Navigating the Ukraine Crisis: Guidance and Resources for Global Leaders

What is taking place in Ukraine is devastating and weighing on hearts and minds globally. We are shocked and saddened at how the Ukrainian pursuit of freedom has unraveled.

We are firm in our advocacy for basic rights: freedom, security and peace. No matter your national flag, heritage or political stance, we stand with all people who embrace these core values of humanity.

We draw inspiration from the groundbreaking leadership that President Zelensky is modeling for the world. He shows us how light can defeat darkness. Leaders like this are both the seed and the beacon of hope.

The following guide is meant to provide leaders with advice and resources specifically curated to help navigate these challenging times.

We stand with you.

1. Hold the Space

To hold space is to be fully present, without judgment. While pausing and being present with oneself or others may seem counterintuitive in a moment of crisis, it creates a supportive environment of safety for one to be truly vulnerable.

For two years, our world has not felt safe. Just as we were taking steps to move forward from a global pandemic, the largest conventional military attack since World War II took place with Russia invading Ukraine.

Holding space means reflecting, listening to yourself or others, and being open to whatever comes up without trying to pass judgment or fix it. While holding space is often more difficult than it may seem, it is a powerful tool to provide comfort and room for oneself and others to fully experience their thoughts and emotions. Learn more about holding space here.

2. Create a Safe Space for Dialogue 

How often has a seemingly simple conversation regarding politics or geopolitical challenges escalated and led to unintended consequences? These experiences lead to trepidation around initiating conversations with others. But, businesses, teams, and individuals need dialogue in order to work together effectively.

How do leaders push through fear at having difficult conversations and create a safe space for dialogue on their teams?

Establish Norms

When engaging in dialogue around something potentially challenging like the war in Ukraine, it is important to set boundaries and norms around the conversation. Helpful norms in this situation include:

  • Be clear about the intentions of a meeting, the purpose/objectives at the outset
  • Be real and authentic
  • Listen to understand (learning mindset v.s. judger mindset)
  • Assume positive intent
  • Care more about the substance of what we say (the message) than the form (how we say it)
  • Create (and uphold) an environment of psychological safety
  • Make clear the dialogue is not a forum to argue over political views
  • Invite people into the conversation who have not spoken

End the Dialogue Well

As the dialogue begins to wrap up, take the following steps:

  • Thank participants for their contributions and willingness to engage in dialogue
  • Summarize the key learnings from the dialogue
  • Discuss and agree to action steps that will happen following the dialogue

Taking the time to create a safe space for dialogue will empower leaders to provide a forum where their employees feel safe, heard, and mobilized to move forward more aligned with their leader, coworkers, and organization.

3. Embrace the Discomfort

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to act like we’ve got everything under control. Many of us have been socialized to convey to others that things are “fine” all the time, even when we may feel like we’re falling to pieces on the inside. With everything going on in the world at the moment, it’s more crucial than ever to stay connected to what’s true for us. So what do we do when life serves us more than we can handle?

  • Take the time to find out how you really feel. Remove distractions, turn your attention inward, and simply observe your inner emotional landscape. Avoid the temptation to put what you’re feeling into words.
  • Whatever emotional experience presents itself to you, open yourself to it.
  • As you inhale, breathe in the emotion that you’re feeling. This will seem counterintuitive if the emotion feels “negative,” but recall that this is a subjective label. Emotions aren’t good or bad. We just feel what we feel, and either like it or don’t.
  • As you exhale, send out a wish for relief to all the people in the world who are also feeling a similar emotion at this time. Feel yourself connected to these people, a community bound by emotional experience.
  • Continue to breathe in this way, fully facing and feeling your truth. And, if it feels right, send out a blessing of goodwill to others.

The practice described above is a variation of an ancient Buddhist technique called Tonglen, which you can learn more about here. Once you’ve created the space to identify your own true feelings, you can then begin to share those feelings with others. Lean into vulnerability by admitting that you’re struggling, if that’s true for you. Open the space for others to do the same. Create a culture in which truth, openness, and vulnerability are valued over strength.

4. Communicate with Your People

In times of uncertainty and conflict, we strive for certainty and definitiveness. We want to know who is good and who is bad. Who is virtuous and who is vicious. Polarization is the natural reflex. However, the Ukrainian crisis is complex. For example, there are many Russians and people of Russian descent who vehemently oppose Vladimir Putin’s belligerent actions. These individuals may experience guilt, shame, and feelings of intense helplessness. As a leader, therefore, it is crucial to appreciate the complexity of matters and suspend the reflex to engage in black and white thinking.

As such, a humble appreciation of the situation’s enormity and complexity is the first step for a leader as they consider what and how they will communicate. As for your communications, we recommend the following considerations:

  • Lead with facts rather than opinion
  • Focus on values and aligning others to shared values
  • If you choose to communicate, be clear about why. The clearer you are about the why, the more equipped you will be to keep any discussion focused and purposeful
  • Consider your communication strategy. Is your communication a formal letter, a social media post, a segment of an upcoming team meeting, or a scheduled meeting? Often, the most effective communication strategy is multi-modal, or a combination of the aforementioned options
  • Share any actions that can be taken. You may wish to give specific advice, share resources, or provide links to a charitable organization supporting victims of the war

Additionally, in any dialogue or conversation, we believe it is very important for leaders to suspend their judgment in favor of curiosity and learning. As Dr. Terrence Maltbia is fond of saying, leaders need to possess a “learner mindset” rather than a “judger mindset.” A learning mindset is characterized by seeking to understand rather than judging and impulsively reacting. When leaders exhibit a learning mindset, their people tend to follow in kind. Of course, the opposite is true as well.

5. Manage Your Energy

As a leader, you may have employees who have direct connections to Ukraine and Russia. You may have employees who have suffered war trauma wherein the current crisis triggers re-traumatization. Consider the following stories from just this past week at AIIR Consulting.

  • A recent leadership team we worked with has a team member in Moscow who feels embarrassed and terrified to use her voice given the inability to voice dissent
  • Another CEO we are working with has an extensive base of customers in Ukraine and Russia
  • A technology startup has a software development team in Russia. The team is shaken to the core and does not know if they’ll receive their salaries at the end of the week, let alone the value of their life savings being reduced by over 40%
  • A food corporation who receives key ingredients from a Ukrainian supplier needs to quickly pivot
  • A former US veteran now in a corporate role is re-traumatized by the exposure to the horrific images coming through the endless stream of news feeds and images on the internet

These anecdotes are just a few representative stories of what many leaders in our global, interconnected world are experiencing right now. Leading through this requires extensive emotional and physical energy. Without sufficient emotional resilience, we risk becoming numb, burned out, and ineffective. We won’t be able to lead. As such, it is important for leaders to be highly conscious of their own emotional wellbeing. We recommend the following considerations:

  • Keep boundaries on how much information you intake. If you are watching the news or checking the web every 10 minutes, that can create emotional drain and despair. It’s important to balance your desire to be informed with healthy boundaries around media consumption
  • Take time out to breathe and recuperate. Take small breaks in your day. Take reflective walks and engage in self-compassion so that you can refill your tank
  • Name your emotions. Sometimes just identifying what you are feeling and allowing yourself to feel it allows you to move beyond it
  • Talk it out. Take time to process your thoughts and feelings with a trusted colleague, a coach, or a loved one

6. Become Clear about Your Values 

Crises are disruptive because they present situations that are entirely discrepant from our underlying expectations. As humans, we seek predictability and a feeling of control. This is why we create expectations in the first place! When events defy our expectations, we can feel powerlessness and despair.

As leaders, we can regain our sense of control by focusing on our values. After all, while none of us have control on how this crisis may ultimately unfold, we do have control of our values. We can reflect upon, and thus amplify our values, in the service of demonstrating the moral integrity and behaviors that bring goodness to the world.