The inhale and exhale of breath is automatic. Rarely do we think about the 20, 000 times each day that we move air through the lungs, inhaling to expand and exhaling to contract.
Choosing to expand or contract in our professional lives is more deliberate, though.
The first day in a role, meeting an important client, publicly managing a critical situation, trying out a skill—this is what contracting looks like at work. Our bodies are tense, our minds anxious. On high alert, we hold back from action and engagement because our attention is focused inward, on ourselves and our needs.
In contrast, when circumstances are familiar, stable and favorable, we exude confidence. We trust ourselves and our actions, we look outward to the future with hope, we engage others—this is what expanding looks like at work.
Contracting benefits us in times of great stress, such as a life or death threat when we need to survive. However, it does not allow us to thrive.
Leadership requires—sometimes even demands—that we expand. It calls upon us to push through our own discomfort, especially in times of great uncertainty. Also, it asks that we bring others along on the ride, encouraging and inspiring them to push through theirs, too. And in doing so, to shape the future rather than be shaped by it; to disrupt the world rather than be disrupted by it.
Of course, expanding can and will be uncomfortable. Actually, it has to be uncomfortable because there’s no road map. A leader’s role is to set a path based on today’s knowns and simultaneously prepare to adapt and evolve to external circumstances.
Here’s the upside: Times of great chaos and change can also be times of great reinvention, reimagining and repositioning.
When the stakes are higher, the impact is higher. You can shape the future you want to live in.
So, the next time you feel yourself contracting—stepping back, narrowing your attention and focusing on your own needs—inhale deeply and make the choice to expand.
A better future is waiting for you.
Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting (www.adastraleadership.com). A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.