Leading in the Unknown

Business leaders across northwest Louisiana were recently given a chance to pause, reflect, and shift their mindset on overcoming 2020

The Bossier Chamber of Commerce, The Committee of 100 and Citizens National Bank presented Leading in the Unknown March 4.

This virtual, interactive webinar had participants interact as they learned to become better leaders coming out of the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Bossier Chamber seeks to be the collaboration hub of NWLA by advancing civic, commercial, industrial, technological and agricultural interest of our region by promoting general welfare and prosperity of our region, and stimulating public interest,” said Lisa Johnson, President and CEO of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce.

Led by Sky Jarrett, executive trainer with Potential Project, Leading in the Unknown offered a playbook to help leaders navigate the current time of turbulence and unknown.

She described 2020 and leading into this year as a “Tsunami of Crises.” She noted that this year offers new opportunities to overcome.

“As the book of your life is being written, what will this year say about this year? When there is no playbook for what to do, you simply can’t keep going in the same direction and it’s time for a whole new playbook.”

The webinar explored the main challenges of leading:

  • Distractions – inundated with information and fragmented in attention
  • Empathy – paralyzed by the weight of empathy and difficult decisions
  • Ego – attachment of how things used to be

She revealed the antidotes to those challenges are:

  • mindful agility
  • wise compassion
  • beginner’s mindset

When it comes to mindful agility, Jarrett began by pointing out that focusing on perfection will cause you to be left behind.

“The pace of change today is the fastest it has ever been in civilization and it is the slowest it will ever be. So, buckle up,” she said.

This means managing distractions to zoom between the big picture and concentrated focus. 

“As leaders, you need the mental agility to see what’s happening at different viewpoints. You need the ability to see what’s happening (on a large scale) and then be able to zoom in swiftly to understand the most important priority and then shifting to the next priority,” Jarrett said.

The three levels of mindful agility are “wise awareness” for the bigger picture, “sustained focus” on an important priority, and “agile focus” to switch from one priority to the next.

The second portion of the webinar focused on wise compassion. Jarrett defined this as making a hard decision in a compassionate way.

She explained that empathy is sharing of suffering based around emotion, while compassion is an intention, a motivation to see that suffering alleviated. 

“Empathy in hard times can be a challenge for leaders because hard times call for hard decisions that impact others,” she explained.

In order to apply wise compassion instead of empathy, leaders need to avoid the empathetic hijack. The steps of the empathetic hijack are facial recognition, emotional empathy, empathetic hijack, empathetic burnout. 

To avoid that, Jarrett advised leaders to have rational empathy, emotional resistance and compassion by asking, “What can I do to help?” and then acting.

“Only in that mindset can you be compassionate but avoid empathetic burnout. That can be as simple as a conversation,” Jarrett said. “It doesn’t mean taking on the burden of solving their issue, but demonstrating an intention to alleviate their suffering.”

Finally, the virtual event explored how to manage the challenges of ego. 

Jarrett advised that ego attachment hampers innovation. She told of how a company can let go of ego attachment by seeing their situation from a different perspective without emotional bias. 

“Ego is all about self preservation and oftentimes it is driven by fame, fortune, and power, but great success equals great fear of loss of success. Or we have fear of abandoning a commitment or belief,” she explained. “Then the ego prefers to play it safe and we get stuck.”

Jarrett said this is why the biggest enemy is a limited mindset and that mindset is controlled by an unconscious bias — seeing the world and other people as we are, instead of how it and they actually are.

“This is a challenge for leaders because it makes us pigeonhole our business and limits innovation,” Jarrett said. 

She advised the way to fight back is by cultivating a beginner’s mind, saying, “A beginner’s mind is an open mind. It’s seeing the world with fresh eyes. It’s waking up and questioning everything about your business and not assuming it’s the same way you’ve always seen it.”

To do this, it requires reprogramming the brain by unlearning biases. She advised to do this by having an awareness of the biases and a willingness to act on rewiring those biases. 

“When practicing mindfulness, people are less biased, more inclusive, less discriminatory and more innovative,” Jarrett said. “We see more clearly and can imagine more possibilities.”

She provided steps to overcome biases when faced with a challenge — ask yourself if there are any biases, pause and shift your perspective, observe biases as they arise, then consciously try to take a different perspective, and then reflect on the experience.

She signed off by echoing Winston Churchill’s famous speech amidst WWII, telling attendees that “this is your finest hour.”

“This moment is a test of our humanity. It will bring out the best and worst in us. Show up as a human and it will make you a more powerful leader,” Jarrett concluded.