Opening the bunker doors

Storm - sTime to stand outside and stare into the storm…

A little over a century ago, W. H. Davies published a poem called Leisure, which begins with the timeless lines: “What is this life if, full of care / We have no time to stand and stare”.

Positivity can be hard to find right now, weighed down as we all seem to be, with the stresses and strains of this strangest of years, and the endless cares about what the coming days and months might bring. Stresses and cares that can push any of us to withdraw into ourselves.

For a lot of the people I’ve been talking with, it’s almost like they and their organisations have adopted a bunker mentality, under siege, trying to get through the dark days, hoping that at some point the storm outside will pass, and the blue sky and sunshine of 2021 will bring everything back to normal.

It doesn’t need to feel like that. There is a far better choice.

Earlier this week I ran a couple of sessions for a major non-profit. We spent probably an hour looking head-on at the challenges of lockdown: the stresses and strains, the undercurrent of frustrations and isolation that seem to have built throughout, perhaps even come to define, 2020. We stood and stared. It was brutally honest, sometimes uncomfortable, as everything was put on the table.

Then the magic happened: they came up with idea after idea after idea, for how they could fix those frustrations.

Then we stood and stared at the good stuff: at how they’d changed since February, at how fast they’d moved, how decisive they’d been, how creative and collaborative under acute pressure, and at all they’d achieved as a result. And they talked about how they could build on that momentum, fix the frustrations and start to get the most from the agile, innovative, confident and unified culture that had started to emerge from that crucible of necessity.

Then we stood and stared forwards, and asked: If we could do those things in adversity, what else could we achieve in the future? Where are the opportunities to grow reach, impact, and income; to make bigger waves of change; to come out stronger than ever?

And then there was light.

At the end of the session, one of the team eulogised about how great the conversations had felt; how nobody else he knew in the sector, across his whole network, was having inspiring, energising conversations like these – they were all in a much darker place; they were all stuck in their own mental bunkers, desperately trying to get through the storm.

I silenced my inner pedant (who was chuntering about the other clients I’ve been doing this stuff with for months) because for the most part, what he had said was true. That’s exactly what most leaders and organisations are doing, and it’s chronically debilitating.

The point is, you can’t see all this great stuff when you’re in a bunker – the fixes, the achievements, the potential; the big, future opportunities. You have to open the door to the elements and step outside if you want to get that perspective, even if that means standing for an hour or two, exposed in a storm of challenges, frustrations and uncertainties, in order to let the light in so you can see a better, brighter way forward.

If I can help a team of fifty leaders walk through that storm in a couple of short hours, so can you. So, make the time, step out of the bunker, stand with your team, and stare into the storm together.

The future will be as bright as you want it to be.

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