A hospital system CEO scrambles to find personnel for extra Covid shifts one month and has to layoff other employees a month later. The CEO of a consultancy firm hosts soul-searching webinars to eradicate racism in their own company and those they advise. In our own work at the Institute for Zen Leadership, where we integrate a deeply physical form of Zen training into embodied leadership, we had scant time to figure out how to re-create the “life-changing” experience people come to us for on a Zoom screen. Every leader we see is facing unprecedented upheaval in this year, much as you are.
The tsunami of Covid crashes into the wave of poverty and racism, with a wave of mass protests crashing across the land, waves of polarized politics crashing into one another, dysfunctional systems crashing under their own weight, waves of species obliterated by a heating-up planet, and here we are trying to run a business, serve our communities, and make the world a better place. Trying to navigate these waters as so much chop can feel overwhelming. There is another way, and that is to work with the principle underlying all these waves, creating and destroying all forms. That principle is resonance.
To resonate is to vibrate with. It is a universal principle for how energy transfers from one wave (or form) to another. It is also highly specific in that energies have to in some sense match – like a handshake – for a connection to occur where energy can add up. Through feedback loops and repetition, small signals can “go viral” and reach tipping points of massive change. The Covid pandemic itself is an example of resonance where a tiny virus is able to “shake hands” with humans, who then repeat the signal by shaking hands with one another.
Leadership is also an example of resonance, as leaders turn energy into things that matter by getting the energy of self-and-others to add up, bringing a desired future into the present. I emphasize self because a common misconception about leadership is that it happens “out there” with other people. Whereas the kind of leadership that truly creates a better world works with larger forces, attuned to the Way, and that kind of leadership starts inside out. It starts with the mind-body instrument of the leader literally resonating with a signal that it converts into action. I emphasize self-and-other because resonance reminds us that we are intrinsically connected. When we vibrate with another, both are changed.
So how can you work with the principles of resonance to navigate these times? Here are three best practices:
Be a Good Resonator. Slow down, pay attention, and listen deeply to the people and situations around you. For this is how you take in energy with a chance to vibrate with it. Not everything you hear will stir you to action – nor should it. But if you’re not listening, your actions will be overly informed by your habits and history and increasingly out of sync with the present.
Another way to be a good resonator is to make time in your day for meditation, reflection and relaxation. Just like a fine string instrument gets out of tune when it gets wound too tightly, so we can get wound up by the events of the day to where we have a less resonant effect on others. From the sound of our voice (reassuring versus shrill), to our actions (calming versus frenetic) to our decision making (attuned to reality vs shoot-from-the-hip), our leadership resonates better when we are centered, aware and resilient.
Let Things Fall Apart that Need to Fall Apart. Listening deeply to life, to the people around you, sense where systems are broken and need to fall apart and don’t try to patch them with band-aids. Instead, be present for the people who will be hurt by that falling apart and help them get through it. Rebuild on the other side. Sometimes resonance is productive by destroying forms – the Berlin Wall, for example. Much that feels messy and broken in our society right now is the detritus of earlier stages of consciousness that no longer match who we’ve grown into or aspire to be. Know when to let a mess fall apart, but help the people.
Get Energy to Add Up to Realize the New. As any change agent knows, a key step in managing change is to give people something to do. People need to exert their personal agency in change in order to make it a part of their own experience. But from a resonance point of view, that’s not enough. What’s also needed is for waves of individual effort to add up in order to reach a tipping point where the new system is in place, the new product is mainstream, the new policy is law. Look for opportunities to get efforts to add up, for example, by mapping progress toward a target, feedback loops from customers, repetition through social media, or ways for everyone to do the same thing at the same time.
These are exciting times. By making yourself a skillful resonator, acting on what is yours to resonate with, and getting energy to add up, may you fully realize the purpose for which you chose to lead now.