I am not planning to get overly political in my communications with this community, but the current political climate amidst COVID-19 compels me to talk a bit about it. My past communications have mostly been about quantum physics and collective consciousness, which I will continue in future messages. However, I want to take a step back for a moment and reflect on the leadership challenges I and others am seeing as we watch the president attempt to manage the COVID crisis. For seven years, I have been deeply studying leadership, wanting to understand in particular how our minds work when facing VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) situations. Based on my own experiences and my coaching work with top executives around the globe, I have formed three core beliefs that serve as the foundation for my own life and my coaching:
Why do we feel so overwhelmed? The three beliefs of Fully Integrated:
- Belief One: The world we face is increasingly VUCA and the problems we are trying to solve are “wicked”
- Belief Two: Our minds are not well-suited for VUCA situations, nor are they good at handling “wicked problems”
- Belief Three: Our minds can be re-trained to thrive in VUCA and to work with “wicked problems”, but it takes discipline and rigor to do so
First, a quick note on “wicked problems.” This is a term that was coined in the 1960s as researchers noticed the enormity of the problems people in society were trying to solve. They called it a “wicked problem” and named a few characteristics:
Characteristics of Wicked Problems:
- The problem is actually multiple problems grouped together under one “banner headline.” Climate Change is a great example;
- There are lots of different perspectives/stakeholders involved in the problem and each has a different opinion about the nature of the problem;
- There are many theories about how the problem started, who’s to blame, and what to do about it.
So, my life and my coaching is about helping people come to terms with the anxiety and overwhelm we are all feeling. It’s quite likely VUCA/Wicked Problems causing it, mixed with our inability to work with complex, uncertain issues. Remember my earlier post about how our brains work? They are trying to simplify things to help us survive, confirm our stories about things, and conserve calories. They don’t like it when things get complex! It takes training and discipline to re-wire our brains so they can remain present, calm and focused in the face of these daunting challenges. That’s what I do with my coaching clients…train the brain for the VUCA world like I used to train athletes for triathlons.
What does this have to do with President Trump?
And that brings me to our president. As I’ve watched him in his daily press conferences over the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed a leader who is completely in over his head. He’s overwhelmed by the enormity of the COVID-19 dilemma, has way too many conflicting perspectives coming at him, and is being second-guessed for every statement he makes and decision he supports. For some, when confronted with these overwhelming conditions, they freeze. They are unable to make decisions and cannot move processes forward without a lot of pushing from those around them. Others appease. They seek approval from as many people as possible and try to confirm that everyone is ok. And then there are the fighters. When backed into a corner, they come out swinging. And this is what I see from our president. He’s overwhelmed by a VUCA/Wicked Problem and he’s decided to fight.
In his book The Laws of Human Nature,
Robert Greene lays out some of the quirks of the human condition. It is a long read, but I am here as your living version of “Cliffs Notes” to bring you some of the more salient points he makes that I believe are instructive about the president’s recent behavior. Greene calls on us to look at some of the unspoken rules that set the human condition, including:
- The Law of Irrationality: we believe we are born with inherent rationality, but we are actually irrational by nature and only become rational through training and intention. We are creatures of emotion and these emotions drive our actions and decisions. Whenever something goes wrong, we seek an explanation, and almost always the default is to find cause/blame outside of ourselves. In the case of the president, I see a man who has spent little to no time familiarizing himself with his emotions, where he feels them in his body, and how he reacts to them. He believes he is being rational, but what I see is a man who is in constant reactive mode to his irrational emotions.
- The Law of Narcissism: from the moment we are born, we feel a constant need for attention. Eventually, we face a problem as children: there is only so much attention to go around. We therefore create a self, an image of ourselves that makes us feel validated from within. For those who remain unaware of this, we then surround ourselves with sycophants who reinforce our self-image and validate us. Narcissists show little to no ability practice empathy, the ability to feel someone else’s feelings. I see this on full display with our president who has a constant need to be validated, spends a lot of time validating himself, fires people or chastises those who do not agree with him, and shows little to no emotional awareness/empathy.
- The Law of Grandiosity: we have a natural tendency to overestimate our skills, and we have a deep need to feel superior to others. It stems from our need to be important and esteemed by people. We therefore take on tasks that are beyond our capacity (like being a real estate tycoon and reality TV star who runs for president). We want to feel significant in some way, to protest against our natural smallness, and to expand our sense of self. Anyone who has been watching the president talk about his response to COVID-19 sees the law of grandiosity on full display.
Compassion is the key…no matter how hard that is for you.
So, why did I just go through all of that? No, it’s not so I can say I told you so to all the Trump supporters. Do I think he’s a poor leader? Yes. But I also think he has been handed the queen of all VUCA/Wicked Problems and he is doing what conventionally-minded leaders do…he’s doubling down on what has gotten him here. Command and control, arrogance, bravado, bullying. It’s what has made him so beloved by his base. So, my call from this community today is two-fold: 1) find compassion for the man in your heart. He’s the product of his circumstances. Imagine the amount of suffering someone must feel to act the way he does. 2) Realize we need political leaders who have the capacity and training to work with VUCA/Wicked Problems. We need to encourage a new generation of leaders to step into the political arena, to bring their higher-level thinking to the complex world we are asking them to lead. Get involved in the political movement, believe we can transcend this current vitriol we see in America, and start to observe the hopeful future rather than remaining stuck in the brokenness of the current system.