Our world is filled with discontentment right now — politics, the pandemic, social injustice — which has magnified the “normal” challenges organizations face. People are searching for leaders to help them find a path forward. And yet, given the full continuum of deeply held beliefs that have come to the surface in recent months, how does a leader navigate the tightrope through discontentment to find more solid footing?
1. Start inside.
It is critical to focus on your center of gravity when walking a tightrope. One way to do that is by starting with your values and your people. While your people may express a range of beliefs, or raise concerns that are different from your own experiences, focus on the relationships. These are the same people who stayed late to help you on a project. The ones who have laughed with you and shared family milestones. There have always been topics on which you have disagreed, but you didn’t let them overshadow the goals and values you shared. Focus there first.
2. Stay attuned.
To maintain your balance on the tightrope, you have to be aware of what is going on around you. It requires seeking out multiple points of view and listening to hear perspectives that are different from your own, or challenge your intended path forward. Thoughtfully consider and when appropriate shift your behavior based on that input. The winds of change may appear to whip up quickly, but in reality the signs were there for those who were paying attention.
3. Expect to feel unsteady.
There is a reason that so few people choose to walk the tightrope of leadership. It is hard, uncomfortable work. You can go from feeling steady to incredibly wobbly in a single step. You have to be flexible enough to absorb the feelings of imbalance while also keeping your eye firmly focused on your end goal. It is the ability to move with the wire, time after time, that enables on-going success.
4. Don’t look down.
Although you need to remain attuned to what is going on around you, it is also important to recognize that some people only focus on the downside of a situation. If you are looking for affirmation from or allow yourself to be distracted by such people, you will be much more likely to lose your balance. Does someone shoot down every possible resolution, or when you solve one challenge instantly present another? If so, it’s time to look up and move on.
5. Step out.
One step at a time. With each step, observe your surroundings, re-orient if you need to, decide the next best step, and then take it. Over and over again. The only way to get across the tightrope is to cross it.
Yes, discontentment is high right now, and leading through it may feel like walking a tightrope. Yet now more than ever, we need leaders willing to step up and step out. Are you up for the challenge?