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Leadership in Turbulent Times – The Boulder in the Rapids

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

Sitting in the sunshine last week, I had carved out a precious space away from kids and business life to meditate. But, inevitably for me, I felt pushed off course by an overwhelming upsurge of restless energy.

“The garden’s growing. Shouldn’t we get a gardener? We should really get a gardener. How much does a gardener cost? I wonder if I can find a good one on the local Facebook group… but I’m not on Facebook – argh! … Ok, I’m supposed to be meditating… Right. Ok. …. Mmmm, this is a lovely spot in the sun. Let’s build a summerhouse! Yes! I wonder exactly where… what size? What colour should it be? It would be nice to have the doors opening out into the sunshine…. 

And so on.

Resonate? Plenty of creative force… not much peace or solidity.

What I spotted is that this is exactly what so many of us are experiencing right now in work and in life. 

There’s no doubt we’re living through extremely turbulent times – the fourth industrial revolution. Technological advances have taken us far from the comparative simplicity of our childhood years. We’re always ‘on’. Geo politics, pandemic and climate change leave many of us sitting in a near permanent state of low-level anxiety, which sometimes bubbles to the surface as full-blown panic.

To find peace and solidity in the midst of all that ‘stuff’ feels increasingly difficult. It feels wobbly over here. It’s easy to get knocked off balance. And it’s easy to find yourself chasing something that you think will help, only to find that once you’ve caught it, it’s not enough. Without a breath, you’ve already spotted the next thing to run towards. 

The natural urge is to try and ‘do more’; whether that’s donating money to Ukraine to feel like you’re helping; or stockpiling food in case of nuclear war to feel like your family is safe (yes, I’ve done both. We’re sorted for tinned beans and Spam).

So, this overwhelming restless energy is constantly present for me. Instead of being with what is present, I’m somewhere else in my mind, building the next thing.

Instead of being in the peaceful and solid here-and-now, I seem to want to be in the exciting, wobbly, creative place, ‘somewhere-else-and-never’’.

As I sat trying to meditate, I realised that I don’t want to be carried by that restless energy, at least not all the time. It’s exhausting and I know I don’t do my best work from that place. But equally I realised it wouldn’t help to get into a wrestling match with it either, because then I’d still be in the ‘somewhere-else-and-never’, rather than the here-and-now. 

Perhaps there is a third way, where I could sit and notice that bubbling restless energy without being swept up in the need to act on it?

As I asked that question, I found some words… a metaphor. Or maybe even a poem (urgh, sorry if I’m foisting a poem on you!). 

It’s become this aspiration for who I could be as a leader in turbulent times. Here goes…

I am a boulder in the rapids.

I refuse to be carried by the Gush and Rush of the water, by the Dash and Thrash and Splash.

I am not a pebble any more. 

The flow may impress me, I may revel in its power, I may find fascination in its dancing patterns.

But I will not be swept away by it.

I am a boulder in the rapids.

I stand firm. 

I let the flow smooth my edges.

I cannot control the flow, but I can guide it to pass and find its level.

I need not ‘do’ (hey, I’m a boulder), it’s ‘being’ that’s my substance.

I am a boulder in the rapids.

I am expansive.

I cannot tire.

And I’m going nowhere.

I’m sharing this aspiration with you in the hope that it resonates with you.

Now more than ever, we need leaders who are the boulder, rather than the pebble. Leaders who are grounded in their purpose and not knocked off course by the wild rapids we’re living and working in.

Reach out if you agree 🙂

AVAILABLE NOW: New Purpose-driven Leader programme – connecting leaders to their motivation and values to re-energise purpose and guide positive action. 

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

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