1: VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.  

That’s our world. There are two ways we can show up.  

Option one? A reactive mindset. “We feel threatened with fear, stress, self-doubt, ego, and conflict; where an unconscious and reflexive series of protective responses can dominate our psyche and ripple through our actions, activating similar experiences in others that can instantly drain energy and fragment teams as well as families,” writes Dr. Daniel Friedland in Leading Well from Within: A Neuroscience and Mindfulness-Based Framework for Conscious Leadership.  

Fortunately, there is a different and a better path forward: “The other involves a creative mindset, where with conscious awareness, self-compassion, and courage, we can lean in and grow, even in our most challenging circumstances,” Danny* observes. “The essence of being proactive is to take responsibility for [our] life rather than reacting to outside circumstances or other people. This is especially important in high-stakes, stressful situations.”

With this second path, “inspiration, energy, and empathy are present, and innovation can flourish, enabling a team to work well together with transparency and trust and become aligned in a shared vision to more fully focus its collective energy to serve others and something larger than themselves,” writes Danny.

2: Yes, VUCA is our reality. But, the challenges and stress we face are not inherently bad. Stress is “simply energy that can be used in both positive and negative ways,” notes Danny. He cites Kelly McGonigal‘s research which shows that we can choose to see stress as harmful or helpful. When we learn how to engage stress as an asset, we can perform at a higher level and generate personal growth. 

The really good news? We can learn to show up more often with a creative mindset. Even when we get triggered and act out, we can recover. Yesterday, we observed as Danny showed up at a crucial board meeting and lashed out at a colleague. Once he became aware, he “consciously chose to align my decisions and actions around what was truly important to me and how I could best serve others.” 

The key, “once we are triggered, feel threatened, and become reactive,” is to use specific skills and practices to help us “get out of the downward spiral caused by feeling threatened and overwhelmed with stress,” notes Danny. How quickly can we reorient towards a conscious and creative mindset?

3: Danny’s creative vs. reactive mindsets are similar to what Carol Dweck characterizes as the “growth mindset” vs. the “fixed mindset.” When we show up with a creative mindset, we don’t see failure as permanent. We realize our setbacks are learning opportunities. “Because people with a growth mindset believe they are always learning, they know they don’t have all the answers, and they never will,” Danny notes. “Such a perspective results in a sense of humility, which makes them less likely to overrate these positive qualities.”

He contrasts this approach with the reactive or fixed mindset, where we see our qualities as “fixed and permanent.” In this mindset, we’re “either capable, intelligent, or successful, or [we’re] not . . . Failure is threatening and unacceptable,” Danny writes. “Thus, it’s not surprising to see reactive leaders overestimate their abilities. It’s hard to admit you’re struggling if you believe you can’t improve.”

More next week.


Reflection: Are there certain people, situations, or circumstances that tend to bring on my reactive mindset?

Action: The next time I feel myself sliding in a reactive mindset, take a moment to “pause, notice, and choose.”

*Danny was my friend, mentor, and business coach. He passed away after a yearlong battle with brain cancer on October 30, 2021. To watch Danny’s memorial, click here. Note: service begins at 12:45 time marker.

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