As we come towards the end of 2020, we can pause to reflect on what has certainly been a year to be remembered and think about our intentions and hopes going forward.

We are currently living through a remarkable time in our collective history.  Containing and treating the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has created an unprecedented set of circumstances that has had an enormous impact for many friends and colleagues around the world.  It has been new territory for all of us, both in dealing with the practical tasks associated with addressing the public health challenge; and in managing the emotional impact caused by its scale and immediacy.

I know many of you have been impacted through personal illness, the illness or loss of loved ones, strain on mental health and wellbeing, threats to livelihood and very uncertain futures.  For many of us it’s new to experience our countries in turmoil, and it is very challenging to maintain a sense of perspective amidst the uncertainty.

It’s important to recognise that during the pandemic and the collective response to it, there have also been many other things going on this year.  We’ve seen widespread political chaos, gross inequalities and injustices in health and economics, further environmental degradation, and a spotlight on the endemic racism and institutionalised violence that is so deeply rooted in many of our social and political systems.  I am sure many of you have also experienced plenty of local crises and personal challenges that have contributed to making this a very challenging year indeed.

And there have also been opportunities for joy. Personal experiences that have provided a sense of positivity, hope and meaning.  Every-day “life goes on” experiences where we’ve touched happiness, humour and beauty.  Collective opportunities where we’ve demonstrated kindness for each other; where in groups we’ve come together to support important causes and take a stand for what is important; and where facing enormous challenges people have pulled together to take care of each other beyond personal benefit or gain.  In difficult times the human spirit can also soar, expressing more of its collective nature through the qualities of Love and Goodwill.

As we begin a new calendar year there’s an opportunity to recognise our personal capacity for leadership, beginning with self-awareness and how we lead ourselves.  You could say that there has never been a better time to consider our relationship to the quality of individual and collective leadership we express.

What we focus on and how we direct our attention is an act of Will.  How we face ambiguity and hold in our awareness our choice to regulate the quality of leadership we embody requires maturity.  It seems to me that our communities are crying out for more centred people who are focussed on expressing compassionate leadership.

Being just a little more centred, and making more conscious choices about what you do and say, and where you focus your attention, will make a difference for yourself, others and the communities we are part of.

Current events present a unique opportunity to actively reflect on, plan and take action for the kind of leadership that we want to contribute to as the future unfolds.  In this period where many have paused or changed their usual day to day activities, there’s an opportunity to encourage deeper consideration of who we are and what we value, both individually and as a wider collective.

I encourage you to use this time of passing into a new year to reflect on the year that has been and consider the year that will come, with all its uncertainty, and focus on how you want to express yourself during it.  There is no doubt in my mind that our communities need people of good will with open hearts to take a stand about what is important to them, to share it with others and collectively make a positive impact.

With this in mind I offer below some of the core leadership principles for your consideration.  They represent for me a “back to basics” approach, and are phrased as an opportunity to think about the concept, reflect how you’ve been living it, and consider intentions for the coming year.

While there is no certainty in the coming year, you can consciously choose how you want to be, how you want to express leadership, and what you want to take a stand for.

Some principles to consider and questions to reflect on…

Listening with an open heart

Take some time to reflect on “listening with an open heart”.  Through listening to each other we create opportunities for people to be truly recognised, valued and heard.  Listening with an open heart creates space for acceptance and understanding, where insight and creativity can emerge.  Being listened to helps us to order our thinking, process strong emotions and gain a sense of perspective.  Choosing to listen with an open heart is an act of leadership which can support people to access their inner wisdom while creating space for healing.

Ask yourself:

  • How has the quality of my listening been during the passing year?
  • How can I listen with an open heart to myself at this time?
  • What parts of myself do I need to listen to that I haven’t given space to yet?
  • Who could I offer more of an open hearted listening space to, and how can I listen more deeply to them?
  • How can I stay open to what they need to say and what they need to express in order for them to access their resourcefulness?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “listening with an open heart” for the coming year?

Compassion for self and others

Take some time to reflect on your connection with “compassion for self and others”.  As we move into a new cycle, we have an opportunity to create space to recognise how recent events have impacted ourselves and others.  It’s important to acknowledge that how we feel is likely to be very different depending on our circumstances.  Offering kindness and understanding transcends the judgements of a right or wrong valuing of experience. Choosing to bring an attitude of compassion is an act of leadership and real service.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I experienced my connection with “compassion for self and others” during the passing year?
  • How do I need to show love for myself and what I have been experiencing?
  • What could I do to open my heart to those around me and acknowledge what they have been experiencing?
  • How can I express more compassion and kindness to my community?
  • What would support me to learn from my experiences and be even more compassionate?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “compassion for self and others” for the coming year?

Taking responsibility for your inner world

Take some time to reflect on how you have been “taking responsibility for your inner world”.  Uncertainty and complexity can play havoc with our thoughts and feelings. While it is right and healthy to respond authentically to whatever is activated, we can consciously work with what is emerging and use it to learn more about our inner world, our patterns and habits.  Being aware, and owning our projections is a way of taking responsibility.  Choosing to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings is an act of leadership and an opportunity for growth.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I related to the concept of “taking responsibility for my inner world” during the passing year?
  • What thoughts and feelings that I have been predominately identified with over the last year?
  • What thoughts and feelings do I want to include more as I move into a new cycle?
  • What do I know about how I can process and regulate my experience from a centred place?
  • How could I consciously choose the thoughts and feelings I want to focus on, energise and experience more often?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “taking responsibility for my inner world” for the coming year?

Staying in relationship with what’s uncomfortable

Take some time to reflect on the concept of “staying in relationship with things that are uncomfortable”.  We don’t like not knowing, and we can easily collapse into right and wrong thinking in an effort to create a false stability.  Staying centred while managing the dissonance of not knowing, and holding multiple narratives while dealing with an uncertain future requires maturity.  Choosing to stay engaged with what’s uncomfortable is an act of leadership which can be a catalyst for new thinking that is potentially more inclusive and creative.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I experienced “staying in relationship with what’s uncomfortable” during the passing year?
  • How am I experiencing dissonance in how I am processing my experience?
  • How could I seek greater diversity in the narratives I am allowing myself to be attuned to?
  • How might I hold a space to think more deeply about what’s happening in the world and engage with the many inherent complexities?
  • What other local and global challenges have I stopped thinking about that are important to me to reconnect with?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “staying in relationship with what’s uncomfortable” for the coming year?

Appreciating resourcefulness

Take some time to reflect on how you have been “appreciating resourcefulness”.  In times of uncertainty, it is so easy to fall into lack-based thinking.  We can regress to focus on what is missing, what we can no longer do, and what is not working; while it takes discipline to adopt an appreciative mindset, seeing what is working, and recognising where people are making a difference.  Taking control of our thinking and appreciating resourcefulness in ourselves and in others is an act of leadership that builds confidence, creates space for innovation and empowerment.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I been “appreciating resourcefulness” during the passing year?
  • What can I appreciate about how I have responded to the pressures of the last year?
  • What opportunities are there to focus on how I have been resilient?
  • How could I be more appreciative in how I relate to the resourcefulness of others?
  • What might need to shift in how I relate to the concept of “appreciating resourcefulness” so that I can live it more fully?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “appreciating resourcefulness” for the coming year?

The power to begin again

Take some time to reflect on how engaged you have been with “the power to begin again”. When things don’t feel like they are changing, it’s easy to become passive, making discontent the norm. While you may not be able to change your outer circumstances, at any time you can make a choice to change the way you are relating to it; or to make a plan and change it as is needed.  Consciously using your Will to re-evaluate and start again is an act of leadership that brings agility, supports adaptability and builds resilience.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I related to the concept of “the power to begin again” during the passing year?
  • Where have I become “stuck” in how I am relating and what do I choose to “begin again”?
  • Where have I already exercised my Will to change the way I am relating to my experience?
  • How can I stay flexible and supple in my approach and remain open to change?
  • How could I be of service to myself and others by expressing a more agile mindset in my interactions?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “appreciating resourcefulness” for the coming year?

Influencing positively

Take some time to reflect on the idea of “influencing positively”.  We influence each other all the time; what we do and how we do it does affect others either both directly and indirectly.  The words we choose, the actions we take, and the emotions we radiate, can lift up, pull down, inspire and discourage.  The challenge is to express yourself authentically, while aiming to influence positively rather than causing harm.  Choosing to be consciously aware of your impact on others is an act of leadership that creates opportunities for positive influencing and collective growth.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I related to the concept of “influencing positively” during the passing year?
  • When do I feel I have made choices to make a positive impact?
  • In what circumstances have I been unconscious to the impact I have created?
  • What could I do to be more authentic in how I express myself while holding to the principle of harmlessness?
  • How could I be a more stable and empowering centre for positively influencing others at this time?
  • What intentions do I want to set for myself around “influencing positively” for the coming year?

How to use these questions…

There are many ways of reflecting and intention setting and it really comes down to what works for you. Some useful alternatives include:

  • Set a dedicated period of time to “retreat” and focus on the process
  • Consider one section each day, or over a period of weeks
  • Write about or record your responses and then swap and share them with others
  • Talk the questions through with a colleague or loved one
  • Discuss the topics with a group

Whatever works for you, I hope you enjoy the process.  The important thing is to do something to reflect on your experience and continue to evolve in your capacity for self awareness and leadership.

Thank you

I appreciate that all of you are already playing a leadership role in many different ways.  I hope that in the coming year you can continue to engage with the many opportunities to further develop your understanding of yourself and the leadership contribution that you can make.  At this particular time in our collective history, my sense is that the world needs as many of us as possible to consciously lead ourselves and positively influence each other to make changes that can serve all of humanity.  Thank you for the work you are doing.

My very best and warm wishes for the coming year.

Andrew McDowell, December 2020