A while back I went to hear a talk by the esteemed psychic Laura Day. She’s authored a legion of best-selling books, including Practical Intuition, and is employed by companies and governments around the world to help intuit the future. She’s tall and striking and has an unmistakable mystique about her. I was in awe of her energy.
After her talk concluded, she walked by me in the theater, stopped, put her hand on my forehead and said, “You my dear, you need to become more grounded.”
I was taken aback.
“Oh, okay, thank you,” I said.
She looked me in the eye.
“I’m serious,” she said. “You will be a leader in this world but first you must become more grounded.”
As a leadership coach who spends her days helping others connect and stay grounded in times of personal or professional crisis, the irony of this observation was not lost on me. Nor was its accuracy. It was true, what she said. My husband and I had just suffered yet another devastating blow on our long, unknown road to parenthood and I was feeling lost. Where the ground was, let alone finding my balance on it, was proving incredibly hard.
So I get it — how challenging it can be to stay grounded in times of crisis. But it is possible, as I reminded myself in the months that followed, and as I’m reminded all the time through the incredible journeys that my clients go on.
There’s an acronym called VUCA that was developed in response to the end of the Cold War but that has become increasingly relevant in today’s world. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous and aims to describe environments that are prone to rapid change, lack predictability, are affected by a multitude of internal and external forces, and have significant confusion.
Given the state of the planet as we know it in the 21st century, VUCA feels like an everyday way of life. It’s thus crucial that leaders within organizations, start-ups and companies know how to manage and lead there way through volatile, uncertain situations without becoming blinkered on one hand or overwhelmed on the other. They must be open to outside ideas and shifting their perspectives but they can’t lose focus or become disoriented.
How do you pull this off?
It’s a balancing act that starts with being grounded in our self and our lives. Grounded leaders are able to withstand forces that aim to push them over while also refusing to push others down. As individuals, we all fall somewhere on this spectrum between bulldozer and pushover and that placement can change depending on the circumstance and our mood in a given moment. Some days we are more easy-going and accommodating, other days we are more stubborn or bullish.
But there are things we can do to help ourselves stay as authentically balanced as possible. And as leaders, it’s crucial to find that sweet spot.
If you have a tendency to let others get their way, you need to make sure you are very clear on your overall vision in order to become a grounded leader. The vision needs to be authentic to you and aligned with the overall objectives of the organization. Once you’re clear on your vision, break it down into goals and then list out the tasks required to achieve them. This exercise, while it seems simple, is rarely done in the fast-paced environments in which we live and work.
If you take the time to do this, you will be able to see and clearly articulate the purpose behind each and every single task that you and your team is working on each day. With clear intentions, it will become very easy to stand up for them when another is trying to influence you otherwise.
You know those times when you find yourself saying ‘Sure, no problem!’ when really you want to say the opposite? Sometimes all that is required here is to be aware of this habitual response and start training your brain to have a different, more courageous reply. This can take time but with repetition and will power it can easily happen (The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg explains how to do this beautifully).
However, sometimes we need to look deeper to change habits. Sometimes surrendering to another is driven by a fear of disappointing people and a desire to please and be accepted. These are completely valid (and human) core challenges, but if you are looking to lead in a more grounded way, it will be beneficial to take the time to reflect and understand this core issue before tackling the habits that are born from it.
In VUCA environments and in life in general, adaptability is key to success and longevity. In order to be truly adaptable, you need to first be clear on what you are willing to compromise and what you aren’t. For each goal you and your team have, ask ‘what are our non-negotiables here’? Being clear on those will allow you to be flexible in other areas. This means you can be collaborative while also standing your ground where it matters.
To be adaptable requires you to nurture an open-mind – to not be attached to your ideas and solutions but to give your current course dedication while being ready to shift gears and change direction when you need to.
Humility is defined as “a modest view of one’s own importance.” To be humble is to have self-belief and self-worth but not in relation to another. If we believe ourselves to be more important or better than others and behave in a way that shows that, not only does it stop us from being able to communicate and collaborate openly and creatively, it also affects the level of trust others have in us. And as a leader, being trusted by others is crucial. When a leader respects others regardless of their rank, it inspires trust, creativity and teamwork in a team.
An empathetic leader is conscious of what’s going on in the people around them and is able to put themselves in others’ shoes to better understand their challenges and to support them in a non-judgemental way rather than giving commanding advice. When we can connect with others empathetically, it stops the tendency to bulldoze and to think that our way is the right way.
When leaders are not only aware of how their team and peers are feeling, they are also capable of making better informed decisions. They receive important feedback they might not get otherwise as people are more likely to feel comfortable sharing crucial information with them. Empathetic leaders are able to build safe-environments which in turn creates stronger, more loyal and more informed teams who work effectively and efficiently together.
A curious leader is always asking questions and communicating with others from a place of interest instead of defensiveness. To be inherently curious as a leader means you are always asking questions and seeking the meaning of things.
By being curious and having a learner’s mindset, leaders can be open to new ideas and ways of doing things which keeps a healthy level of association with their own concepts and strategies. This helps to reduce the ego’s need to control and to be right which is what drives people to bulldoze others. Curiosity allows leaders to receive information and inspiration which means they are constantly growing and improving and in turn so are their teams.
The first step to becoming a grounded leader is to reflect on where you stand on the pushover – bulldoze spectrum. Be honest with yourself and review your past behavior in a range of circumstances including with your direct reports, your peers at work, strangers on the street and your friends and family. Once you have clarity on where you are and where you want to get to as a leader, you can start making small steps forward by modifying your conceptual and behavioral habits.
Amelia Kruse is a Certified Leadership Coach based out of New York City.