Hello Darkness, My Old Friend! 

For those of you who are of the same vintage as I am, you will likely be humming the song where these lyrics came from as you read this blog. In 1964, Simon and Garfunkel wrote the Sound of Silence to depict the emotional turmoil of the day and man’s inability to communicate with his fellow man. The lyrics, which are full of light and dark imagery, speak of “People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening,” illustrating people’s tendency to be superficial with each other – no one dares to reach out to anyone else and disrupt the sound of silence.

You may wonder what does this have to do with leadership and our work at OBD? 

Let me begin by saying that I find the parallel of this songs’ meaning to today’s world very interesting. Living in the world of fast paced change and in a global pandemic is tiring physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually (however you define spirit for yourself). As days get shorter and darkness longer, it is easier for each of us to become more insular, to fold into ourselves and our homes to stay warm and in the light. And with the pandemic we are told to stay apart to stay safe. This means that our challenge is clear: as leaders we need to focus even more intentionally on relationships, really listening, hearing each other, and ‘being with’ others, despite the various obstacles.  

As leaders, we ourselves are experiencing all of the layers of complicated circumstances related to the pandemic. We have no previous experience from which to draw on to find clarity and we now have limited access to all the things we used to use to stay healthy through times of uncertainty. So how do we help ourselves so that we can foster relationships and be genuinely present for others?

One of the things that we can do to help ourselves is to understand the physiology of traumatic events and practice compassion for self and others. If we are not able to make decisions in the same way or focus on our tasks at hand, it is because our brains are mostly still working from a fight, flight or freeze response to the pandemic. This stress is toxic and can interfere with our ability to work and live as usual. 

One strategy to move out of the stress response is to reframe the way we feel and think about the situation that is causing us stress. For example, if my main perspective and focus is on all of the losses, hardships and negative impacts of Covid, I will continue to stay stuck. If however, I shift focus from how isolated I feel and by what I have lost in the last 7 months, to cherishing the relationships I have in my life that withstand zoom and to being grateful that I have been able to improve some skills because of staying home more, I have a different outlook and am building my resiliency. Instead of waiting for my life to return, I can start thinking about what I want my life to be like now, and I can show up in a more positive way for those I lead. 

The importance of modeling and promoting self care, self compassion and reframing situations are essential skills for today’s leaders. As well, helping others understand what is within their control (such as how I choose to respond in a situation) provides perspective and objectivity in a world that is reacting to threats. To do this, real conversations need to happen with others that include deep listening, asking good questions and coaching for understanding so that they can find a path to move forward. 

Solid and positive relationships can help mitigate the toxic effects of stress, and leadership is all about relationships. By being in genuine relationships with those you lead, you are helping them AND yourself! Staying closed in, isolated and superficial, listening to the sounds of silence is not an option for today’s leader. 

Karen Caine, OBD Thinking Partner

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