Care and Curiosity in Chaos

By Guest Contributor

March 31, 2020

De Pree Journal

*This post is part of De Pree Center’s Finding Our Bearings in a Crashing Economy series. 

Today’s dialogue is with Lisa Slayton, who is the founding partner and CEO of Tamim Partners. I recently sat on a panel that Lisa co-led all about Discipleship in the New Economy. Some of the things Lisa shared that day feel all the more relevant now than they did just two months ago. So, I’m delighted to share with y’all some of her expertise.

Michaela: Lisa, I’ve talked with a lot of people in the last few weeks who are reeling. I’ve tried to capture all that I’ve heard into some different scenarios. Some business owners are going to lose their business or have to lay people off. Managers are trying to figure out how to cut costs and deal with people’s fears. Work is drying up for freelancers and the systems for how so much of us engage are moving online. Will you help those of us who are motivated by our faith to respond well in this time, get our bearings?

Lisa: When then entire world seems to be tilting on its axis, it is hard to see a path forward in any environment you find yourself in. There are no simple or quick fix answers to most of our current questions. Too much is unknown. Our bias is to treat situations like this as a problem to be solved. Leaders, good ones, are adept at problem solving. You have to be. But this time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) requires a very different mindset.

With so much unknown, this moment requires curiosity. It requires asking questions and evaluating real time data on the ground. We need to resist the urge to over-categorize and over analyze and do what we’ve always done. The temptation to search out best practices is strong, but what we need now are enabling practices—space for leaders and their teams to begin to innovate. This starts by paying attention to what is occurring around you and starting to seek out new patterns emerging.

Michaela: Sounds like what you’re saying is that the things that have made us good problem solvers in the past, might not actually be the things we need to lean into right now. Sounds almost like you’re saying lean into curiosity and away from trying to control? But, so many of us leaders love control! What if not having control makes me feel anxious?

Lisa: And I am chief among control freaks. Control what is possible to control. But as leaders, you will communicate fear and anxiety if you are scared and anxious, or become domineering and controlling. In moments like these, it is important to acknowledge the very real fears you have that others around you have as well. But if they paralyze you or cause you to go into high command mode, you will not have the capacity to lead effectively.

We must let go of our expectations, outcomes and prescribed results. Forcing activity right now may well end up being counterproductive. Problem solve where you can, put good guidelines in place to minimize chaos, but then create space for new opportunities to emerge. Step back and see what is going on around you, how can what you do, what your business is, be repurposed in this moment.

Michaela: I really appreciate the charge to “create space for opportunities to emerge.” That’s so easy to lose sight of in these times. But, we’re seeing some people do it. I’m thinking about clothing companies that are now producing face masks or restaurants that are now selling toilet paper. So many industries are being disrupted, literally overnight. There’s opportunity, but there’s also chaos.

Lisa: Leaders in all sectors—business, church, nonprofit, government—are facing hard realities. Depending on your industry, you may very well lose your job, or have to lay people off. You may have to ask people to take pay cuts. It will be painful. How you choose to handle these things is entirely up to you.

Care for people. Practice compassion. Offer whatever help you can. It all matters. Practically speaking, develop a list of resources that you can provide people with. Do these resources reveal creative opportunities for your business? What can you do that will serve the world right now?

Don’t worry first about how to make money, think first how you can care for people. Opportunities always emerge in the midst of a crisis, but we can’t see them, respond to them, or even initiate new things if we are paralyzed by fear.

Michaela: Ok, deep breaths. Care for people. Be curious. These are our priorities. This is how we will overcome fear.

For other helpful resources see:

Lisa Slayton is the Founding Partner and CEO of Tamim Partners, LLC. Previously Lisa served at the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation for 13 years, the last 6 as President and Chief Executive Officer.

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