Empathy & Leadership

A couple of years ago I completed a qualification in leadership and management as part of my continuing professional development. I loved the course, met some brilliant people and learnt a lot. At the time, I was not in a position of leadership but was hoping that I might get the chance to move in that direction. I had previously held leadership positions but I’d always sort of fallen into them and always felt a little fraudulent having that kind of responsibility. I was always convinced there must be someone better qualified, more experienced or just indefinably ‘better’ in some way.

I’ve never been a front and centre kind of leader. Leading from the front, quite frankly, terrifies me. I always feel more comfortable with what I have heard referred to as servant leadership. Leading from within. I find it an interesting and beautiful concept: that you don’t have to hold a formal position of leadership in order to be a leader. In fact, many of the best leaders I have known have been people who have guided and motivated the people around them, not from a position of authority but from a place of partnership. Don’t get me wrong, that authority is important. Formal leadership roles are necessary and useful. But anybody can be a leader and you don’t have to get that promotion to do it. Lead by example. Embody what you want to see achieved. Lead through supportiveness. Encourage those around you to pursue excellence. Lead through openness. Embrace opportunities and open them up to others. Leading in this way is hugely rewarding and, if you want to step into more formal positions of leadership, can help you demonstrate your leadership potential and develop and exercise some of the skills that help to make a great, authoritative leader.

In my own leadership journey, I not only came to understand and embrace this notion of leadership from within but I also came to recognise how easily we become critical of our leaders. Of course, it is important to have leaders we feel we can trust, who we feel will deliver on promises or who will simply respond in the way we feel is most effective. But that’s just the thing, isn’t it: the way WE feel is most effective is not always the way everybody or even anybody else will think is most effective. And we are so quick to jump in with criticisms when our leaders don’t do things the way we would have. We so easily forget that we usually don’t have all the relevant information. We so readily pass the blame when things go wrong. We so quickly forget that they too are human, and will inevitably make mistakes.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not for a moment saying that leaders should not be held to account: of course they should. But I can’t help but feel we could do it with a little more empathy. Rather than allowing our frustrations and judgements to bubble over into something vitriolic, we could take a moment to step back and acknowledge the complex and delicate balancing acts involved in leading. The many stakeholders there are to please or appease. The many, varied and sometimes unfathomable implications of the decisions leaders have to make. The unavoidable truth that in leadership there is always going to be someone who is unhappy with the decision or outcome.

We don’t have to like every (or any!) decision made by people we encounter in leadership.

We don’t have to nod along and sit placidly by if we disagree.

But we also don’t have to lambast them. We don’t have to forget that they are human too. We don’t have to lose our empathy.

This, of course, can be easier said than done. When we consider that a leader can be anyone from the person who organises the cake rota at the local community centre to a world leader with responsibility for armed forces, it’s understandable that we might be inclined to treat some with more empathy and respect than others. I can certainly think of one or two leaders who, if I were to meet them in person, I would struggle not to launch into an angry, profanity laced tirade about their ineptitude or lack of compassion. But then, if I am going see myself as a leader – whatever my position – if I am going to lead by example, through supportiveness and openness, would that angry tirade be the example I want to lead by? And furthermore, if people were to fundamentally disagree with my leadership decisions – as will undoubtedly happen – would I want them to address this through an angry, profanity laced tirade? No. Of course not. It is unproductive and only further removes empathy and humanity from a situation potentially already lacking compassion.

Disagreement is good: it allows a situation to be considered from different angles.

Challenging and criticising leadership where we see problems is good: it keeps leaders accountable and checks abuse of power.

But disagreement, challenge and criticism need empathy to be truly effective. And if we respond to leaders with empathy maybe we’ll see more leaders respond – and lead – in kind.

I wrote this poem some time ago when I was first beginning to think about
what it meant to be a leader. I was reflecting on the many meetings I had
sat through, listening to muttered grumbles - mine and others' - and 
perhaps been unjustly judgmental of whichever leader happened to be in
front of me because I was bored or tired or frustrated or just disagreed
with them.

In writing this, I was trying to explore both sides of the story: the 
leader and the led. The experiences described at the beginning of the 
poem could easily belong to either.

It's raw and unedited but it seemed apt for this post:

I am surrounded by a sussuration of sighs
And whispered words
As the seconds vibrate onwards:
The restless, dragging minutes
Wringing out the deepest aches of my mind
And squeezing front and centre
Until that dull pounding pain
Pushes all else aside.
Information overload.
Too much of this,
Not enough of that.
Common sense and communication
Out the broken window,
Which we asked to be fixed months ago.
Hit the ground running,
We're already collapsing,
So quick to judge and
Not always eager to please.
It's easy to point
And roll your eyes
And mock and moan and mumble
Curses under your breath,
To pontificate on "it would be better if"
Or "why didn't they think of..." that
Or "same old sodding story"
When you're not the one
Standing up there
Alone
Trying to convince the reluctant crowds to follow.


A Moment In Time

I have done a few of these ‘Moment in Time’ posts now and I always really enjoy them. It’s a lovely way to pause, take a step back from the chaos of everyday life, reflect on what’s going on, exercise some gratitude and think forward. I invite (and encourage) you to create your own moment in time post. If you do, please leave a link in the comments – I’d love to see what your moment in time looks like.

Outside my window… it is dark and there is a chill in the air. January’s lethargy settles over everything as the world (and I) tries to stay awake.

I am thinking… about the future and how to build the one I want. I can see where I am aiming now but how I get from A to B is foggy.

I am thankful… to have some of our evenings and weekends back, now the work has finished on the house, to just spend some quiet time together.

In the kitchen… it is calm and clean and finally a space to enjoy being in. And my lovely husband is preparing this evening’s meal.

I am wearing… leggings and leotard under a longline cardigan and cosy socks, as I take a break between dance classes.

I am creating… draft two of my first novel (!), a blog post, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content, some snippets of creative writing and dances for our upcoming show.

I am going… to start taking vitamins to try and ward off the colds and various ailments I keep seeming to attract!

I am wondering… how to effectively build mindfulness into my day in a way that I will consistently stick to. I feel like mindfulness practice is something that I could benefit from hugely but I really seem to struggle to stick to any form of daily mindful practice.

I am reading… Muse Of Nightmares, Hollow City, The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes, Thinking Reading.

I am praying for… health, wellbeing and family.

I am hoping… for the courage, commitment and confidence I know it’s going to take to pursue my dreams.

I am looking forward to… the weekend.

I am learning… about effective copywriting and the processes through which we learn to read and acquire vocabulary.

Around the house… it is pleasantly orderly. We’re slowly clearing out the bits and pieces we no longer want around the house (watching Marie Kondo is having and effect on us…) and we’re enjoying taking pleasure in our home after a few months of madness.

I am pondering… the next steps in my career.

A favourite quote for today…

A life’s made of hope like a house is of bricks.
Matt Haig – The Truth Pixie

One of my favourite things… is to have a period of time when there is nothing I need to do. Time I can fill with reading or writing or watching something or listening to music or just simply taking time to be.

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Start editing the novel

Draft some blog posts

Have dinner with my dad

Submit expression of interest and example work for a freelance opportunity

A peek into my day…

A brief pause between dance classes:

A Life’s Made Of Hope…

“Yes, the night has dark bits, but it has stars too,

And you’ll feel when they shine,

That they shine just for you,

You will step outside and see from the park,

That the light is brighter when it’s next to the dark.

You will have so many great times ahead,

And soft happy dreams from inside your bed,

The future is changing, a life is a mix,

A life’s made of hope like a house is of bricks,

And tonight, right now, you feel very sad,

But the rest of your life won’t be so bad.”

Some days are just hard, aren’t they? But it’s so important not to lose sight of the good, not to forget to hope. I am taking hope and comfort from the lovely and wise words of The Truth Pixie today and, as ever, I am so grateful to people like Matt Haig who not only share and speak openly about their own difficult days, but also create wonderful things like The Truth Pixie which provide gentle reminders of the light in the dark. With illustrations. And talking rabbits.

It is a beautiful story of feeling out of place and learning to accept and love yourself. Of losing hope and then finding it again. Of isolation and friendship. And of truth. Truth when it’s uncomfortable. Truth when it’s uplifting. Truth as the cornerstone of authenticity.

It’s a five star read and if you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend you do. And then lend it to your friends, your family, the stranger on the train. Spread the pixie love and don’t forget to hope. After all, “A life’s made of hope like a house is of bricks”.

What’s your go-to uplifting read?

J x

A Thrill Of Recognition

Back in November – in amongst the chaos of NaNoWriMo – a very lovely thing happened that I’m only now getting chance to savour and respond to. I was nominated for a Blogger Recognition Award by the oh so lovely Maria over at The Southerner Blogs

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I started blogging over four years ago now when I was really struggling with my mental health and wanted to create a positive space for myself. It’s been an interesting journey and Thrive In Chaos has gone through something of a metamorphosis: from originally sharing quotes and images I found on Pinterest, with the occasional rambling account of my own thoughts or random things I wanted to share, to now being a space where I share my own original creative writing and poetry, reflections of life, book reviews…all still interspersed – of course – with the occasional rambling account of my thoughts. This blog was never about the numbers for me. It truly was a space I set up for myself where I wanted to preserve and celebrate positivity. And yet, I will admit, there is a thrill every time someone likes, comments, follows or shares the things I have written. It is undoubtedly (and somewhat egotistically) one of the things that has driven my interest in and desire to be a writer. There is something strange and special in knowing you have created something that someone connected with. I have always loved books for that very reason – the feeling of connection. Being a creator of content that fosters connection is something I will continue to strive towards and I want to take a moment to thank you, dear readers, for the time you take to read and engage with Thrive In Chaos. It really means the world.

So apparently, there are some rules to this nomination….

Rules for the Blogger Recognition Award

  • Write a post about your award
  • Thank whoever nominated you, including a link to their blog
  • Give a brief story of how your blog began
  • Share some advice for new bloggers
  • Nominate 10 other blogs you wish to give the award to – include this in your post and tag them on twitter
  • Leave a comment on this blog post

Advice for New Bloggers

If you are setting out as a new blogger hoping to gain thousands of followers and high rates of engagement I’m probably not the person you want to be taking advice from! There are ways to do this and more successful bloggers than myself will surely share their ‘How To’s with you. If, however, you are a new blogger simply setting out to carve yourself a little corner fo the internet where you can just be whatever it is you want to be, then my advice would be this: don’t get hung up on the numbers; play with your blog until it feels like you; follow other bloggers whose content you find enriching and inspiring; be mindful of what you post – if it’s personal, are you happy with the world and his wife knowing about it? If it’s strongly opinionated, are you prepared to deal with the potentially negative response of those who believe differently? I don’t say these things to put you off posting anything personal or opinionated – on the contrary: that’s exactly what your blog should be for – but just to remind you that on the internet, as in the world, you should take care of yourself and others.

My Nominations

There are so many amazing blogs out there but these are just a few where you’re guaranteed to find interesting content and super friendly people:

Her Writing Haven

All Time Chelsea

Rebecca Ellis

Rarely Tidy Ramblings

Earth To Connie

Elysian Haze

Off Her Mocha

Life In The Happy

The Good The Human

Female Original

I will be tagging the above bloggers on Twitter too, where I can. Please feel free to follow me here and show them some love!

Thank you so much again to Maria for the nomination and to all you lovely people for helping Thrive in Chaos to…well…thrive.

J x

Wild & Improbable Tales – A Ghost Of Warmth

At first, it looks like a room full of people.

With a languorous certainty, they circulate, moving like the inexorable grace of a glacier, the entrancing dance of the fire. And then you notice something strange: there are no heads, no hands, no legs. They are a sea of jumpers and sweaters, moving as though filled by invisible figures. They float, pause, embrace in unfathomable patterns and currents. The space seems to glow. As you watch, you notice that each and every one of them is old, threadbare and carries something undefinable, which, as they pass, leaves an impression of memory: they glide before you like old film.

Being carefully knitted from a skein of scarlet wool; unwrapped with excitement on Christmas morning and immediately pulled on over pyjamas; thoughtfully selected from amongst racks of others; nervously presented to a loved one; lent from mother to daughter, father to son, lover to lover; frantically searched for on the first frosty morning of the year; lovingly wrapped around a small child who drowns in its folds; bemoaned when the stitching begins to fray; held onto until all that holds them together is love and fading memories; and, eventually, reluctantly, parting ways: passed on to another, bundled up with the charity shop donations, occasionally lost in a forgetful moment on the seat of a bus or under a restaurant table, or folded carefully and placed – with regret – on the rubbish pile.

But the things that are so woven with our lives can never truly be lost or forgotten or even given up. And so they come here. Our knitted echoes, animated by a ghost of warmth.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

New Year’s Intentions


Another year been and gone – they fly by quicker and quicker, don’t they? Those of you who have followed Thrive in Chaos for some time may remember from previous New Year posts that I no longer make New Year’s resolutions – they’re too easy to give up on after week one and only become a source of guilt. I already have a tendency to finding myself getting overwhelmed, rushed by all the ‘should’s and ‘must’s that bombard us every day and New Year’s resolutions were another source of pressure. It’s tiring and distressing and unhealthy to feel so much demand from these abstract ideas and expectations. Instead, a few years ago, I began starting my New Years by choosing a word to inspire the kind of intentional living I wanted to focus on for the year. Intention over resolution.

The first year I did this, the word I chose was ‘adventure’; I wanted to overcome some of my anxiety about travel and enjoy exploring new places. The next year I chose ‘nourish’; I wanted to dedicate more time to nourishing and growing all aspects of my life to be what I wanted them to be, not what the media or society or anyone else tells me they should be. last year, my chosen word was ‘serenity’; I wanted to seek peace, acceptance, courage, and wisdom and this seemed to encompass it all.

I have found the process of choosing an intentional word an interesting one. More often than not, all it takes to find my word is a few minutes quiet reflection: What has been good in this last year that I want to carry forward? What has been missing or diminished that I want to seek more of? Where do I want to put my energy and focus? What would enrich my life? I don’t necessarily ask these questions consciously but just allowing my mind to wander and skim over the last year and glancing at what I hope for going forward usually gives me an idea of what I’m looking for. With the general idea in my mind, I’ll play around with different words related to it or summarising it, writing them down and turning them over in my head until I land upon one that feels right.

This year, that reflection led me to ‘connection’. In 2019, I hope to nurture the connections in my life. I hope to connect more with the people who matter to me; when my anxiety spikes, this is something I find difficult so in 2019 I want to find ways to maintain those connections even when I’m struggling. I also want to reconnect with my mind, my body, and my work: giving myself time to let my mind be quiet; listening to when my body needs rest or better nourishment; connecting with my work and exploring the next steps in my career.

That is the other beauty of choosing a word of intention instead of making resolutions: the right word can be used to represent many different hopes or ares of your life you want to focus on.

If you’d like to try this practice but are unsure where to start or can’t seem to find the right word for you, you could try playing around with some of the words from the wordle below:

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You can also google ‘word for the year’ and there are loads of websites and blogs with lists of words for inspiration. If you decide to choose an intention word for 2019 I’d love to know what you choose.

Hoping that 2019 brings you whatever you need.

Winter Joy

My heart is so full. It’s Christmas and my brother is – wonderfully, unexpectedly -home. There are no words for the joy this has brought me. So instead, I will simply wish you joy and peace of your own and leave you with a wintry poem about light in the darkest part of the year.

Under Earthbound Stars

Just when it seems

That the world has

Withdrawn

Into itself

And skeletal trees stand testament to a

Lifeless

Season,

We hang stars on every branch and bough

And light candles in every window,

Bringing warm hope

To the cold night.

When it seems the whole world should be

Hibernating,

Hidden away and

Waiting

In quiet solitude

For the Sun’s return,

We gather.

Stories and laughter and gifts

Of Time

Or Trinkets

Are shared

Over vats of mulled goodness

Under a man-made Milky-Way

Of Earthbound stars.

And when the sharing is done

A sleepy

Silence

Settles itself,

Like a thick, woollen throw, around our weary shoulders.

We sigh and allow our stuffed selves to

Drift

Into a contented sleep

With a wish of snow upon our lips

And,

If we’re lucky,

We wake to find the world muted and muffled

By a new kind of

Magnificence.

And we are reminded of the

Beauty

That can be found in a

Blank

Page.

In This Moment

It’s hard to believe the end of the year is so close. The last few months have somehow managed to both drag their feet as they stumble by lethargically and fly past in a busy blur. I am bone tired. But I feel like so much has been achieved. At home, we have renovated both the kitchen and the bathroom (all credit to hubby for the gorgeous new ensuite!) and despite the stress of several months of DIY chaos filling the house, the end result is so worth it and order has now been restored (hopefully my equilibrium will follow soon…). In other news, I wrote a novel. A whole novel. 50,000 words of it in November. It was an intense, amazing experience. I had been planning to share regular updates as I wrote but (as you probably noticed) that went out of the window pretty quickly. Instead, I’m planning a couple of posts reflecting on the experience as a whole, with some little insights from along the way. I also got nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award! This is so exciting and there’s a whole post coming about that too.

I have been pretty much completely absent from the internet since the beginning of November and I’m just now starting to work my way back into my blogging, Instagramming, Twittering routine. Whilst I work out what to post and when in these last couple of weeks before the New Year, I thought I’d just take a moment to give a little snapshot of life right now – suspended between the waning chaos of NaNoWriMo and home renovation and the coming bustle of Christmas and New Year.

 

Outside my window… the sky is streaked grey and winter white. A bite lingers in the air and icy fingers worms their way in through every crack and cranny left open to winter’s encroaching chill. Though it is only mid-afternoon, night already hastens on, trampling the amber glow from the sky in its haste. The world is curling in on itself, seeking warmth and refuge from the cold, dark depths of year’s end, but anticipation abounds and everywhere is covered with colour and earthbound stars.

I am thinking… that even though there is always work to be done, sometimes it can wait. A beat. A pause. A moment in time. Sometimes stillness and silence are necessities not indulgences.

I am thankful… for the school holidays and the chance to rest. For the incredible people I have around me. That I am able to persevere and thrive.

In the kitchen… there is finally calm. Newly decked in white, glossy cabinets and sleek subway tiles, it is now a space that longs to be lived in and shared.

I am wearing… black treggings a white, sleeveless shirt with lace collar, an oversized maroon wool jumper and black boots.

I am creating… a novel (first draft completed!!), blog posts, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content, layouts for my 2019 planner – so much of my creating continues to be in writing form. It still feels new and exciting and I am completely in love with it.

I am going… out for dinner this evening!

I am wondering… what to have to eat when I am out for dinner this evening…

I am reading… Hollow City, The Book Thief, One Day In December, A Way Past Winter…to name a few.

I am praying for... a good night’s sleep.

I am hoping… that the last week of term goes smoothly.

I am looking forward to…Christmas!

I am learning… all about how we learn to read, how we teach reading and the impact that poor teaching has on reading.

Around the house… it’s finally calm. The tools are gone, the surfaces are clear. The lights are dimmed and the decorations are up. Cosiness has settled over the house.

I am pondering… the direction I want to take.

A favourite quote for today…

 But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  

One of my favourite things… is still curling up under a blanket with a good book or a good film and forgetting the world for a bit.

A few plans for the rest of the week: 

Finish the Christmas shopping.

Wrap all the Christmas presents.

Take some photos for bookstagram.

Write some blog posts.

Read some books.

Sleep.

A peek into my day…

 

NaNoWriMo Check In – Days 3 & 4

Day 3 of #NaNoWriMo and #wrimohero’s prompt was #calltoadventure – how do you generate ideas? I get a lot of my ideas from the environment around me. Places, found objects, the weather – my imagination spots the most random and insignificant things as I’m going about my day and runs riot with them! I collect these scraps of ideas, along with words, quotes, and anything else that takes my fancy, in my commonplace book. When the ideas are ready to become part of my story, they worm their way back out of the pages and into my writing.

Day 4 of NaNoWriMo is behind us and the prompt for #wrimohero was NaNoCheckIn – 6,668 words? The answer is yes! And more! I’ve had the best start to my first ever NaNo and have managed to bash out over 11,000 words so far! I’m glad to be getting ahead of the word count goal because, by all accounts, things get tough in weeks 2 and 3! So far, though, I am truly enjoying getting this story out onto the page. I was worried that I didn’t know where it was going to go but really, the story is writing itself, I’m just tapping the keys. I’m super excited to see where it goes.

Fellow NaNo-ers, how’s it going?