“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .”
This opening statement from “A Tale of 2 Cities” by Charles John Huffam Dickens hints at the novel’s central tension between love and family, on one hand, oppression and hatred on the other. It paints an almost similar picture of what is happening now.
In this trying season, your actions will help define your strength as a young leader.
The world changed in March 2020. We transformed from the ‘best of times’ to the ‘worst of times’ without warning. The #Covid19 pandemic is entirely incomprehensible despite expectations of such happening from earlier predictions. We will be able to tell the coming generations of this season. We will speak of the pain and the harm. We will talk of the wisdom and honour that this season has taught us.
Tim Leberecht, the author of Business Romantic, says ‘Everybody is weighing in, has smart things to say, agendas to push, products to market, good deeds to promote, feelings to share, videos to post that add to the cacophony (discord) of a species that simply cannot shut up, even when it’s told to do so. It is much easier to express our humanity than to be human these days.” This reminds me of the ‘Paradox of our Age’ where it talks about: having more conveniences but less time; more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; more medicinal products, but less wellness.
I have never seen so much volatility in my life. And—yet—I have never witnessed such an opportunity for heroism, leadership, and exceptionalism, especially for young leaders. These truly are the worst of times and the best of times. If we are open enough, this will be the season to shine. We are all in this together and we must work to finding a solution together – each person contributing their skill and expertise in a different way to get through this.
As a young leader, how do you navigate this transition period with courage, grace, and unusual optimism? This is a question where there are no answers but only choices and you must choose where you lie. For example, you have to choose between despair and hope; between self-reliance and working together with the community; between arrogance and humility in responding to directives; whether to hoard or to share; whether to focus on lack or find gratitude for what we have; whether to focus on problems or solutions.
I suggest 5 key things:
- As a young leader, you should become a Hope Merchant – If you are not lifting people, you are pulling them down. The finest leaders are extreme optimists and heroic enthusiasts. When things fall apart, they maintain their grace, concentrate on the upside, and continue to radiate the energy that causes their followers to perform at their absolute best. (A job of a wartime leader is to protect the hope of their followers.)
- Remember it’s ok to not feel ok – We are humans, fear and anxiety in messy periods are normal. Honour the emotions and they will pass through you. Sometimes it feels like society says you should be always happy, and that showing your sadness is a sign of weakness. We all have good and bad days. It would be inhuman if you didn’t feel the stress of the deep volatility, in some way or another.
- Practice “deliberate kindness” – Whether it’s sewing masks for healthcare workers, tutoring students who are learning from home, or buying groceries for your elderly neighbours, identify the ways you feel comfortable and can help out to improve the situation in your area. This will help people around you while also helping you with any feelings of hopelessness.
- Use the news as a tool versus a drug – Find out the latest facts on this very fluid situation and pivot, as necessary. The constant exposure to coverage of this situation can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.
- Don’t suffer from Normalcy Bias – Instead, stand strong and prepared to thrive through this.
In this trying season, your actions will help define your strength as a young leader. I believe that what will see you through is having the right tools – information, courage, cooperation, faith – and using them to the fullest. While we exercise social distancing protocols, our people still need to hear from us, and we still need to hear from them.
No matter what channels we use, young leaders have the most power to engage, the power to inspire our generations, and the power to create hope. Hope matters, hope is a choice, hope can be learned, hope can be shared with others.
It might not stop the virus, but it can help stop anxiety, panic, and promote kindness and community-mindedness while displaying the best of our humanity, in some small way perhaps we can play a part in helping turn the worst of times into the best of times.
As a young leader, is it the best or the worst of times? The choice is yours.
Edward Kipkalya- Programs Officer, Governance