On a recent flight across the pond I was lucky enough to sit next to a very interesting fellow passenger. He was a highly regarded and renowned surgeon. On our approach into Heathrow, he turned to me and confided ‘ I hate this bit’. ‘Which bit’, I replied, the crew were tidying up at the time, ‘the landing, we’re in a holding pattern and I’m not in control’. An acutely candid admittance, I couldn’t help but notice. I too, hate ‘ that bit’, from years working in the airline industry I am well aware that calamities, shall we say, mostly occur on take off or landing. Anyway, my concerned neighbour didn’t need to know that, so in the moment, I just reassured and chatted until the landing gear hit the tarmac.
Prior to this moment of honesty, we had been discussing leadership in a clinical environment, and he had talked about how some surgeons occasionally ‘lose it’ in theatre. This surprised me. He was about to receive an acutely candid concern from me at this point but I held it in. He was talking about highly talented surgeons that occasionally succumb to stress, and that unfortunately this often plays out in a high-risk theatre scenario. He went on to say that with a strong team there would usually be someone who would step in and disperse the tension. Of course, the surgeon takes the lead in an operation and this scenario can impact not only on the outcome for the patient, but also the performance and productivity of those around him or her. Some may feel able to call something out and others not.
Of course, this doesn’t only occur in a theatre situation, we see it play out daily with the senior leaders responsible for large corporations and huge numbers of employees, small businesses and politically, where the consequence for a nation and its people are immense.
Recent events have given rise to many feeling utterly shaken by the uncertainty and complex times in which we currently live. It is therefore understandable that people may feel disorientated and anxious about the future.
However, our futures aren’t entirely based upon the actions and decisions of other people. Humans are remarkably resilient, flaws and all, and history has documented it. So, whether you agree or disagree with what’s happening in the world, you do have a choice over how you tackle your own challenges and the things that you can influence. You are utterly in control of your own thoughts and actions, if you choose to be.
We can sit in a metaphorical holding pattern and hope that someone else will provide a lifeline in whatever guise that takes, or take an action ourselves. As a friend said to me yesterday, the best way to tackle fear is to get out there and get busy.
Sometimes it takes guts and a dollop of bravery, but to coin one of my favourite quotes, as Eleanor Roosevelt herself said, ‘ Humans are like teabags, you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water!’
As for my new surgeon friend, he continues to champion good leadership in a clinical setting and personally he doesn’t have to get on a plane for at least three months so he’s happy.
Get comfortable with discomfort and leave the holding pattern.
Wishing you every possibility,
Kate Tojeiro is an Executive Coach to executives and leaders across the world in both large corporations and small cutting edge businesses, and author of The Art of Possible.