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Self Needs To Be In The Lead

A video message from Jill Ader, Chairwoman Egon Zehnder

In this crisis, leaders need to take tough decisions while being grounded in a good place. But as leaders we have different “parts” which can hijack us and take us off center. COVID-19 will mean more seismic decisions, ones that have huge ethical and social significance, so as leaders we need to dig deeper than ever into the core of who we are.

Play Watch Chairwoman Jill Ader's message to leaders

Watch Chairwoman Jill Ader's message to leaders

So I want to share a challenging concept with you, because it can build organizational trust and replenish your energies. Now psychologists talk about our “multiplicity”, our many selves. We know we have multiple identities; maybe in lockdown you’re a CEO doing home-schooling and parental care. But at a deeper level, we also have inner personalities which the therapist Dick Schwartz calls “parts” of us – literally, unique personalities and parts inside us, each with its own motivations, emotions and feelings. Leaders need awareness of which “parts” of them are showing up and influencing those seismic decisions. When leaders are able to separate themselves from their parts and get more connected with their real sense of Self, then they are fit for purpose to lead in a crisis.

What do I mean? Maybe you have a “pleaser” part who finds it really difficult to make hard decisions. Or a “big controller” part who has taken over the show. How would you know? Maybe as a CEO you’ve gone back to Command and Control – forgetting all your leadership development and your resourceful colleagues. You might think, “This is a crisis; I need to be in control” – well no, but obviously a part of you does, but just a part. Or maybe your “scared parts” have been triggered and you’re showing up shakily; maybe those parts are scarred and scared by things that happened in your past. They need to be held lovingly now, not let loose nervously in this pandemic. Is there a short-tempered part? Maybe a “tough cookie”? Or the opposite, one that is catastrophizing, spreading fear without hope or help? Ask yourself: Which “parts” have hijacked the way you are showing up as a leader in this pandemic?

And yet, we don’t have to be just a collection of parts vying for control. If you can make space, to quiet the contentious dialogue inside of you, you can find that centered, calm space we call “Self”. Self can lead the orchestra by consoling, taming and negotiating with the parts. In making seismic decisions, Self needs to be in the lead.

You can sense the presence of Self. On our CEO development programs that we run with Mobius, we see some leaders with a machine-like “emptiness”, a “hollowness”, and they sound harsh and judgmental. To see them rediscover their sense of Self is amazing. And the good news is, we all have it. But we see many leaders in this pandemic where Self is missing most of the time. So let me ask you: Do you put enough trust in Self? And how would you know?

Have you felt centered in this crisis, better able to balance courage and compassion? Have you felt more lucid and surprisingly stoic, more alive? Has your leadership presence created more harmony than you would have imagined? It’s also a spacious place of possibilities and creativity. These factors indicate you are connected with Self. It can soothe you and calm your whole organization, providing confidence, creativity and hope. Self will help you to navigate the paradoxes and challenges of COVID-19.

And importantly, Self is universally connected to something bigger than all of us; it gets what society is calling for. It has a quality of higher consciousness; of knowing what’s right. Have you heard people talk about their deep gratitude, feeling blessed? It brings out the best in us. But if Self is hijacked, fear spreads fast, and yet Self can be more infectious, more contagious and you can feel its vibe. This is what society needs from its leaders now.

But what do you need? We may experience multiple waves of COVID-19. And already many leaders are headed for a burnout. Wrestling with polarized parts is draining. But connecting with Self brings its own nourishing energy that replenishes us. And maybe you’ve experienced it before in mindfulness practice. So our advice is to start noticing your own parts and let Self lead.

We talked before about leaders knowing and doing a lot but really being a leader comes from residing more in Self, staying longer in Self. Many of us are asking now: How do we come out of the lockdown? Whole organizations can be together in Self if you are as their leader. The world needs “care at scale” from its leaders. This shows us the way to build followership and earn a renewed license to operate from society.

So in this pandemic it really matters who shows up as our leaders. And Self is the legitimate place from which to make those seismic decisions.

Stay well.

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