In many ways, it’s been a disappointing winter and painful winter so far. Between the covid variant and the Northeast’s usual seasonal viruses, I often hear people say – or find myself thinking – “life is hard.” Or “life’s not fair.” Or any number of other disempowering statements that seem to be spreading like – well, covid.
Disappointment, when defined by Psychology Today, is a “painful gap or space between hopes and expectations and reality.” I believe we’ve all been experiencing some level of disappointment these last few months. Our expectations are not being met, and with that gap comes the risk of pessimism. How can we, as Mindful Leaders, help to shift this mindset? How can we blend a healthy optimism with the current realities?
In the 1961 children’s fantasy novel “The Phantom Toll Booth” by Norton Juster, the main character of Milo pauses his journey to visit the sister cities of Illusion and Reality for an important lesson. Milo learns that illusions are often unreal things we see (like a mirage) while realities often go unseen because we are moving too fast. We move fast for many reasons. I’ve been moving fast to avoid feeling and dealing with my disappointment.
Many leaders I coach are doing something similar. I noticed this trend well over 20 years ago and spoke about it in my TEDx in the fall of 2017. Leaders, like other humans, often move fast, choosing illusion over reality to avoid the pain of disappointment – but leaders have a unique responsibility and accountability to reality. And that responsibility includes an angle of adaptability toward realistic optimism.
Mindful leaders learn how to shift their mindsets in real-time so they may then influence and inspire others to adapt – but not through roses-colored, saccharine-encrusted glasses. Now more than ever, people are demanding a grounded, truth-based leader who can facilitate the difficult and pivotal conversation as well as celebrate the wins.
Illusions are powerful and tempting. They can soothe us into a new world that hurts less, requires less effort and just looks and feels good. But the road to great achievement is rarely painless and never straight, and leaders who know how to navigate the twists and turns come out ahead on the other side – showing others, in the process, how to do the same.
Mindful leaders know how to shift mindsets productively, with sensitivity to people’s pain and the ability to redirect in a meaningful and connected way. They achieve and relate. They are, in a word, mindful.
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