Leadership in any space requires an element of creating safe space for our team members to speak into. It requires invitation of input so that we can benefit from the different perspectives of having that team, and so that each team member can benefit from having their perspectives stretched by new ones too. Leadership isn’t something that only happens from the top of a hierarchy structure either. Leadership can happen from wherever you stand. Anyone can lead if they choose to.
When I think back over this year that has been 2020, and I ask myself what some of the most memorable and powerful moments have been for me, I’m called to the moments where people have had the courage to speak up. When I think about those moments, I’m struck not only by the courage it took for those speaking up, but the incredible ripples they created when they did so.
By definition, when something requires courage, there is an element of fear involved that must be overcome. Fear isn’t something we like to equate with leadership, although I’d like to bet that fear is something we’ve all felt our fair share of this year. Leadership calls us to step up. It calls us to step forward, to make tough decisions, and to bear the consequences of those decisions. Accordingly, it’s not a role that everyone wants to take on. In actual fact, most people display some form of leadership every day – even if it is in how they make choices to self-manage. The fear comes in when you are responsible for the outcomes of decisions you make that impact other people. This is where leadership requires courage.
This year, I’ve seen the leaders of businesses have to make and stand behind decisions to keep their businesses open in the face of a global pandemic, in order to provide essential services that keep the wheels of our daily lives turning. Decisions that weighed up the safety of their staff, the viability and survival of their business, and their impact on the world around them. Not only have they had to lead with courage, but they’ve had to ask for and instil courage in the teams who put themselves on the line to get the job done.
I’ve, likewise, seen leaders have to advise their teams of closures (temporary or otherwise), cutbacks, salary reductions and retrenchments – knowing full well the impact that those decisions would have on the people in their team and the community around them. Shouldering a mixture of heartbreak and determination as they fight for their businesses and the survival of those they can keep on is no small weight to carry, and it is a burden that shifts uncomfortably every day, no matter how you position it.
I’ve seen team members speak up and contribute to the collective pool of their team energy, expressing things that required much of them to share. With a combination of squared shoulders and otherwise shaky composure, I’ve seen team members speak up about their experiences (both past and present) in ways that have allowed their people to empathise and connect with them and with each other in powerful ways. I’ve seen team members who have worked together for many years “see” each other in renewed ways because they’ve had the courage to speak up. I’ve seen individuals speak out what a collective was feeling so that other’s shoulders could relax knowing they were not alone.
I’ve seen managers actively speak into the running of the businesses they help to drive, volunteering their perspectives, their ideas and their energy with passion that communicates “we will overcome!”. This is normally a space that requires active development to make it powerful, but in a year of uncertainty where the goal posts move constantly and job stability is at stake, even more is required to speak up.
I’ve seen individuals take up positions of leadership in their communities without even realising that was what they were doing – because they had the courage to speak up and volunteered their services in moments when no one knew how to move forward, providing a spear head for others to get behind.
I’ve read incredible expressions of people’s stories this year that have greatly impacted me and I’m sure many others. Stories that took immense personal courage to endure, let alone to share. One that stilled me was that of a man, who turned out to be the cousin of a friend, fighting the ravaging of the worst that COVID-19 had to offer alone in a Spanish apartment. Not only was he deeply alone in terms of human contact whilst the pandemic raged for weeks around him and he was left to try and survive with only daily check-in calls from the hospital, but he was fighting his own mental illness too. He took to Facebook to share his daily wins and losses with the kind of courage I will never forget being privileged enough to bear witness to. I have no doubt that he emboldened many who were dealing with far less than he.
I’ve read articles and posts from pilot after pilot who’ve watched the career they’ve invested themselves in and the only passion they’ve ever known fall away without warning. Their pain, confusion, hurt and worry palpable in a world where highly skilled people have become unrequired in the roles they knew overnight. I’ve watched many draw themselves up to speak into the rest of their community with reassurance and with humility, sharing what it’s taken for them to dust themselves off, stabilise and try and climb out again.
In a year like this where turmoil has shaken many to their core, the moments of realness have come when those among us have had the courage to speak up. When we witness courage in others, it en-courages the same in us. It reminds us that, as human as we’re feeling, others are feeling that too and choosing to do something powerful with it. It reminds us that we’re still here and that we have something to contribute. And it reminds us that we’re not alone in what we experience, and that we’re truly stronger together.
The world has become a far more connected place this year. Our manner of connection may have changed, and we may have been faced with some stark contrast in terms of lockdowns, isolation and physical border closures. But in the face of that separation, we’ve found new ways to stay in touch. We’ve started conversations we could have had and didn’t for many years prior. We’ve shared ourselves in ways far more authentic without the noise of the world to distract us. In many ways, we’ve been stripped bare of the non-essential and the unimportant. It hasn’t been comfortable. It has required courage.
My personal hope is that we remain authentic, real and courageous as a new year offers itself on our horizon; and that we retain the depth that 2020 has provided us with.
by Christen Killick
December 7th, 2020