When and how do we learn and grow?

This week we are looking at some of the lessons from Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within.

Danny tells us growth starts either with (1) an aspiration – i.e. we want to get better – or (2) when the s*** hits the fan (my words, not his).  

In other words, times of crisis or uncertainty are also opportunities to change, grow, and transform.  

As former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel once famously (infamously?) said: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Welcome to the pandemic.  Uncertainty reigns.  For most of us these are scary times, indeed. 

And, in the midst of this chaos, or rather because it is chaotic, there is a real opportunity to learn, grow and get better.  

But, how? 

Danny tells us we start by elevating our thinking.  In his book, he connects a simplified version of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to brain science.  

Our brains developed from the bottom up.  The reptilian part of our brain in our brain stem springs into action when we are threatened or sense danger.  It reacts with “fight or flight,” and is largely concerned with our safety.  

The next part of the brain to develop was our limbic system.  Many people consider this to be the seat of our emotions. It gives rise to our feelings of nurturing, love and belonging.  

The last part of the brain to develop was the prefrontal cortex.  This is the most evolved part of the human brain—the “thinking” part of the brain, responsible for high-performance conscious leadership. It provides us with the capacity for wisdom and emotional composure to engage with significance.

When crisis hits, we immediately go to safety.  We are wired this way.  This is a good thing.  To a point.  The question to ask ourselves is: is my reactivity doing myself and those around me good?  We can definitely get stuck here.  Scared.  Alone.  Reacting.  

Instead, we can elevate our response to danger by reaching out and connecting with others.  We’ve all likely experienced how powerful it can be to be around those we love during times of uncertainty.

The highest and best response is to raise our level of thinking still higher.  In times of crisis,  leadership is required.  When faced with difficulty, we can be intentional about focusing on our purpose and values, that which is most important to us.  When we react, we often erode our values.  Instead, we can choose to be proactive and engage our values.  

This isn’t easy.  Not at all.  It requires effort and choice and determination.  Instead of seeking comfort, we aim to be “comfortable being uncomfortable.”  Discomfort is where growth happens.  

Later, we realize our most profound learnings came during the most difficult of circumstances, when we faced our greatest challenges.  We rise from Maslow’s “safety” frame to “love and belonging” and ultimately to “significance.”  

It starts with reflection.  How can I connect in a meaningful way?  How can I express myself?  What is it I am here to learn?  How does this help me reach my dreams?

Then…  take action.


Reflection: When in the past have I successfully navigated through uncertainty or difficulty?  What strengths did I rely on?  How can I use these strengths at this moment?

Action: Think about my present circumstances.  Get clear on the desired outcome: what is it I want to happen?  Write it down or share it with someone.

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