The surest way for a leader to get stuck is to prioritize their own personal comfort over the truth of what’s happening around them. In the field of system leadership theory, this refusal to see reality in favor of what we wish was real is called “absencing”. When we’re absencing, rather than bravely stepping into the future, we cling to the past. We shut ourselves off from what is emerging. We turn our backs on our employees and ultimately, we turn our backs on ourselves. When we live in an absencing cycle, we’re betraying ourselves. It’s the ultimate self-own.
At the heart of absencing is the desire to run away from difficult people and situations and the uncomfortable emotions they give rise to. Difficulty makes us feel less certain about our place in the world and that threatens our sense of significance. If we can’t handle the difficulty, maybe that means we’re unworthy. Stuck leaders don’t like that.
Unstuck leaders though, they fight the urge to run away from uncomfortable emotions. Rather, they turn into them. Because the tough stuff is where the good stuff happens. What can I say? Life is full of paradoxes. But think about it. (Or don’t think about it, and instead read this fantastic piece on existential therapy and the awe of being alive).
Sadness brings us awareness of the impermanence of things. It teaches us to appreciate what we have, when we have it. Sadness helps us become more empathetic to others. And it can inspire us to switch directions, try something new and to move forward.
Without fear, there is no courage. Or at least courage is pointless. If we were afraid of nothing, there would be no impetus for positive change, creativity and innovation. We’d be content with our lot in life.
Anger causes us to stand up for ourselves, and to resolve to change things for the better.
Turns out guilt isn't all that bad. It inspires us to improve ourselves.
Even envy has its plusses. It reveals what we’re missing and what we truly want in our lives. It gives us aspiration.
Here’s the thing about leadership (and life). It’s about accepting the negative. It’s about accepting the uncertainty. And then using their lessons to learn to thrive despite them.
Only then can we become truly unstuck.