It’s all quiet in my house.

As it probably should. It’s 12:30am and the kids have been asleep for a few hours. Which is a challenge right now amidst COVID-19. Every day since the beginning of Spring Break has felt like a vacation to them, and it continues to feel that way, though they get a sense that life is changing quite rapidly outside of our quarantined home.

My wife has been in bed for hours as well. Exhausted from not only her full-time job, but picking up the bulk of responsibility for helping the kids navigate homeschooling. And we’ve all moved home into her work from home environment. It’s challenging for all of us at the moment.

But I’m up.

I”m a night owl.

But I’m pacing a bit. Not physically. But in my mind it feels like a race.

I’ve also been staring at my computer for a couple of hours.

Trying to work on a lot of new projects that have been on the shelves for a bit.

Ultimately I want to try and add value during what is a very chaotic time for a lot of people.

This brings me to the topic of leadership.

What exactly is leadership? And what is a leader?

That is a question that I’ve been navigating myself a lot over the years, but never more so in the last year as I split my time between being a therapist and an executive coach. Two distinct worlds in some ways. But in many ways they are very similar.

The work place if full of leaders. They even have titles like CEO, COO, SVP, VP, AVP, etc. You get the point.

The home is also full of leaders. They have names like mom, mom, mom, mom, mom…oh, sorry. Maybe that’s just my home where my wife’s favorite title is repeated many, many times in a row. Leaders in the homes also have names like dad, husband, wife, child, sibling.

Our communities are also full of leaders. We hear a lot about some of them right now such as RN, Dr., firewoman/man, grocery store stocker, etc. And what about neighbor.

The point is that we are all leaders. We are all leading in some way, whether positive or negative…we are all leading. And how we show up at home is how we show up at work and vice-versa.

We are who we are, and wherever we go….there we are.

Leaders in the work place try and tell me they are different at home. It’s just not true. Trust me. There are nuances for sure. But we are who we are.

So how are you leading?

One of my favorite leadership theorists, the late Edwin Friedman in his groundbreaking book, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, wrote this:

My own understanding of the fact that leadership is essentially an emotional process rather than a cognitive phenomenon, and my awareness of the vital importance of well-differentiated leadership for the functioning and survival of institutions…

Leadership at it’s core is an emotional process. It’s not about skill or technique. It’s not about reading another book, listening to another podcast (though please listen to mine 🙂 ) or acquiring another degree or certification, or displaying some title on your door. Sure those are helpful…don’t get me wrong…I’ve worked really hard on those things. But at the end of the day, leadership is about how we navigate our emotional world. Because how we navigate that will ultimately determine what kind of leader we are, and will become.

Leaders who don’t pay attention to their emotional life and foster their inner world often become very reactive and destructive leaders, constantly triggered by the events in the world around them.

The travesty is that many leaders don’t know those triggers go way, way back. And they often don’t do the deep work to understand them adequately and work on them (that’s a whole other topic, for another day).

But a leader who fosters their emotional life and works on that, they are leaders who are emotionally self-regulated, and in the words of Edwin Friedman — self-differentiated. They know where they begin and end in relationship to those and the events around them. They don’t react. Rather they have healthy boundaries and respond accordingly. They know what they have control and agency with, and what they don’t.

Interestingly enough, Friedman wrote that leaders who can’t manage their anxiety, become unhealthy leaders, reacting to everyone and everything around them. Whereas, great leaders pay attention to their anxiety, know how to manage it, and rather than react, are proactively looking for solutions and opportunities around them. I’ve written and spoken many times that we can use our anxiety for good. But only if we understand it.

And can one think of a time in recent history where anxiety has been at an all time high!

To lead well in this time of anxiety is going to require people to pay particular attention to their emotional life and work on growing in that area…doing the deep work. We don’t need more tools and techniques. We need brave leaders who step into the uncertainty and can be forces of calm and creativity in a time of chaos. And in the words of some men in a text thread community I’m actively involved in….”what’s happening inside us is truly more important and powerful than what is happening outside.”

What will you do during this time of uncertainty to foster and transform your inner world?

The world…your community…your friends and family….we all need you.