LEADING WITH INTENTION
We began thinking about Leadership as a potential topic for this newsletter last November. We wanted to explore our thoughts about leading with intention in these unprecedented times. What evolved from our discussions was the development of a series of Conversations about Leadership - online discussions - with well-known and respected group leaders. In December 2020, we held our first in the series with Dr. Molyn Leszcz, titled “Group Leadership in Challenging Times.” . You can review that recording here.Our next conversation in January 2021, ”Welcoming the New Year with Mindful Leadership”, featured Dr. Stephane Treyvaud. Sadly, because of technical difficulties at our end, we do not have a recording of that session. However, the feedback we received from that conversation highlighted some valuable insights that registrants took away from the session. The third conversation in our series will take place on April 8th and highlights the Co-therapy relationship, with experts Joan-Dianne Smith and Allan Sheps. A fourth conversation is scheduled for May 13th with Yvonne Bergmans, renowned and respected for her work with suicide prevention and her unique perspective on peer leadership.
We hope you will join us for these conversations!
REFLECTING ON OUR COLLECTIVE RESPONSES
The Impact of Leadership
The impact and power of group leadership has never been so evident to our collective consciousness as it has been during this pandemic. The leadership styles and actions of our leaders whether on a local, national or global stage, are not only being carefully observed by us in our communities but are also used as models of how we treat each other and cope with the unrelenting threat of COVID19 to our safety and well-being.
We have collectively witnessed and experienced the harmful impact of toxic charismatic leadership styles that are driven by ego. The force of these personalities pull people under their influence whether in service of: minimizing the threat of this deadly virus for economic reasons; fanning the flames of division with misinformation; attacking and retaliating against those who protest or express differences; and inducing high levels of emotional stimulation that serve to further activate our stress response and cause our ‘wise mind’ (prefrontal cortex) to go off-line. The negative effects of these leadership styles result in the erosion of our sense of security and trust in our institutions and in each other.
These frightening uncertain times call for leadership styles driven by humility and a sense of service for the greater good, driven by respect and not just fear and hatred. We have seen evidence of effective leaders who acknowledge the reality and complexities of navigating this pandemic, admit mistakes, learn from others and empower us with scientific information and attunement to our collective anxiety. Interpersonal neurobiology is showing us that the ideal conditions for brain functioning are the same as the conditions needed for effective group leadership:
· Emotional attunement
· Affectionate bond
· Not frightened or frightening
· Affect regulation
· Accept protest without retaliation
· Emotional Stimulation
· Secure base (Flores, 2010)
When these conditions are met, it becomes much easier to create a an effective 'holding environment'.
British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott introduced the concept of the holding environment to describe “that aspect of the mother or caregiver experienced by the infant as the environment that literally and figuratively, by demonstrating highly focused attention and concern, holds the child comfortingly.” (https://dictionary.apa.org/)
It is in the context of this holding environment that trust and safety as well as fear and danger can be transmitted/communicated wordlessly via synchronized neural networks.
In our discussions we’ve found that this concept provides a useful lens with which to examine the challenges that have been faced and met (or not) by leaders at all levels, parents to prime ministers, over this past year.
The following questions have proven helpful in guiding our exploration and discussions:
· How do we as leaders self-regulate and hold those we lead ‘comfortingly’ during an extended period of stress and uncertainty?
· How do we maintain this ‘highly focused attention’ or attunement to the needs of the group for such a prolonged period of time?
· How much and how often do we communicate to avoid flooding others or ourselves?
· How do we reliably replenish our own energy and internal resources? Who do we turn to for support and attuned attention?
THE VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTION
Dare We Hope
With vaccine delivery well underway in Canada, it seems there is cause for hope. There is much speculation about when the pandemic will be over. In fact, there are many definitions being advanced as to what constitutes ‘over’. Is over when everyone who wants a vaccination will have received one? Is it over when we have achieved herd immunity? Or is there some yet-to-be-defined criteria such as 6 months with no further variants being discovered?
Yet amidst this optimism there is still much uncertainty and concern as to whether we will really be safe. We are already hearing news that many institutions and businesses anticipate continuing in virtual reality and work-from-home until 2022. So, the language that we are hearing includes the phrase ‘cautious optimism’.
But perhaps more important than the question, “when will the pandemic end?”, is instead, “what have we learned?” and, “how will we move forward in life?” We have learned that we have not all been impacted similarly; some of us have been able to work while others have not; some organizations have done very well, while many businesses have failed. And most importantly, we have been reminded that privilege or lack thereof – across all intersections - impacts determinants of health at individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels. This is a pivotal time for change at all levels.
We have identified what effective leadership could look like, but our collective expectations may also include the wish for the omnipotent parent to step in and solve all our problems. At the same time, as a societal group, we need to take responsibility for our contributions to our collective challenges. Clearly there is a need for a new normal.
In addition to the broader societal concerns there are also concerns that we need to address at an individual level. Coping with uncertainty has been a fact of life for the past year. Handling anxiety, dealing with feelings related to quarantine, social isolation and lockdown, financial insecurity and most significantly, loss, have all been factors in our struggle to maintain our equilibrium. In spite of this myriad of challenges, some have found inner strengths and resources that were not previously recognized. Some have welcomed a quieter pace and found opportunities to reflect on the activities and relationships (for better or worse) that bring us meaning. Dare we hope that our new normal will be one of authentic choice and freedom for each of us?
Time has become a blur for many of us. Without the normal comings and goings and the usual range of activities in our calendars we can easily fall prey to allowing work to bleed into non-work time. It also seems as if Friday arrives quickly. During lockdown, vacation days have seemed irrelevant with many saying there is nowhere to go. We may not recognize that, regardless, our self needs to be nurtured. Many of us will need to develop a greater awareness of personal boundaries and limits to ensure that this most precious resource remains intact.
We are frequently asked, “what will be the first thing you do when the pandemic is over?” Instead, we would like to ask, “what will be the third or fourth thing that you will do with your new-found freedom?” Will we go back to the social and personal ‘shoulds’ we impose on ourselves, but which we know hold us back and trap us into self-defeating and passive ways of being, or will we pursue healthy boundaries so that we can truly exercise personal choice? So again, dare we hope that with our new normal we will find a balance between our need to belong, the needs of others, and our own thoughts and feelings?
You will recognize this exquisite piece of music, Nessun Dorma ‘Alone, Together’, filmed at the iconic Colosseum in Rome, featuring Stjepan Hauser, which represents these concepts so beautifully.
Installation of hope and joy across boundaries
In the wilderness of the Canadian Yukon, Gurdeep Pandher is making a significant and somewhat unique effort to create an atmosphere of joy, inclusivity, and optimism by daily dancing Bhangra. Bhangra is a traditional dance of Punjab, originally associated with the harvest, growing food and relationship to the land in the Punjab nation.
Pandher is sharing bhangra to spread joy and positivity in the time of COVID. Each day Pandher leaves his log cabin dressed in vibrant colours and shares his daily offering via drone video, to an ever-growing audience of Facebook members and other social media followers. Pandher says, “I dance Bhangra in the wilderness of the Yukon for joy, hope, positivity, and good health. I am dispatching this positive vibe across Canada and beyond.”
One man in the isolated tundra has taken on a personal commitment, dancing, videotaping, and sharing his efforts every day to a dedicated and ever-growing audience. His videos are now being shared in several high-profile media forums.
Pandher understands his contribution as part of “good practice”. Believing that the human family is all in “this journey of life together”. In essence Pandher is facilitating group in the largest sense of the word, creating a community that spans countries, religions, and beliefs and that offers those that tune into a moment of simple joy as they witness one person‘s journey in a frozen landscape.
In looking ahead to the future, we are aware that leadership will continue to be critical, that there will be regressive forces wanting to maintain inequitable systems and power structures. Much has been lost by many, the crisis has exposed many tears in our social fabric and many of us have developed new awareness about possibilities available to us. Challenges lie ahead. Hopefully we can rise to meet them.
We Shake with Joy
A Poem by Mary Oliver from her collection, “Evidence”
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING
Madisyn Taylor has written an insightful piece titled,
“Birds Fly in a V” in the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative/FEED, which highlights the inherent values of working together.
We found this conversation reinforced what the group literature recommends when beginning any new group: begin with intention - set goals and establish norms. This entertaining podcast creatively explores all types of gatherings – with intention. And it highlights what we know to be true – that everything has meaning, and if we plan well, the process seemingly unfolds seamlessly.
Aida Cabecinha, Susan Farrow, Maureen Mahan, Allan Sheps and Terry Simonik,