A Leader’s Spring Cleaning Checklist

May 2022 Newsletter — Introduction

In the darkness of not knowing, we can learn. There we find hope, vision, and healing. After a collapse, there is always an opportunity to renew.

The May newsletter calls for a spring cleaning. To get rid of what keeps us stuck. To quit our resistance and tame our fears. It is also an invitation to tap into our strength, resilience, and fortitude to be who we are to gain space for new knowledge. Then we can take on the challenge of our long-term vision while remaining adaptable and fluid as to how our lives unfold.

There is action here. And the move doesn’t need to be big and bold. It’s just the action itself that matters.

It’s Go Time!

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Dear Ones,

I wish you a happy First of May, the French Labor Day, and offer you a digital “brin de muguet,” our symbol of luck and appreciation.

How do you feel today?

As this newsletter lands in your mailbox on Sunday, how about finding wellsprings of delight in nature today. Amid a world that so readily gives us reasons to despair, walking in nature, listening to the sounds of Earth, gazing at the night sky, may help to reconnect with the medicinal awe.

I know, I understand. Witnessing the renewal of Nature all together with the chaos of our world, It might be difficult to unravel the mix of emotions.
As the shocking atrocities in Ukraine add to the already daunting array of worldwide crises, events can feel increasingly out of control. We are challenged so deeply at the individual and collective levels. No matter where we live, we are caught in the shattering of the world and the broken heart of tragedy.

Then, with the world growing unsafe, life charging at us with its stresses and its sorrows, our devotion to empathy, kindness, and generosity might short-circuit with alarming ease. But, paradoxically, it is often in the laboratory of loss and uncertainty that we calibrate and supercharge our capacity for good.

Here is a poem from Naomi Shihab Nye on the difficult, beautiful, redemptive transmutation of fear into kindness.

All of these moments are invitations. Each one is a doorway for us to walk out of the prison in which we’re trapped and into our life, into who we truly are. But it’s not always easy. It can be some of the hardest work in the world, to walk out that door with one foot in front of the other, to a culture that rewards cynicism and selfishness over kindness and largeness.

In recognizing that we get to choose, we might have to go against everything we’ve ever known to make the decision that’s best for us. We base most of our choices on whatever we learned from our family, or our society or culture. It is how we have secured our way to belong and feel at home in the world. But the price to pay for these inherited patterns and ideas is tremendous, that of submission, dependence and a blockage of the full development of our reason and our capacity to love and mature in freedom.

Every second is a moment of decision for better or for worse. We grow either stronger or weaker, wider or more foolish, more courageous or more cowardly.

These gloomy reality check-ins echo author Zadie Smith’s words of caution that “progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”
Let’s remind ourselves that good only prevails when we put all of our might and our ethic of love and an unflinching commitment to kindness behind it. It is our shared existential responsibility to, despite everything, create ourselves daily as thinking, caring, laughing, loving human beings.

Here is an interview with American author, lover of the Earth and humankind Joanna Macy. She offers nourishment on how to strengthen our capacity to face these crises so that we can respond with resilience and creative power. It is beautiful.

Overcoming Inertia and Resistance

“Nothing happens until something moves.” — Albert Einstein

We need courage to overcome resistance. We all have experienced resistance, or inertia, in every area of our life, whether in private to-dos, professional tasks, or social dynamics.

The resistance makes what we want to do seem arduous, unimportant, impossible, or postpone-able. It invents multiple rationalizations and excuses for why we don’t have to do the thing.
Resistance is at play when we want to hide under a rock and act like whatever is going on, isn’t; when we make distractions seem like harmless diversions, and far more enticing than that with which we really need to engage; when we gaslight ourselves or let other people gaslight us and our experiences, and ignore those telltale signs.

The thing is we can’t get rid of something we don’t want by pushing it away. The more we push away, the more we get pushed back.

Additionally, resistance keeps us from learning more about what we resist. In order to fully understand something, we must be open to it enough to receive its message; otherwise, we remain ignorant of its lessons.

We are always getting something out of resistance. What do we get out of not doing, learning, thriving, etc.?

When we recognize the wall of inertia, excuses, and contrary feelings, we can go inside to meet what we fear and dislike. It may feel scary to break through denial, face our fear, anger, shame and unworthiness; and we may find ourselves in the company of a lot of resistance as we begin the process of opening to what we fear. But the more we learn to recognize, understand and accept our internal terrain as it is, the more courageous we become, the more we free ourselves from our difficult emotions; the more we make peace with our pain and end the internal war within us so that we can step fully into the greatest expression of ourselves.

Fear as a Harbinger of Transformation

“Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

It is OK to be afraid. Fear is built into our human operating system. Fear is an emotion. And emotions are always true — they always tell the truth about how we’re actually feeling, even if they may not always be right or appropriate in each situation. Therefore we have to learn, understand, interpret and work with them.

Anything really worth doing in our lives will always have some fear attached to it. In order to make the most of our fears and remove ourselves from the usual fight, flee, freeze or fawn responses, why don’t we approach with respect and curiosity?

If fear is reactive, respect is deliberate and thoughtful. What do we want to choose?

Fear has a way of throwing us off balance, making us feel uncertain and insecure, but it is not meant to discourage us. Its purpose is to notify us that we are at the edge of our comfort zone, poised between the old life and a new one. Whenever we face our fear, we overcome an inner obstacle and move into new and life-enhancing territory, both inside and out. The more we learn to respect and even welcome fear, the more we will be able to hear its wisdom, wisdom that will let us know that the time has come to move forward, or not.

While comfort with fear is a contradiction in terms, we can learn to honor our fear, recognizing its arrival, listening to its intelligence, and respecting it as a harbinger of transformation. Indeed, it informs us that the change we are watching is significant, enabling us to approach it with the proper attention.

When we identify the fear and name it — as fear of embarrassment, loss, change, pain, failure — we start mapping our path. From facing our fears, we question whether we really want to.

There is always a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario. What could go right? What if we succeed? Fears and hopes walk hand in hand. It is how we get empowered to make decisions more in line with our goals instead of simply trying to avoid what we are afraid of. By balancing fear with hope, we activate our whys in terms of goals and values. When we start conversing with whatever comes up — our worries, sadness, excitement, hopes — we meet ourselves at a deeper level, and we remember that fear almost always comes alongside anything worth doing in life.

Finally, by prioritizing respect over fear, we also recognize that some of our fears are cultivated within our cultures, and need to be transformed into actions and beliefs with more beneficial outcomes. Research suggests that respect fosters positive interactions between groups, reduces conflict and facilitates working together to create solutions to discord. Respect embraces differences and advocates interconnectedness, rather than promoting hierarchies and subjugation of one force, or person, over another.

All living things deserve respect, and we are all part of the same whole. Transforming fear into respect could encourage us to respond more thoughtfully, rather than engaging in automatic and fearful reactions. Instead, if we approached every interaction with respect, we would see more clearly the emotions of people we view as different, decreasing our unhelpful implicit beliefs about them. Magic happens when we approach people from different backgrounds and cultures with respect and a sense of our interconnectedness, rather than with fear. That magic can help to bridge some of the divides we face today.

The Good Thinking

“The high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.” — Hermann Hesse

We like our strategic mind, we like to organize, and we like to cut our days into sequences in order to make the most of it. Rooted in the overused notion that “time is money,” we lose the essential — our growth — in exchange for the urgent with its short-term benefits. We optimize and calculate our ROI for each part of our life. Behind the quest to be productive with our time, we implicitly put ourselves in multiple traps, from disconnection to simplification, competition to perfection, and we miss the whole point: the integration that takes time and yields true knowledge.

In this constant search for optimization, we have used tech to create, multiply and consume easy, passive forms of information and communication. It is all about tweets, texts, scrolls, small videos, bullet points, elevator pitches and data. We like easy, fast, simple and confirming information, taking the core, the ingredients without understanding that it is the recipe we need, the unfolding, the time spent reading, getting into the complexity, asking questions, seeking the contrary, taking notes, allowing the infusion, integrating true knowledge.

Unfortunately, instead, we have welcomed a disproportionate amount of passive nourishment to mold our thoughts and actions without even thinking and questioning it…. It is like being in the baby phase again, fed only with baby food, easy to swallow and digest. We have forgotten that, for our teeth to develop, we need to eat food that is difficult to chew. It is the same with our minds. Yes, there is an effort to grasp more complex knowledge, and we need courage and humility to do so.

The issue with the actual way we consume fragmented, compartmentalized, simplified knowledge is the tendency to ignore contexts, remove complexities, see only the immediate, forget the past, and focus on short-term gains. When we privilege only the quantifiable, we eliminate what the calculation ignores: life, emotion, passion, misfortune, happiness, ambiguities and contradictions; in a nutshell, human complexity.
The compartmentalization and atomization of knowledge make it impossible to see and connect with the whole and therefore to access the consciousness of solidarity and responsibility. As a result, we misunderstand and misdiagnose situations that need our attention and ignore ethics in our actions.

Again, awareness is needed.

How do we want to learn, grow and access the benefits of our critical mind?
We recognize that intelligence is not fixed but accrues through the pursuit of knowledge, and that it is not what we learn but how we learn it that makes the difference. Our role is to align practical, knowledge-based skills and “pure” knowledge to connect, decompartmentalize knowledge, seek transdisciplinary knowledge, deal with complexities and regain ethical vigilance on a daily basis.

Hearing Versus Listening

“Open your hand if you want to be held.” — Sufi Proverb

In a world where the only constant is change, redefining our way of thinking, our way of acquiring knowledge, is a matter of survival. Any organization that wants to stay relevant has to establish a realistic sense of its own knowledge and good understanding. With good understanding I include listening. In French, we have the verb écouter, which embraces the meanings of hearing and understanding.

Of course, curiosity is needed, an intellectual humility in front of our contradictions, ambiguities, and ignorance. It’s listening deeper, harder, stretching and expanding, giving. It’s being changed, being teachable, admitting blind spots and weaknesses.

Can we loosen the grip of control? Can we give up the posturing, the righteousness and admit with humility and grace that we really don’t know, and that we need others and others need us?

The magic comes when we find our way to ourselves through curiosity, honesty and heart, we find our way to one another. It’s a constant discovery, a perpetual negotiation. But there is no other way. Relationships are soil for growth; they’re containers for loving, but love also has a tendency to bring up anything unlike itself. Put more simply: So much of our stuff gets in the way. But we need each other; we’re social beings, hardwired for connection. The dance of intimacy, discovering one another, letting ourselves be discovered. This takes vulnerability, nakedness, willingness, a degree of risk and time. It is what the world — and our teams are asking from us.

How we greet this moment impacts the next. Are we open, game, willing, regardless of the outcome?

The Future, As Always, is Unknown.

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” — Louis L’Amour

There’s never going to be a so-called perfect time. Every day is “go time.” We can feel the energy rising. The faith is there. The willingness to jump in, to start anew, to see the whole world with a beginner’s eyes, open to wonder.

May we be present and in awe. Every moment matters. So be it.

I thank you for taking the time to do this reading with me. I am so grateful to journey alongside you.

Your presence is my purpose.

Be safe and be watched over until we meet again in June.

With care,

Laurence

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Laurence Duarte

Head of Strategy with innovation on the brain and a focus on creating safe and thriving business environments.