How I learned to lead with optimism in a time of pre-traumatic stress

The world is suffering from pre-traumatic stress. Not only are we dealing with the threat of the pandemic, but also climate change, social injustice, economic downturn. While the horizon looks bleak, it’s never been more important to lead from a place of optimism. This is how we bounce back. This is the route to resilience.

In July 2016, I was sitting on the balcony at the beautiful home of one of my clients, having drinks overlooking the Bosporus in Istanbul. Suddenly, the sound of boats whizzing by and chatter on the streets below was transformed into the sound of fighter jets breaking the sound barrier overhead and screams from the people below.

Immediately, I reached for my phone with thoughts of my young daughter and my mother. I had 45 missed calls. My client turned on the television which showed us utterly shocking images of tanks and soldiers on the streets, of bombs exploding over our parliament and cities.

This was during what the BBC described as the “bloodiest coup attempt in [Turkey’s] political history”. Seeking to topple President Erdogan and his government, the military had taken over. My city had been transformed from cosmopolitan democracy to chaotic warzone overnight. Any sense of control had disappeared for me and my neighbours.

Just as I was working on healing my PTSD, feeling happy I had come out the other end, I had to face a whole new phenomena.

This traumatic experience, in which I was terrified for my own wellbeing and that of my family, affected me in ways I couldn’t have fathomed beforehand. After, I became much more risk averse. Things that had seemed safe suddenly became frightening. Taking a flight, crossing the road.

Post-traumatic stress had given me pre-traumatic stress. Suddenly, I was scared of things that hadn’t happened yet. I was constantly anticipating disaster. I had an acute awareness of how quickly things can change.

Pre-traumatic stress, or pre-TSD, was a term I first heard from a dear friend of mine, Aylin Algun, a psychology MA. She’d just attended an event at a futures company where I was heading up a team of foresight analysts constantly immersed in the knowledge of tomorrow’s world. A world of potential disaster from the likes of climate change, social injustice, political upheaval, economic instability.

The team and leadership at the company seemed to be in a constant state of anxiety. The culture was one of pre-trauma, Aylin explained. Just as I was working on healing my post-traumatic stress disorder and feeling happy I had come out the other end, I had to face a whole new phenomena.

In this atmosphere, it became clear to me that I needed to lead by creating a sense of psychological safety for my team. I used optimism to flip the pre-traumatic stress on its head. I made sure that people felt secure in their jobs and focused on building belief in the company and a belief in each individual that the company believed in them and valued them. Then we could focus on the work and the future of our business.

It became clear to me that I needed to create a sense of psychological safety for my team. I used optimism to flip the pre-traumatic stress on its head.

Pre-TSD is a term, I have since learned, that was first coined in research into Danish soldiers, who were entering warzones with a mindstate of anticipated disaster. It has also been widely applied to people — especially those in Gen Z — who feel a sense of despair and lack control when faced with the climate crisis.

Now, in 2020, the world is facing unmitigated pre-trauma. Not only are all the other threats still existent and amplified, there is also the constant threat of COVID-19. Everything has changed in the blink of an eye, just as it did for me and everyone else in Turkey in 2016, but this time on a global scale. We are in a seemingly unending cycle of post and pre-trauma.

That’s why this felt like the right year for me to launch The Resilient. Never before have we needed more resilience. Resilience has been defined by many, in many different ways, but my preferred definition is: “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti and Becker, 2000). I particularly like this as it sets resilience as a dynamic that is born out of action and that can be shaped through optimism and a growth mindset.

In 2020, the world is facing unmitigated pre-trauma. Everything has changed in the blink of an eye. We are in a seemingly unending cycle.

Faced with the threat of trauma, humans respond in multiple ways; from reflexive fight, flight or freeze mechanisms, to fawning: trying to please, and fatigue: giving up through apathy. These can all be useful survival techniques, but as leaders they can be damaging. Putting us in a state of continual reaction, while paralysing meaningful action.

It is important to embrace these responses in yourself and have empathy for them in others. Then start on the work of harnessing them as catalysts for transformation. This is the process of building resilience; of making sure that you can make the future happen while dealing with turmoil and uncertainty with an open, ready-to-learn mindset.

Take the analogy of a ship’s captain. Imagine you are the captain and an oncoming storm is an adverse event in your life. If you believe that your boat or crew won’t cope, you will fail to baton the hatches and change course. Alternatively, you can approach the storm with a more optimistic outlook, and harness your experiences of weathering past storms, to prepare your boat and crew. Then, you can simultaneously search the horizon for blue sky and steer course towards it.

Faced with the threat of trauma, humans respond in multiple ways; from reflexive fight, flight or freeze mechanisms, to fawning: trying to please, and fatigue: giving up through apathy.

You and your crew come out the other side better prepared for the next storm. You can harness this challenging experience to navigate future turbulent times. Overall, this takes optimism and a willingness to keep learning and changing. Hope is the number one component of resilience. Faith that you’ll positively adapt and grow if you do the work to make it happen.

Cultivating resilience through optimism in uncertain times:

Optimism often manifests in the ability to see that painful or traumatic events can create positive outcomes, personally, professionally, or both. Leaders can exercise this muscle through committing to a reflective practice, framed by optimism. For example:

  1. Reflect on a difficult event in your past and think about whether any good came from it. Consider whether it has improved any aspects of your life or personality.
  2. Alternatively, think about an experience or situation where you dealt with trauma or pre-trauma in a positive way. What were the resources and skills you used?
  3. What about a situation you’re dealing with right now? What would be the outcome if you shifted to a more optimistic mindset? Who would benefit and how?
  4. Now flip the same scenario and consider how pessimism would bring a different outcome. What would you be taking away from yourself and others if you did that?
  5. Finally, think about making a to-do list from an optimistic point of view and one from a pessimistic outlook. Consider how different these are.
  6. The idea of the above exercises is to transform your outlook and create a sense of hope. The most important thing is intention. Intentionally focus your attention on the positive things around you and don’t dwell on negative thoughts, just like an algorithm intentionally selects self-serving data. Or, like lifting the needle on a record, interject and assert your choice over that thought.

Choose your words with intention and take note of your body language. Use pressure as a privilege that teaches you resilience. Behave and take action in ways that build positive feelings and new interpretation of the event you are facing. Make a commitment to learning something new every day, whether this is something new about you, the people you work with or the wider world. This is the route to resilience; to using trauma to fuel meaningful transformation.

Resilience flourishes in space between stimulus and response

One of my favourite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, Austrain Neurologist and Holocaust Survivor:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

This week I launched my new business ‘The Resilient’ here to enable you to find that space and fill it with intention, courage and strength to find growth and freedom.

Transformation happens when you start to see and perceive differently. But to get there you need space and creating it needs conscious intervention.

It was ironically a constant flood of unexpected and uncontrollable change that became my change.

But change is hard. Our love of comfort zones gives us a sense of security we don’t want to loose. Change has hair pin bends, large drops and beautiful views. It requires you to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, to embrace positive discomfort, to get fiercely realistic, rigorous, and disciplined while you embark on your journey of hope and infinite possibilities.

The adversity that change brought with it was almost like a guardian, there to teach me everything I needed to know. Giving me the chance for me to step into my own. To understand what I wanted, what I valued, what I needed for my wellbeing, and with what intention I wanted to live my life.

As a Turkish girl born in Britain wedged between two cultures, unsure of which way to turn, I worked diligently and persistently to act from my purpose, which was to steer businesses to growth by doing good for the people they serve and serve them. Eventually, I found myself in a position of great influence as a transformational strategist advising multi-million pound business’ on the needs of their consumers, designing their products and services, mapping their innovation and steering their cultures and communities.

But being a consultant serving the largest companies in the world with a constant stream of strategic thinking that would outsmart their competition, and enable their growth and survival for years to come, was not a small endeavour to take on. Especially while bringing up my daughter, looking after my (now ex-) husband during his illnesses, trying to keep my business afloat during a political coup or commuting between two countries weekly while my teams were hanging on my every word for direction, trust and stability.

There was a point after running my own business for 5 years in a challenging emerging market (in a foreign language) when I thought I had reached a place of stability and I could switch to cruise control and finally enjoy life after having put so much empahsis on my career. After all I was in my early 40s.

But one divorce, teargas in my eyes, a failed coup attempt and a lost democracy later, I realised my personal transformation was still to come. It wasn’t over yet. In fact, it was the beginning.

After a series of unexpected blows, a.k.a. all that life could throw at me, I was clinically diagnosed with ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ and ‘burn out’ and I quickly realised that things needed to change. Otherwise I risked nosediving into depression. But to make matters worse I was spending each day analysing what the world would be like in 5–10 years time — and suffering as a result from ‘pre-traumatic stress disorder’ as well.

It was no longer sustainable and it was only then that I realised the buck ultimately lied with me. I could no longer blame, expect or demand. I had to pull myself out of the rubble as the world, its businesses and the collective spirit had a long way to go before it could step in to take the pain and hopelessness away.

But one thing was clear, I still had hope, my sense of humour — although fading fast — and people around me that truly gave a shit about my wellbeing. But the final jolt was when I woke one morning and felt completely tired of the ‘story’ I was playing out in my head, the fantasy that had become my narrative — there was no space between the stimulus in and around my life and my response to it. I was just reacting, no longer acting and my story had become a truth I didn’t even believe in. I needed to create space in order to create a new way of life that gave me more meaning, growth and freedom.

So I leaned in hard. I started to combine my personal learning of physiology, psychology, spirituality with my business acumen, entrepreneurial skills, knowledge of cultural trends and understanding of organisational culture to build a new set of tools for myself that would give me new skills and habits of resilience.

In so doing I became more aware of my life choices, community, environment and real intentions. New decisions emerged and plans to make them happen.

As I delved deep, I connected like I had never connected before, with myself and with others. I worked with an amazing coach, attended Gestalt coaching courses and therapy, started exercising (consistently!), changed my diet, started intermittent fasting, took up transformational breath work and mindful practices. But most importantly I made more time for the beautiful relationships in my life I was so lucky to have, especially my daughter.

Slowly the wind turned to a breeze, the pain into joy and one by one, and step by step I found myself adopting new habits, thinking and tools that collectively enabled me to start truly nourishing myself and my dreams. I had embraced a new way of life, one that had more fullfilment, joy, productivity and steady growth. Most striking of all was that I found myself able to say ‘no’ and hence stay out of self-inflicted trouble.

I had found my inner resileince.

In short, I worked with discipline, focus and determination to rewrite my story to one I would want to wake up to, and one that would allign my professional and personal story authentically together to serve for a more wholesome life — one that embed my understanding of integrity and kindness.

So here I am in the era of positive vulnerability bringing my personal story together with my professional knowledge to encourage the next generation that good can come from turning tough emotions into positive actions and showing them how to create the space they need to get there.

I am a believer that the world of change is one of beautiful hope, new connections and the opportunity to allow the universe and its infinite possibilities to take its course. But you need to know what to ask from the cosmic kitchen!

With superpowers of resilience I believe you can make any change you need in order to identify and reach your dreams.

So as the Coronavirus continues to leave its mark in our lives and we find ourselves having to delve even deeper into our inner resources in order to get through, I am here to provide support on that journey.

Don’t forget you are unique, you are whole, you are the resilient and with a bit of space in your life you can embark on your personal and professional journey to rise and thrive.

My only hope is that The Resilient and it’s suite of upcoming training programmes, coaching and strategic support will be your companion along the way.

If you have got this far, thank you for reading! It means a lot.

Eternally grateful to all adversity and excited for our journey together.

Yours,

Ozlem

Check out the new website www.theresilient.co.uk to find out more and drop me a line with feedback and thoughts!

Follow us on Instgram: Theresilient_thrive

Embracing selflessness in transformational leadership

Leading organisational transformation means embracing selflessness. It is about focussing on something bigger, outside the self. And this is by no means easy. It requires character as much as commercial skill. It is a calling that requires working behind the scenes more than working in the spotlight. And only receiving the applause with successful completion.

“We live in and as individual bodies, each one mortal and often suffering. Empathy is the foundation of the sense that ‘I am not alone, others are with me, we are in this together, we share a common humanity.”

These are the words of Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. When I heard them, I was leading transformation at an organisation and their meaning really sang to me. Feeling quite alone in my mission of change, I harnessed empathy to bring colleagues on board. With people inherently scared of change, this took time. However, with purpose and love at my core, I was able to believe that others were with me.

[Leading transformation requires character as much as commercial skill. It is a calling that requires working behind the scenes more than working in the spotlight. And only receiving the applause with successful completion]

As leaders, we can often feel a sense of isolation, especially in uncertain times, and especially when we are driving transformation. As humans, we look for approval, for validation from others, but as leaders this support can be hidden or hard to come by.

A good analogy comes in the shape of a tightrope walker. While they are alone in their need for balance, others on the ground are cheering them on and sharing their focus, whether they can hear or see them or not. Meanwhile, some may be willing them to fall, but nevertheless are elated or relieved when they reach the end of the tightrope and complete their goal.

You need people as your safety net and to ensure that they are there with, and for you, you need empathy. You need to match IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient) with LQ (love quotient).

As Chris Wise, leadership coach and founder of business consultancy Wise Profits, puts it: “Just as EQ informs the world’s understanding about emotions and their impact on how we communicate and IQ gives us the means to measure intellect, LQ is humanity’s tool for understanding our own capacity to love. It also highlights the necessity for us to do so.”[1]

[As humans, we look for approval, for validation from others, but as leaders this support can be hidden or hard to come by]

This love is not only vital to aligning people within an organisation to your vision, but also integral to ensuring that that vision ladders up to meaningful impact on a larger scale. It is how leaders are able to boost profits through purpose. After all, according to Edelman, nearly two-thirds of global consumers are “Belief-driven Buyers [who] will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about”.

Leading from a place of love and empathy ensures that you can drive change based on your own beliefs, but perhaps more importantly, understand and incorporate the beliefs of your customers and colleagues. This is particularly important in times of extreme turbulence and uncertainty. Times like now.

While you might not agree with others, there is power in unity. By striving to understand different points of view, you can create real and meaningful change. It means you can create power with people, rather than over them. It establishes a sense of belonging that reduces fear and boosts security. It makes us focus on the journey, as well as the result. And it builds long-term resilience that future proofs an organisation.

[By striving to understand different points of view, you can create real and meaningful change. It means you can create power with people, rather than over them]

As Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter of global leadership, organisational development and research firm Potential Project, write in a piece for Harvard Business Review entitled Ego is the Enemy of Good Leadership: “Breaking free of an overly protective or inflated ego and avoiding the leadership bubble is an important and challenging job. It requires selflessness, reflection, and courage.”[2]

Here are a few tips to help you build and maintain resilience and courage through processes of selflessness and reflection as a leader of transformation:

  • Focus on the journey, rather than just the outcome. Accept that some things may be out of your control, but that these things might make the journey and outcome more interesting and impactful.
  • Confide in someone outside the situation who will give you the empathy you need. Tell a friend or loved one of your struggles and embrace their support
  • Speak up. Use compassion and honesty to talk to other influential leaders within the organisation about the challenges you’re facing. A problem shared, is truly a problem halved.
  • Reflect on your thoughts, words and actions. At the beginning and end of each day, take time to check-in with yourself and others and think about how you might approach things differently or appreciate where you handled things well.
  • Act with empathy by also reflecting on other people’s words and actions. Think about why they said something or acted in a certain way. Think if there are any ways you can support them.
  • Indulge in self-care. Instead of turning to bad habits, such as alcohol, look to meditation, exercise, childcare, socialising or other positive activities that give you energy.
  • Always remember your bigger purpose. Why are you doing this? What positive changes will your transformation efforts bring about?

Above all, practice kindness, love and empathy. Then, you’ll be able to harness the power of selflessness while driving real and meaningful change. And the next time you face a similar challenge, you’ll realise how much resilience you’ve built. That you can achieve things you didn’t think possible, like walking a tightrope hundreds of metres high.

[1] https://thelovequotient.org/about-love-quotient/

[2] https://hbr.org/2018/11/ego-is-the-enemy-of-good-leadership

 

Do we Collaborate or Compete?

Each week we have started a clubhouse room on how to Level up — The 80% Effect, encouraging entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to level up to 80% excellence in order to achieve their desried results. This week’s theme was Collaborate or Compete?

This discussion made it apparent that mindset has shifted from ahypercompetitive ‘win-at-all-costs, crush-your-enemies’ thinking to one where #collaboration is now one of the strongest competitive advantages in business for the future.

A lot of this shift is driven by the purpose seeking, truth demanding and inclusive mindset of Gen Z’s and Millennials who are gaining a growing share of voice in business…

But it goes beyond this…

What we seek for our lives has fundamentally changed since covid.

People are looking for deeper and more meaningful levels of engagement with each and businesses.

And we know that the joy of victory is the most transient of emotions there is.

Today victory looks very different. 🌟

We feel victory when we feel the joy of meaningful connection. Covid has taught us that this above all is what the game called life is actually about.

When we connect to create happier, healthier and wealthier lives then we all win.

Collaborating for a greater good is key to creating that sense of connection. However, it’s a new territory.

In her book, The Long Win, Cath Bishop says:

‘All too often cooperation has been misdefined in school as obeying instructions. And, genuine cooperative effort in the school context has been construed as distraction or even cheating. Time and time again, sharing information and discussing answers together is forbidden behaviour throughout childhood and remains uncomfortable unless consciously rethought later.’

As a result we default to being task-focused and results-driven. We are creative beings at our core and so to an extent that’s okay.

But it’s less about doing something harder and faster.

It’s less about coming out on top at the expense of others.

It’s about doing something for the BETTER. 💛

And the rules of competition no longer serve as the best rules for this.

…Steal share…

…Win at all costs…

…Put your competition out of business…

…‘How can I be number one by stealing shares’ was a brief I often got. So 90s!

But, with 62% of consumers expecting their brand preference to change permanently before the pandemic ends, brands are NOW having to rethink everything in order to get on the consideration list.

With the rise of erratic spending, brandification by influencers, and how brand choice and trust is now mostly down to how you act in crisis — there is a whole new business world emerging.

The old game is no longer worth playing. The purpose of the game is no longer to win.

But, to be of service. For each other. Creating Together. 💖

A new era of symbiosis is emerging across the field and collaboration is core to this.

We have seen the likes of Burger King offering free advertising space to independent smaller businesses and encouraging their customers to eat at McDo to help the industry as whole.

We have seen Allbirds and Adidas, previously primal rivals, collaborate to create the world’s most sustainable training shoe.

Accepting that success is only possible when you get to share assets and expertise… And, realizing that they cannot do it alone.

It’s almost like this new era of primal branding is emerging where we must unite to fight a bigger threat, the threat of extinction, acting on instinct in the interest of self preservation.

In our discussion next week we tackle ‘sales’ vs ‘purpose’.

Every Tuesday, Neil Schambra Stevens from Mecrury Jam and I share top hacks and knowledge mindset tips for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to level up to 80% excellence to get ahead and build tomorrow’s businesses.

A collaboration born from shared values and a primal instinct that the next generation need to be protected and fast.

Join us again on Tuesday 13th of April.

LEVEL UP | THE 80% EFFECT 🚀

TUESDAYS 5PM UK | 6PM CET | 12PM EST | 9AM PST

On Clubhouse

#kindness #resilience #nextgenleaders

 

The Misleading Comfort Zone

(image source: https://www.dutchinvertuals.nl/exhibitions/mutant-matter/)

Yesterday I gave a workshop on Resilience in VUCA times to the advertising industry in the UK which went really well but I could see the resistance that come up as soon as the conversation shifted to the notion that actually so often it is not just the external interference that undermines our resilience but more importantly the internal interference that blocks us.

The judgements (this is a BIG one), doubts, self-criticism, not feeling good enough, being In blame, in anger, feeling shame and carrying guilt are all huge interferences.

And as a result affecting our external conversations, interpersonal relationship, the environment and the outcomes we have in our life leaving us feeing even more with a distorted picture of reality.

Left in a state of feeling threatened, in defensive responses and lacking trust. It drags us into comparison, mediocracy, scarcity and survival mindset.

To take radical responsibility in today’s world is to look at this head on:

Interference is constant stream of internal dialogue that has a person in judgement of themselves and others reacting not responding hindering our spontaneous creative resourcefulness and potential’

Hay Group

What we don’t often remember is that it’s our intrinsic belief system that is showing up, thoughts that are coming from patterns deep in our subconscious mind. A.k.a our true comfort zone! Which should be renamed as the ‘Confinement zone’ .

What we were told as a child by our parents, ex-boyfriends, bosses, culture, politics, local community, the environment, hell even the lyrics of the song we listened to as a kid. These words that were told, heard, spoken all sit deep in our subconscious mind, written all over the walls of our comfort zone.

Our unconscious mind affects 96% of our decisions, actions, how we think, how we feel. Psychology says only 4% comes from consciousness.

But we can break the subconscious pattern in our mind by changing our thoughts. Our thoughts effect our feeling, feelings our behaviours, our behaviours our thoughts and the cycle continues. So by flipping the script we can take on new ways of behaviour.

Skills of resilience can help immensely in wellbeing as life throws curve balls and it presents it’s regular twists and turns.

Mental agility, one of the key pillars of resilience, enables intrinsic motivation by enabling you to discovermental patterns and stereotypes, that prevent you from continuing your motivation and you start to transform it into our positive functional effect. The result being removing the interferences by enabling a more trusting, positive outlook that engages you in your true potential.

It’s the removal of such interferences from your potential that allows you to step into your true productivity. By that I mean your true creative flow, being you! Not just doing more in less time!

So to become resilience you really get to look at your comfort zone, the one that stands way beyond the walls of your home. How resilient you are depends on how both your traits and the state of your being is in the moment of the event.

  • When you are having an adverse event stop to remember you have choice. There is freedom to choose how you react, what to think, you have choice over the thought you have. You can respond rather than react. Your thought will hold the key to who you will be in that moment and how it can provide resource for you in the person you will become after the event.
  • To help think about the event happening in the 3rd person feel how neutrality starts to wash over you. Literally retell the story in your head in the 3rd person. Detach yourself so you can see it as neutral and that you have the choice on the interpretation and therefore the experience you have.
  • AND book a pitty party with your friends if you really want to vent being a victim and I can tell you it’s very healing! Put time aside for it, but don’t let it sabotage and undermine your true power to influence a positive outcome by dragging you to emotional reaction rather than a constructive response to the adverse event.

How do you feel about your comfort zone?

How do you define it?

Does it provide comfort?