1: “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,” former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel once said.

This week we are exploring some of the lessons I learned from my friend, mentor, and coach, Dr. Danny Friedland, who passed away 18 months ago after a year-long battle with brain cancer. Danny wrote the brilliant book Leading Well from Within.

Danny tells us personal growth starts with either (1) an aspiration or desire to get better or (2) when things go wrong.  

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

2: But how?

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

With evolution, our brains developed from the bottom up. The amygdala is at the core of the brain. The reptilian part of our brain springs into action when we are threatened or sense danger. It reacts. “Fight or flight,” it tells us. It is concerned with safety.  

The next part of the brain to develop was our limbic system. It controls our emotions. It is responsible for our feelings of nurturing, love, and belonging.  

The last part of the brain to develop was the prefrontal cortex. This is the “thinking” part of the brain, responsible for leadership, wisdom, emotional composure, and significance.

When a crisis hits, we immediately go to safety. We are wired this way. This is a good thing. To a point.  

We can definitely get stuck here. Scared. Alone. Reacting.  

The question to ask ourselves is: is my reactivity doing myself and those around me good?  

3: 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.

Still, there’s another level available to us. The highest and best response is to raise our level of thinking even higher. When faced with difficulty, we can intentionally focus 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 is what leadership looks like in action.

It’s not easy. Not at all. It requires effort and choice, and determination.  

Instead of seeking comfort, we aim to be “comfortable being uncomfortable.”   Because 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. “What is it I am here to learn?” we ask. Or “How can I connect in a meaningful way?” Or “How can I best express myself? Or “How does this help me reach my dreams?”

Then… we take action.

More tomorrow!


Reflection: When 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 do I want to happen? Write it down or share it with someone.

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