blog series, Creating a Culture of Care. Going public shares resources with our community–and importantly–keeps us accountable.
We believe our organization will be more resilient by creating and maintaining a culture of care and so will yours. If as a leader you are reminding your staff to take the time and energy to build up their heart muscles, so might you. If the collective heart muscles are stronger inside our organizations, we will be more confident and less afraid, and in the end, this courage will help our organizations thrive, even in the face of a crisis like COVID-19.
Do you have thoughts to share about leading with the heart? Contact me at marina@LUNA360.com.
Marina Hadjioannou Waters is the President and co-owner of LUNA Language Services an Indianapolis based company providing the community with language access.