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What Leaders Struggle with During Turbulent Economic Times

Lynda Hoffman is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Through her business, Lynda Hoffman Life Coaching, she coaches passionate and self-directed business professionals - with or without ADHD - who want to create meaningful personal and organizational change. Lynda partners with clients to increase their personal agency and strategic decision-making. Her extensive experience in the fields of executive functioning and mindfulness training supports clients in understanding how their brain functioning informs their behaviour - and how to change what needs changing. She encourages her clients to do the deeper work to create transformational change – the kind that lasts.

Posted: 28th February 2023 by
Katina Hristova
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What are some of the key concerns executives come to you with in light of the current turbulent economic environment?

Turbulence is such a great word to describe the times we’re living in. Everything feels like it’s on a low boil, in constant motion with no clear idea of when or how it will settle. And while it’s uncomfortable, it’s also a perfect opportunity for executives to hone their deeper skills.

Business is all about managing uncertainty, but now executives are being asked to lead when nothing we’ve counted on feels certain. The current times are not just about economics. Leaders are being called on to lead in a climate of fear.

As a professional coach, I know that what you fear is what you create. If you’re afraid of uncertainty, you tend to create more chaos. Our brains are wired to go into reactive thinking when we‘re afraid. That’s when executive functioning can go offline, even for leaders. The result? Poor decision-making. Poor communication. Poor planning.

The leaders I work with know intuitively that empowerment – of themselves and their teams - is the key to navigating uncertainty. The driving idea is not to play victim to the uncertainty of our time, but rather, to lead forward. For my clients, this means creating focused, autonomous, resilient teams.

My clients all share the same concern. They want their team members to take initiative, be more self-directed and think critically about all that they do. They want them to think about how their actions move the mission of the organization forward, rather than operating in silos. They’re mentally flexible enough to operate in the detail and shift back to the larger picture. This pinging back and forth between detail and the big picture is the source of coherent action - and it’s especially necessary in times of turbulence.

What are some of the techniques you help them with?

Coaching is more about strategy than technique. Applying strategies expertly requires robust self-awareness. My clients recognize that their own patterns can get in the way of effectively cultivating these higher-order skills in their teams.

For example, when a leader has a deep-seated commitment to create a more human-centred work environment, and they believe that structure is corrosive to free thinking, they may then have a tendency to remove any and all structure. The belief that structure is cognitively restrictive is just plain inaccurate. If a leader holds onto this limiting belief as if it were true, their team members will be waiting to be told what to do, rather than thinking independently for themselves.

When I coach my clients to create great outcomes, we start and end with self-awareness. When they begin to go more deeply, they become more aware of the questions they ask themselves – or more importantly, the ones they tend not to ask. When you can begin to delve into areas you were not aware of before, you begin to see the problem in entirely new ways. Possibilities suddenly open up.

Self-awareness always includes the development of meta-cognition, the awareness of your thinking. Meta-cognition is the brain-based executive skill that strengthens your ability to identify what you’re doing well, and what behaviours need tweaking. Leaders looking for a strategic edge do well when they begin to shine the light on the thoughts and beliefs that inform their decisions. Meta-cognition is the cornerstone of strategic thinking.

Here are some questions that my clients have learned to ask themselves:

Spotting limiting beliefs

What am I believing that generates a lot of emotion?

What choices do I make from this place?

Where else in my life does this belief show up?

In what way is this belief part of my value system – or not?

Identifying the core issues - accurately

What is actually happening?

How do I know my perception is accurate?

Am I viewing this from my vantage point or the team’s?

What patterns do I see in the evidence presented to me?

Communicating more effectively

What message do I really want to be sending?

What am I actually communicating?

How clear and consistent is my messaging?

What have I been reluctant to communicate?

Delegating seamlessly

When I think about delegating, what am I aware of inside of myself?

What choices do I then make?

What skills or beliefs do I need to make delegating easier and systematic?

What steps am I willing to take to make this a reality?

What are your tips for leading and remaining resilient in economic uncertainty?

Resilience is all about being able to adapt flexibly. This requires us to surrender to the reality that our choices are limited to what we have direct control over. To surrender is not easy for leaders who believe they are expected to be in control. But it’s an essential first step. Once you’ve cleared yourself of this burden of over-responsibility, you can choose to focus where you have power.

Decide to put your energy where it will have the most impact. Focus on what works, not on what might not work. What we focus on grows. In times of uncertainty, it’s important to focus on solutions and not on what we fear.

Leaders already know that resilience is created when they fully choose their experience. It may feel like we’re being buffeted about by the turbulent times, but we always have the capacity to choose our next steps. It is the act of consciously choosing that increases our sense of agency. It gives us the sense that we do have a measure of control. And when we choose in this way, we’re much more likely to make the best choices.

Here are some ways you can increase your sense of choice during periods of great uncertainty.

  • Use your self-knowledge – don’t just think about it.
  • Practice checking in with yourself – don’t avoid what scares you.
  • Balance your physical, emotional and spiritual needs – plan for them.
  • Be transparent – clear communication creates trust.
  • Create structures for creativity to rise to the top – don’t just expect it to rise.
  • Connect your organization’s bigger picture back to your team members’ roles.

“The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort.”

                  -American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron

This is the wisdom in a period of turbulence. Choose to turn inward and become wise with it all.

It truly is the calling of our time.

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