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.
A leader’s role is to set a vision and mobilize people toward the achievement of that vision. Doing this requires incredible energy, focus, influence, and the capacity to engage people via the head and heart — cognitively and emotionally.
In times of distress and crisis, people look to their leaders for guidance and support. How leaders behave, what they choose to say, how they say it, and what they choose not say are all under the microscope. In times of distress and crisis, leaders are faced with a fork in the road. Do I address this context head-on, or do I keep my people focused on the business by avoiding stressors that fall outside the scope of business?
At AIIR Consulting, we believe that great leaders realize the significance of supporting their people during times of uncertainty, challenge, and crisis — even when the context is not directly related to business execution or vision achievement. This is because great leaders recognize that their followers are people, not programmed bots. People feel. People experience. People make meaning. People’s motivation and behavior are derivatives of these three features. To the extent organizational culture and performance depend on people’s motivation and behavior, addressing crises head-on is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
The following set of recommendations and advice come from conversations with more than 150 AIIR coaches around the world, each of whom have dedicated their careers to helping the world’s greatest leaders navigate change and shape a better future. We hope this advice is useful for leaders as they navigate the emotionally fraught times we currently face with the Ukrainian crisis.
Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. | CEO of AIIR Consulting
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.
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?
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:
As the dialogue begins to wrap up, take the following steps:
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
In moments of crisis, the urge to take action can be overwhelming. One of the most powerful actions we can take, as leaders and people, is to support one of the dozens of organizations working to help the people affected by these events. Below are links to a few such organizations:
Here are a few select resources for learning more about navigating change as a leader, and about the conflict in Ukraine: