“If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve their ship, they would keep it in port forever.”
Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), Influential Italian philosopher, theologian, and jurist; a Dominican friar and priest.
On Friday I gave an online workshop for Amazon’s Recruiting Team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was about self-care and self-investment, and my premise was that any life worth living will regularly get messy just like the kitchen gets messy when we use it.
The key then to wellbeing is not to try avoid the mess, but to care and invest in ourselves so as to be emotionally fit when the mess happens. I shared with them several shortcuts for emotional fitness. Here are three that require little effort but have a massive, massive, massive impact in our wellbeing.
- Sleep: Matthew Walker, sleep expert and author of the book “Why We Sleep”, recommends we give ourselves the opportunity of 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. He says that the pillars of a healthy body are not diet, exercise and sleep, but just diet and exercise, because sleep is the foundation.
- Gratitude: It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful and at the same time anger, fear or sadness. Gratitude energizes us to deal with life’s challenges. This is why I recommend starting the day by bringing to mind a few things we can be grateful for, and to connect with the emotions that this generates. This will set us up to deal with what comes our way during the day.
- Hanging out with TRUE friends: There is a growing body of evidence about the vital role of friendship in overcoming challenges. Introverts or extraverts, we are all social beings. Helen Keller said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. The Beatles nailed it when they suggested we get by with a little help from our friends.
In my years as a volunteer in jails, I always hated talking to someone on their first day. What the hell do you say? To my point, in seven years volunteering, EVERY person I spoke to on their first day told me:
I can’t do this.
The irony was inevitable and piercing: Of course we can’t do this. We’re not made for imprisonment. But then again there was no other choice. The following week I’d come back. There we were again. Sad, sometimes angered, maybe bitter, but they no longer thought: I can’t do this. This a hard truth of life:
We can’t, until we have to.
Christmas is around the corner. Of course none of us were made for this year’s Christmas. But what’s our alternative? When we catch ourselves thinking: I can’t do this, let us remember: We will, if we have to.
Photo Credit: Jonny Miller
I broke a promise when I decided I’d no longer serve as a priest.
I broke a promise when I decided I’d end the relationship.
I broke a promise when I decided I’d stop seeing that friend.
Breaking a promise didn’t feel good. But it happened, again and again.
This week I came across a poem by David Whyte about how to break a promise.
Apparently we humans break promises, again and again. Apparently we can learn to do it better.
Shall we accept that breaking promises is part of life, like making them is?
To Break a Promise
Make a place of prayer, no fuss now,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you.
Let your words join one to another
the way stone nestles on stone,
the way water just leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.
Now, let them go on,
leave your words
to carry their own life
without you, let the promise
go with the river.
Stand up now. Have faith. Walk away.
In “The Sea in You: Twenty Poems of Requited and Unrequited Love” by David Whyte
P.S. David, I hope you don’t mind me sharing your poem here. Thank you.
My good friend Francisco Mahfuz recently had me as a guest on his podcast “The Story Powers”. It was my first time, and I must say I had loads of fun. Fransisco is a great host.
Some of the topics we talk about are:
- How being a priest helps me build betters teams
- Mistakes leaders make in times of crisis
- My transition and journey from priesthood to corporate trainer
You can listen to the episode here as well as on Spotify and YouTube:
Thanks buddy for inviting me and keep up the fantastic work!
Most of my work is done face-to-face. Or at least it used to be. When the pandemic broke out I soon realised that a profound and irreversible change in the events and training industry was going to take place. The urge to freak out was big:
- How long will the confinement last?
- How long until face-to-face events will be allowed?
- How will I transfer my trainings online?
- What equipment do I need?
- How does this sh*t work???!!!
And then it happened. Early on in the lockdown, a friend of mine, Onu Igbokwe, referenced a book: Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson. I had read the book years back but decided to listen to the audiobook. Life changing. It’s a must read. If you’ve already read it, and you’re facing uncertainty, then read again.
It’s a short book. A couple of hours is enough. But don’t be fooled by its length. The author says it took about 20 years to write it. Every word counts. What most changed my approach and behaviour was one simple question:
What would I do if I were not afraid?
The voice in your head might be saying: “But I am not afraid”. So here are other reactions to the uncertainty that comes with change:
- worry, concern, unease
- doubt, self-doubt, confusion, hesitation
- agitation, stress, anxiety, nervousness
- denial, refusal, complaining, intolerance, aversion
Fear has a funny way of disguising itself. If you’re feeling any of these, chances are there’s a degree of fear involved — the fear of failure. So here’s another way of putting the question:
What would you do if you could not fail?
After listening to the book things got better. I did a full-blown online training with Amazon, and was invited to impart shorter trainings and talks, as well as online coaching sessions. And next week I’ll be facilitating a two-day online “home-site” with King, the creators of Candy Crush.
Luck? Yes. Absolutely. So much luck. I also like to think Seneca is at least somewhat right when he says luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
But even if the book or my behaviour had nothing to do with my work picking up, my experience nonetheless of these uncertain times has consequently been more tranquil. So thank you, Spencer, and thank you, Onu!
In uncertain times, everything can seem to happen fast and at the same time.
How can we deal with the sense of missing out on opportunities?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks. How resilient are you? False modesty aside, I must concede I am tougher than I usually give myself credit for. Here are three questions to help center our focus and boost our resilience in tough times.
1. Past: What misfortunes have I overcome?
Misfortunes are a normal part of life. Shit happens. Life has knocked us down so many times, and yet, we are still here, we are still in the game. This question helps awaken our ability to get up and fight back.
2. Present: How could this be worse?
In bad times, it’s easy to notice the things we were taking for granted that are no longer here. “How could this be worse?” turns our focus to what we might be taking for granted right NOW!
This sort of negative visualization helps develop a sense of gratitude and tranquility amidst difficulties. This is powerful because gratitude and tranquility cannot coexist with fear, frustration, anxiety or anger.
3. Future: What can I learn from this?
Every trial is temporary, which begs the question: How will we emerge from it? How do we want to emerge from it? Most of life’s important lessons come from tough times. If we choose to, painful situations can teach us.
What does this situation show about you, other people, and the world that was unseen to you before? How can you use this to grow and improve?
So how resilient are you? If I had to guess, you are tougher than you usually give yourself credit for. You are a badass. Be a badass.
Have you heard of a technique that helps with tedious tasks and stressful situations?
One that can be practised at any time, in any place, and by anyone, including children?
When there’s a sea storm, captains are called upon to reassure their crew, so that together they keep the ship safe enough to move in the right direction.
The Coronavirus storm has forced teams — without warning and without delay — to work from home in improvised office spaces, fighting to focus on work while juggling several other responsibilities and concerns at the same time.
If remote working poses a challenge in and of itself, all the more so in crisis conditions, where uncertainty and confusion make the load all the heavier.
Since 2011, I’ve been helping organizations — in good and bad times — build teams, many of which with some or all their members working remotely, often in different time zones.
Here are six mistakes you want to avoid (and six recommendations) when leading teams remotely, especially in crisis conditions.
Mistake #1: Believe it is (almost) business as usual
A new paradigm is emerging, as tends to happen in crisis. And with it, new challenges are thrown at your team. It would be a mistake not to stop and fully appreciate the nature of the challenges you and your team are now facing.
It’s a mistake to think this is only about keeping things going a bit longer before it’s over. It’s a new problem. Face it with your team.
RECOMMENDATION: Do a diagnosis
Imagine you are Dr. House. If the challenge you now face is an illness, what would you call it?
Mistake #2: To execute without a roadmap
In a crisis it is easy for teams to get disoriented, especially if they are forced in a rush to work remotely. You might have a sense of what comes next, but the team most likely has no f**king idea.
It is a mistake to ask teams to continue moving forward without a new road map that shows this is where we are, this is where we are going, and most importantly, this is why we’re going. I wonder what Nietzsche was thinking when he said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 😉
RECOMMENDATION: Give them context and relevance
Explain to the team how their work fits in the larger picture, and why their contribution really matters.
Mistake #3: Fail to clarify new expectations
New problems require new behaviours. It it especially important that we define deliverables and ownership so that everyone knows who does what and who is responsible for making sure it gets done.
RECOMMENDATION: Tell them what they CAN’T screw up
New problems require exploration, which can lead to failure. It is crucial you specify what bits you expect the team to do absolutely right, the bits where failure is not an option.
Mistake #4: Make it a one-way road
If feedback is important, now it is more than ever. It’s a rookie’s mistake to fail to create NEW channels for feedback. Unless you ask, you will not know the struggles and suggestions your team has.
RECOMMENDATION: Tell them it’s NOT ok to stay stuck and silent
Send out questions before meetings, and ask everyone to come prepared to share.
Mistake #5: Neglect positive feedback
Humans need feedback to grow, which makes giving feedback the gift of growth: constructive feedback gives us the path for growth, and positive feedback gives us the energy to grow.
In times of crisis, teams need tons of positive feedback — the energy — to get through challenges. Forgetting to give positive feedback is a silly mistake.
RECOMMENDATION: Double down on positive feedback
Give twice as much positive feedback and show twice as much appreciation. Start with positive feedback. End with positive feedback. Transition with positive feedback. And ask the whole team to give… POSITIVE FEEDBACK.
Mistake #6: Undervalue repetition
The Romans believed that “repetitio est mater studiorum”, that repetition is the mother of learning. When working remotely, technical issues can make getting information across difficult.
Moreover, when remote work is being improvised moment by moment and under great uncertainty, tension is generated, which makes getting information across even more difficult.
Hence the need to repeat, repeat, repeat.
RECOMMENDATION: Sound like a broken record
Say it at the beginning. Repeat in the middle. Ask them to say it. And say again at the end.