COVID-19 has created much upheaval in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who love routine and tend to resist change, were totally knocked off balance. If you are an empath, someone who feels deeply, you may have felt almost incapacitated at times; as if you were carrying all the worries of the world on your shoulders and like you were on an emotional roller coaster, one day up and the other day way down. Others pivoted quickly, their creative juices flowed, and they were able to quickly adapt and adjust to an ever-changing new reality. Why and how is this so?
I believe it is partly due to personality, partly due to previous life experience and partly due to environment and mindset. If you believe that embracing change(and uncertainty – which is change that comes “out of the blue” that you didn’t invite into your life)is a creative process that opens you up to new possibility, the way you feel and act during times of uncertainty is quite different than if you fear and resist change and uncertainty.
If you live in a beautiful natural environment and can easily get out in nature on a regular basis (and at the same time maintain social distance), these past months have not been near as difficult for you as for those who live in densely-populated areas or concrete jungles with little or no access to nature.
A number of women leaders and colleagues I have spoken with have shared their experiences of what it has been like to live and work during these uncertain times. Many have found it challenging to deal with a number of their direct reports who are stressed and having difficulty dealing with working at home. Previous emotional tensions have been aggravated. Working at home with a spouse in close quarters, while at the same time trying to manage young children, is not easy. Many report having to work more hours than normal and having difficulty separating work from life. A number of women leaders are feeling “burnt out” and are also seeing burnout in their colleagues and employees.
So how can we prevent leadership burnout? Based on my own experiences of almost burning out several times in my career here are a few practical tips.
Set clear boundaries between home and work. If you used to leave work at 5 pm, turn off your computer at 5 pm and, if possible, go for a walk outdoors.
Establish clear expectations of your direct reports or colleagues. Let them know your hours of work and model work-life balance for them.
Take a 5-minute stretch and walk around every hour, if possible, to release the tension in your body and give your eyes a break.
When fears and worries about the future come up, take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and notice how your body responds. When you take such breaths the hormone oxytocin is released which calms your body and your mind. Share this strategy with your colleagues and direct reports.
Spend some time getting clear on what is really important for you in life and in work and then create an action plan to move forward daily in those priority areas. Let go of people and activities that do not nourish you.
Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
Begin integrating mindfulness practices into your life. For additional strategies on how to prevent burnout and thrive in uncertain times, I invite you to check out my #1 best-selling book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”(which is also helpful for men) and emerged from my experience of almost burning out.
Over to you, what strategies have you found helpful to prevent burnout during uncertain times? I invite your comments below.
 Mindfulness practices help you “get of your head” and “into your body”. An example is mindfulness walking meditation which can be done indoors but is more powerful when done outdoors in nature. Rather than thinking of our upcoming meeting or the recent argument we had with our partner, we focus on all of our senses. We feel the wind on our cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot and see the beautiful vistas that surround us.
Many of the critical issues we are facing in the world today are due to holding on to old paradigms and belief systems that no longer serve us. These include: valuing logic over intuition, leading from our heads and egos rather than from our hearts, rewarding individuals over teams and undervaluing collaboration and teamwork, believing that we are different from others based on religion, race, country of origin …, and acting and believing that our planet’s natural resources are infinite.
I believe that “authentic” feminine leadership holds the key to addressing these critical challenges and to creating a world that works for everyone.
What do I mean by a world that works for everyone? In a nutshell I mean a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
Why feminine leadership and Why Now?Why the time is right for women’s leadership and active participation in creating a world that works for everyone:
Lessons from history; when women are involved in decision-making and politics, outcomes are more inclusive and positive
Lessons from COVID-19 and women political leaders’ rapid and effective responses using their feminine energy and feminine values; (e.g. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, British Columbia’s provincial Medical Officer of Health)
Recent demonstrations against the police and anti-black racism around the world and the acknowledgement of systemic racism in our societies and institutions by leaders worldwide.
The world is ripe for change. We are at a point to examine lessons from the past, let go of old beliefs and structures that are no longer working, explore new paradigms and focus on creating a better world: a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
The difference between masculine and feminine energy– Female Energy (Yin) is associated with BEING and GIVING whereas Male Energy (Yang) is associated with DOING and RECEIVING.
Our organizations and societies have been focused on DOING and RECEIVING and it is time to create a balance between Female and Male Energy. When people feel pressure to continually drive and strive (be in their masculine energy), it creates chronic stress and negatively impacts their bodies, their minds, their relationships, their productivity and their bottom lines.
It is time for more women to step into leadership positions and for feminine leadership qualities to replace the dominantly masculine ones that our systems and organizations have been built upon.
What are Authentic Feminine Leadership Qualities and Why are they Important to Creating a world that works for everyone?
An authentic feminine leader is:
Compassionate – “feeling and showing sympathy and concern for others” (Oxford dictionary). “Compassionate people often have other positive traits like generosity, kindness, and understanding. People who are compassionate feel the need to impact the world around them in positive ways.”
In order to create a world that works for everyone this quality is essential. To better understand and deal with critical issues such as systemic racism and gender-based violence, we need to learn and model compassion. To be compassionate has been perceived as weak and not what leaders typically do; however, as Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, so thoughtfully commented recently:
“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
Intuitive – uses their body as well as their mind to make decisions e.g. heart and gut.
When I reflect on my life, all the decisions I have made by “going inside” and listening for the answers, have always been the right decisions for me; whereas those made solely from making the ‘pros and cons’ list and only using left-brain logic have not always been the ‘right’ ones. Did you know that our heart and our gut have nerve endings that send signals to our brains, and that our hearts and intestines contain neural tissue? The HeartMath Institute has done research to show the powerful influence our hearts and guts have on decision-making and strategic thinking. I encourage you to think about how you typically make decisions and the impacts of those decisions.
To remind us of the importance and power of intuition I offer this insightful quotation from a brilliant man:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)
Creative – As a leader is important to create a shared vision to lead and inspire others. I’ve experienced first-hand the power of creating a shared vision among various levels of an organization while doing strategic planning and also when designing and implementing international projects that involve different disciplines, cultures and religions. A well-designed and facilitated process has the power to create understanding and ownership and to change attitudes and beliefs. To encourage creativity and innovation it is also important to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learns from its mistakes (e.g. annual Failure Report from Engineers without Borders).
In the words of Ashley Good in Engineer’s without Borders 2017 Annual Failure Report:
“We hope this report serves as an acknowledgement that systems change is complex and therefore some degree of failure is inevitable. … we need to create room for ourselves to try new things and experiment in pursuit of figuring out what might work to shift the system towards our vision. Therefore, the best thing we can do is be willing to take the risk of trying something new, and at the same time, get really good at detecting where our efforts are failing early, analyzing effectively, and applying our learning to continuously improve 
Collaborative – believes in and models collaboration. This is important when dealing with complex situations and issues. Barbara Gray, an organizational theorist and veteran mediator, has written extensively on the importance of involving multiple disciplines and sectors to solve complex problems.
Inclusive – recognizes the importance of different races, religions and ethnic groups being represented “at the table” so their voices are heard, understood and included in the process and outcome.
Emotionally Intelligent (EI) – capable of recognizing their own emotions and those of others, discerning between different feelings and labelling them appropriately, using emotional information to guide their thinking and behavior, and managing and/or adjusting their emotions to adapt to environments or achieve their goals … Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater job performance, mental health and leadership skills.  Leaders who are not emotionally intelligent often surround themselves with people similar in thoughts, beliefs and actions to themselves, do not see their blind spots and also are challenged with differing points of view and in being creative.
Authentic – “walks their talk”; clear on their own values and beliefs and lives and leads aligned with these. As a leader it is important to consistently “walk your talk” so people feel safe, trust you and are aware of what is expected of them
What can you do to help create a world that works for everyone?
Practice Regular Self-care. Do yoga, go for regular walks in nature, have a bubble bath.
Listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom.
Some tools to help you connect with your body’s wisdom are Mindfulness practices. Such practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They help us to live “in the present moment”.
Think about someone you’ve hired in the past, who on paper looked great, but you had an uneasy feeling about during the interview process. You let your left-brain logic rule your decision-making, and within a few months had evidence that this person was NOT a good fit for your organization. For tools to assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2
Tap into and express your creative side (right brain) on a regular basis.
Is there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it and lose track of time? It could be film editing, painting, writing, gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
Believe in yourself and that you’re here to make a positive difference in the world.
Build your leadership skills from the inside out. Get clear on your strengths and weaknesses; identify your passions. A valuable resource is Female Wave of Change’s “Women Leading in Change” online leadership development program. The next “Women Leading in Change, a Female Wave of Change Transformation Journey”, “to guide women to awaken the leader in them” and prepare them to lead change and create a better world, starts in September 2020. To learn more and to register visit: https://femalewaveofchange.com/reshape-the-future.
Choose an area of focus that you’re passionate about; e.g. climate change, women’s health, gender equality … and get involved with a group that is advocating in that area of focus; a group that you feel aligned with.
Here’s to You and to working together to create a world that works for us all!
Do you agree or disagree with the statement: Feminine Leadership holds the key to creating a world that works for everyone? I welcome your comments below.
 Note that men can also have and learn these qualities
COVID-19 has certainly put us all in touch with what it’s like to live with uncertainty. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what uncertainty means to us, how we typically respond to it, and to unearth lessons from the past to support us during such challenging times.
What is uncertainty? To me uncertainty arises when change comes to us “out of the blue” or is imposed on us by someone or something that is outside of our control.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).
Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.
How do you define uncertainty?
When you think about uncertainty what words or feelings come up for you?
I invite you to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 in relation to how you typically respond to uncertainty; 1 being “scares me to death” and 10 being “I thrive on it.”
What have you learned from past experiences with uncertainty that you can apply to your experience during these challenging times? What life experiences have prepared you to be less anxious and less stressed during this pandemic?
What I’ve noticed about myself, friends, colleagues and clients is that those of us who have had previous experiences with uncertainty and processed them positively, have coped better with the current situation than those who have not.
Here are a few examples:
Living and working in conflict zones and environments with restricted movement:
I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In Afghanistan I was driven to work every day in a bullet proof vehicle by an armed Afghan driver. We were followed by a “soft skin” vehicle with 3 Afghans holding AK- 47s. The first week I was rather “taken aback” by all of the military presence, but soon I relaxed and realized that “came with the territory”. Each day I didn’t know whether our vehicle would be pulled over by the police and be questioned about our papers and then taken to a nearby police station, or not. I lived in a state of constant uncertainty.
One day I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry of Public Health where I was working and having lunch with one of my female team members. All of sudden there was a huge explosion. A number of suicide bombers had attacked the military hospital across the road from the Ministry and killed numerous Afghan medical students, patients and their families. Immediately I received a text from my Head of Security advising me to stay where I was and that a vehicle would come for me soon/when it was safe to do so.
I lived in a small compound with 2 large houses and a small building that housed our guards and drivers. The compound was surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. There were 3 men with AK-47s guarding the inside our walls at all times. I had to sign a waiver and commit to not walking in the street or outside of the compound due the security situation. Sometimes after work I would walk in circles inside the small compound as I so craved exercise and being in nature. Thankfully, we did have a small rose garden on the property.
How did I deal with the uncertainty of living and working in a conflict zone? Here are some strategies I found helpful:
Did yoga every morning before heading out to work (sometimes with a colleague and sometimes on my own)
Skyped with my Sweetie almost every morning; connected with someone I cared about who also cared about me
Grounded myself every morning before heading to work
Worked out in the on-site gym on a regular basis
Often listened to music
Surrounded myself with beauty; e.g. created a bedroom that had some beautiful local art including several small carpets and a water-color painting I purchased locally
Started a gratitude journal and wrote down at least 3 things I was grateful for at the end of every day; Also journaled regularly about my feelings and experiences
When I noticed some anxiety coming up, I took three deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth (releasing oxytocin, the hormone that relaxes your body and helps you feel at peace)
Almost every Thursday night, I connected with my colleagues; other technical advisors and consultants who were working on various projects with the Afghan government. We considered this our weekend as Friday was prayer day and the only day we had off every week. We sometimes had a bonfire, roasted marshmallows; often we sang to the guitar music played by one of my colleagues. Sometimes we danced. We laughed and shared experiences together. Sometimes we drank a bit too much!
What I learned from these experiences was that I could live with uncertainty. I found that rarely was I anxious. I learned that I could live in a contained environment and still be happy, focused and do good work. I also learned some coping strategies that I can now apply to future times of uncertainty.
Over to you. What past experiences with uncertainty can support you during this challenging time? It may be that you were laid off from a job you loved “out of the blue”. It could be that a partner one day told you they no longer loved you and had found someone else.
If you have chosen to move and lived in many places or changed your work or career a number of times, this may also have made you more flexible and able to cope with uncertainty and change. Whereas, if you’ve worked for the same company for 30 years or lived in the same town you were born in, you may have more challenges dealing with uncertainty.
What I know to be true is that it is not enough to have had challenging and uncertain life and work experiences. We need to have processed them in a positive way. A helpful framework and tool to do this is my 5-step “Art of Change” Framework. Using this tool, you identify a change or uncertain situation you want to work on and where you are on your “transition journey”. You then do the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in; such as letting go of negative emotions, beliefs or behaviors that are no longer serving you, envisioning how you would like your life or work to look and feel like and then taking action to make it happen. This framework is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change (and uncertainty) is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. To learn more, you may access “The Art of Change Framework” at: https://pamela-thompson.com/.
I believe that times of intense change and uncertainty provide us with the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to dream big dreams and create new possibilities.
What previous experiences with uncertainty have helped you cope during this time? What tools or strategies have you found helpful to deal with uncertainty? I invite your comments below.
During these times of intense change you may be having difficulty focusing, feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster; one day energized and feeling those creative juices flowing and the next feeling sad, low in energy and like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You are not alone.
Researching and working with clients on change and transition for the past decade or more, what I know is that this is all part of the impact change has on us. Increasing your understanding of change and how you respond to it, and having tools and strategies to support you to move through it more easily can enhance your change experience.
As my gift to you, I’m sharing the video of a recent virtual participatory workshop I facilitated through Female Wave of Change. If you would like some support to better understand and move through a personal change you are experiencing, this gift may be just “what the doctor ordered”.
Here’s what you’ll receive. You will:
Learn what happens when we resist change
Discover a practical 5-step framework you can use to embrace change and generate creative solutions
Apply that framework to a major personal change you are currently facing.
Based on evidence from neuroscience, the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts, eastern psychology, and my own journey and work with clients around the world, the “Art of Change” Framework and Process can be your lifesaver during this time.
Here you go!
I am currently offering the one-hour workshop Embracing Change: Moving from Fear and Resistance Toward Clarity and Confidence as a stand-alone virtual workshop to groups and organizations at a special rate. It can be delivered as a “Lunch and Learn” or be the first part of a 2-part process for Leadership Teams, Project Teams, Boards, Community Groups … . This workshop focuses on personal change as change starts with each of us. Understanding how you and others on your team respond to change is invaluable.
Part 2 in the process is a 2-hour virtual workshop How to Move from Fear and Resistance Toward Creative Solutions during Times of Intense Change that focuses on organizational change.
The workshop helps to:
Improve focus and productivity
Leadership teams, project teams, boards, search committees have the opportunity to focus on a key change they are facing (e.g. new leadership, new culture, a change scenario to address something that is not working in their organization), apply the 5-step Art of Change Framework to a key organizational change they are facing, and through this process generate creative solutions to address it.
Each workshop includes handouts. In Workshop 2 as part of the process, ideas and potential solutions generated during the workshop will be typed up and sent later to participants in a short report.
During this time of immense change and uncertainty have you felt distracted, anxious, had difficulty sleeping? If so you are not alone. It’s happened to me and a number of my friends, colleagues and clients I’ve recently spoken with.
Many people are noticing that old patterns or beliefs they thought they had dealt with and/or cleared years ago, are surfacing. Others feel like they’re on an emotional teeter-totter; one day feeling upbeat and positive and the next feeling sad, anxious and overwhelmed.
What has helped me to get focused and stay positive is a decision I made several weeks ago to accept a new position and project in my life. Since that day (March 20), I have felt energized, creative, and focused.
I’m excited to share that I recently was named Ambassador for Canada of Female Wave of Change, a global movement that unites women who are changing the world into a better place. Female Wave of Change offers women from all walks of life a safe space where they can be their authentic selves, be economically empowered and grow into leaders and changemakers who shape the world for their own futures and for future generations. “I join(ed) FWoC because I feel so aligned with their Purpose, Vision, Mission and Core Values and I want to be part of this amazing group of women (and some men) and contribute to expanding and strengthening this incredible wave of change.”
Ingun Bol, the founder, from the Netherlands, started the movement only 3 years ago and currently has Ambassadors in more than 40 countries. Achievements to date include: 1) designing and rolling out Women Leading in Change; a 12 module group online leadership program for women who want to make impactful changes. The program prepares women to be authentic leaders drawing on their feminine qualities and values; 2) designing Reshape the Future – a modular online program aimed at empowering and teaching participants to become agents of change by building on their inner strengths, talents and capabilities. This leadership program was initially to roll out in April 2020 and has been postponed till September 2020; 3) Hosting their first global conference in Johannesburg in September 2019 where a Call to Action on Human Rights was developed.
In addition, Ambassadors with the support of their “Wavemakers” from different parts of the world, have been designing and implementing impactful projects such as one that taught poor African women financial literacy and supports them to secure mortgages they eventually pay off so they can own their own homes.
Areas of focus for various months in 2020 were identified last year and due to COVID-19, the leadership team recently revisited their priorities and decided to offer free virtual webinars, workshops, coaching and dialogue sessions related to the Corona Virus and situations we are all currently facing, and open these up to everyone. I was honored to have the opportunity to moderate a recent Panel of Older Wise Women where they shared their Purpose, their Visions of the World after COVID-19 and their views on Feminine Leaders of the Future.
You may access recordings of recent virtual webinars/workshops, etc. on the Female Wave of Change YouTube Channel and learn about upcoming workshops and events on Facebook at Female Wave of Change Global . We’d love to have you join us!
What new “thing(s)” are you creating or focusing on during this time when we’ve all been forced to slow down and reflect? Perhaps it’s your garden. Perhaps you’re cooking more and trying new recipes. Perhaps you’re drawing and painting. What is energizing you and keeping you focused? I’d love to hear from you below.
A new year holds promise and also brings with it
How do you respond to
uncertainty as a leader and changemaker? Do you typically greet it with
open arms, or hide from it pretending you have all the answers, as you feel
uncomfortable not knowing the outcomes.
What happens when you
approach uncertainty believing you have all the answers? You may set goals
and push through to accomplish them, focusing mainly on the metrics, without
taking into consideration your people and an intervention’s impact on your
organization and its culture. You may miss out on opportunities and creative
solutions that can arise from uncertain situations.
To illustrate what
happens when we greet uncertainty with open arms …
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working in international health and development is the uncertainty, and with that, the opportunities for new and creative solutions, that present themselves. For example, when I was working in Afghanistan about 10 years ago as a Senior Technical Advisor in Planning and Performance Measurement, I met with the Minister the second day of my 9-month contract. At that time, she shared that although their original plan was to hire a policy and a planning advisor, since I had some experience with policy that she wanted me, within the first month, to give her a report of my impressions of her Ministry’s policy development and planning processes and what recommendations I would offer to improve them. This, on top of the tight timeframe I had to work with her folks to develop the Ministry’s first strategic plan and build their capacity in planning!
I went back to my office and asked the Afghan physician and policy advisor who sat beside me, if he had an org chart of the Ministry in English. He said “no” but he had one in local language. He printed one out for me and I asked him to tell me which departments were in the 15 boxes below the Minister and Deputies and the names of each Director while at the same time writing them all in English on the chart. Then I asked if he would take me to each one of their offices and introduce me to them (a few at a time).
At that time, I shared with each person that I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with them for 1 to 1.5 hours over the next day or so, and asked if there was a time that would work for them. I then followed up with the interview questions by email, which I quickly formulated. Within a month I had interviewed the top 15 department heads, rolled up in a report for the Minister what THEY perceived where the key strengths and weaknesses in their policy development and planning processes, their suggestions for improvement and added my own recommendations. In addition to learning a lot about how policy development, implementation and planning was done at the Ministry, I also had met one-on-one with 15 influential leaders in the organization, which served me well in the coming months.
If I had planned the above scenario in advance, it couldn’t
have worked out better!
What ingredients are
required of leaders and changemakers so we can more effectively deal with
uncertainty and embrace it?
I believe the following are important in this complex and
rapidly changing world we live and work in:
– Acknowledging that you do not have all the answers or aren’t sure what to do.
– Creating opportunities to reflect, and the ability to change direction during
a process that has an uncertain outcome (e.g. culture change process) .
Intelligence – Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses, surrounding
yourself with a team that has complementary skills and personality traits to
yours, inviting their thoughts and suggestions, and truly listening to what
they have to say.
Understanding and Inclusive Orientation – Valuing a facilitated process
that encourages different voices to be heard and supports diversity.
to new ideas – Inviting creative ideas and listening to what people are saying;
(e.g. providing opportunities to encourage people to tap into and express their