It's an emotional week. It’s hard managing our emotions when things just seem too big and outside our control, especially when, as an agency leader, people are looking to us. But is there anything we can do?
Well yes, it turns out there is, and something that’s profoundly powerful.
As an agency leader, there are many things within our power to influence or direct — we have an authoritative say on the assets of the business, and the team will follow where we convince them to go. But there are plenty of things that affect us that we just can’t control, external things, or stuff that’s simply too big or distant for us to influence, even though it affects us and the business.
There’s certainly been plenty of that in recent years, what with the pandemic and the social, political and economic turbulence in the decade or so since the banking crisis.
When that happens, we can lean on a profound skill from the ancient Greek stoic philosophers — the power of acceptance.
The stoics did not avoid emotions, as popularly believed. Rather they understood that we should not be enslaved by our emotions — we should be in charge of them. Their insight was that when there are things that are beyond our control it is futile to have a strong emotional reaction to them.
If you’re out for a picnic in the countryside with a friend, it’s pointless to get angry if it rains. Your anger wouldn’t stop the rain, so why allow it in the first place. That anger drains your energy, so it’s best to prevent it controlling us, so say the stoics. Rather, by accepting them, we can then focus on what we are able to do and can influence.
Acceptance is a profoundly powerful device. It makes use of the part of our brains that are responsible for executive functions, that perform the cognitive control of our behaviours. Acceptance moves feelings out those regions associated with primary emotional responses and puts them instead into areas where they can be governed by our executive functions. That action preserves the emotional energy that would be expended in primary responses that are strong but essentially futile, allowing it to be redirected and used for more useful tasks — like reasoning, problem-solving, and planning.
So, when there are things in the world at large that are outside our control, like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or escalating inflation and cost of living, the first step is understanding that our frustration will not change what’s happening. Those things are outside our control. Accepting them as they are is the beginning of being able to act, to focus on the things that are in our control — donating to emergency relief, urging our own political leaders to action, and so on.
That way, you can avoid the many times in everyday life when energy is wasted on unnecessary emotional states. There are things we can do — our reserves are best preserved for them.
Acceptance gives us back energy that’s otherwise wasted, and that translates into the power to persevere, to carry on. And that’s an essential skill for agency leaders to depend on.
Tomorrow I'll round things up with some final thoughts on the importance of emotions when you're leading an agency, and how then can help us to be even better in our role.
Other posts in this series: