“Remember, the state of a leader is socially contagious within a culture,” Dr. Daniel Friedland writes in Leading Well from Within.
1: As leaders, our mindset sets the tone for the entire firm. How we respond to a challenge or crisis cascades throughout the organization.
The good news? We can learn to navigate stress at “an organizational level and cultivate a high-performance culture of creativity and growth, whether it’s at work, at home, or in our community,” Danny writes.
We begin by observing specific reactive behaviors and when they tend to happen. We pay attention “to the ways individuals treat or avoid each other in our environment,” notes Danny. “How prevalent is blame, gossip, judgment, bullying, and/or destructive conflict?”
“Or, just as concerning, does our culture tend to avoid conflict with superficial politeness or . . . artificial harmony”? Danny asks.
2: Our goal is to find “the creative abrasion” in between destructive conflict and artificial harmony. Danny writes: “We acknowledge that the stress and doubt in healthy dissent is an important part of creativity, and we commit to treat each other with kindness and compassion, so we can create enough safety and trust to feel challenged, rather than threatened, during periods of stressful growth and change.”
When challenges arise, we learn “to first pause and then take a collective breath to reflect on what is going on,” writes Danny. “While I mean this in part metaphorically, it can be very helpful to do this literally, too.”
Once during a high-stakes board meeting, when tempers and voices were rising rapidly, Danny raised his hands and said, “Okay, everybody, stop! Let’s all take three breaths and come back to address this one person at a time.”
The result? “We were able to continue the conversation more calmly, see all sides of the issues more empathetically, and come to a good decision about our next steps,” he writes.
3: Next, we “name it to tame it,” suggests Danny. At PCI, we say: “Let’s call a thing a thing.”
When we label an emotion or circumstance, we move from our brain’s reactive, emotional side to the more objective, rational part.
Once, while serving as board chair, Danny lost his cool during a high-stakes discussion. After taking a short break, Danny addressed the group: “Sometimes when we face darkness, the best thing is just to call it out. For my part, I am sorry that my fear got the best of me and for inviting this darkness into the room.
“Yesterday we spoke about the importance of constructively engaging each other, speaking our truth, and avoiding the pitfalls of destructive conflict or, worse yet, artificial harmony. Well, here we are in this moment of conflict. More important than any of the issues we face is how we will constructively engage each other right now to find healing and trust in the face of our conflict.”
Once we’ve identified, named, and defused our reactivity, the final step is to consider our best response. Doing so involves learning to ask better questions and taking purposeful action.
Reflection: Does my organization or family lean toward destructive conflict or artificial harmony? How might I apply Danny’s approach to find a more healthy “creative abrasion”?
Action: Discuss with a colleague or family member.