On a call with a client last week, working together to identify values for tough times, a word popped up: equanimity. I couldn’t remember what it meant, but it sounded like a smooth, peaceful lake, hinting of equity and justice. So I said, “Not sure if this is relevant, but what about equanimity?” She responded, “Yes! That is a perfect word.”
The next day, I pulled out my morning meditation book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, and turned the page. The reading was entitled “The Practice of Equanimity.” Ahhhh.
Author Pema Chödrön says, “Training in equanimity is learning to open the door to all, welcoming all beings, inviting life to come visit. Of course, as certain guests arrive, we’ll feel fear and aversion. We allow ourselves to open the door just a crack if that’s all we can presently do.”
Equanimity: evenness of mind under stress. A perfect word to tuck up our sleeves for 2020.
As leaders wonder, “When will we open our doors, and what will this organization look like? Who will still be on the team? Which members, clients or donors will come back?” This time is calling for a new grounding—an evenness of mind—as organizations prepare for the unknowable.
We have been tossed around for a solid 4-6 weeks by forces outside of our control. Most leaders are muscling through this turbulence out of necessity—knowing that if we stop, it stops. If leaders break down, it all breaks down.It’s triage. We are exhausted. So what does this mean?
Leaders must be the faithkeepers, bringing realistic optimism and positive energy. Each day, we might ask, “What is needed of me today?” And each evening, inquire, “How did I show up?” Courageous? Hopeful? Drill sergeant? Strategist?
Budgets, travel and staff have all contracted out of necessity. But perhaps instead of just focusing on shrinking and tightening, we focus on conservation, gathering energy for what is to come. Just like regenerative braking in an electric car—when you take a foot off the gas, you don’t just slow down—you transfer kinetic energy back into the battery for when you will need it most. “Where do we need to conserve instead of contract right now? What are we gathering resources for?”
Equanimity also means empathy. Leaders must help staff with the emotional fluidity of this situation. This means be present with our teams, daily. Share what we are learning. We must self-manage better than ever before. Recognize none of us will get it right no matter what: this is about progress, not perfection. Be vulnerable. As leaders, we must be prepared to move through our own transformation at the same time as our organizations re-emerge. One cannot happen without the other.
Organizations are suffering around the world right now, and some will not survive. For those that do carry on, they will do so with loss. Not just loss from actual deaths, but losses to furloughs. Lost connection. Lost freedom. You can help a team process grief by asking, “What is trying to die, or shift right now? What is metamorphosizing? In our own lives? In our organization?” But also focus on the aspirational. This is a time for aliveness. “What is alive in me right now as a leader? What is alive in our team/organization? What wants to be born?”
What will happen from this point forward is still a mystery. We need an evolutionary leap in humanity to not just survive this, but to thrive. This work will require ongoing conversation, for many months to come. We will need to ask again and again, “What’s needed now?” “And now?” “And now?”
As we develop tactical and real strategies to survive, at the same time, as much as possible, we must embrace the mystery of what is to come. For now, imagine 2021, springtime. New life emerging a year from today. What do we want to look back on and be proud of?
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