Reflections in the dark, Porvoo 2010. Oil on canvas, 49,5 x 49,5 cm.

5. Stay with your doubt in the darkness

“What was really needed  was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly.”

Viktor E. Frankl in his book “Man’s Serach For Meaning - The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust” (first published in German in 1946)

Inevitably there are moments in life and in leadership, when you question your abilities, your  strength, your direction. Hours, days, maybe weeks or months of doubt: Can I? Should I? Do I want to?


Learning to sit with these thoughts and feelings might be one of the most demanding tasks for leaders. We are all familiar with the stereotype of the secure boss having all the answers. Doubt is in many corporate cultures a synonym for weakness. Admitting that I don’t know might be okay, but saying out loud that I walk in darkness is a risk. Who wants to follow a leader that can’t see where we are going?


Many years ago I participated in a course painting through a whole night in my hometown Porvoo (Finland). It was August, the darkness was soft like velvet on the skin. I stood by the river and looked at the old boathouses. In the stillness it seemed that the reflections of the houses in the water were more clear than the silhouettes of the buildings. The painting (above) has more colours, more life in the reflection. 


I live in a house in the countryside, far from street lighting. When my lamps are lit it looks like it is completely black outside. When I turn off the lamps and go outside, my eyes need a minute or two, but then I see everything. Darkness also makes me listen more carefully and open up to feel the surroundings somehow closer. I move more slowly, taking in everything in another way than in daylight. I don’t take anything for granted. 


Things look and feel different in the darkness. Pervasive changes seldom ask for permission to enter our lives. They often throw individuals, groups, nations into a state of helplessness. But staying there, questioning your own mind and senses, makes you see that you always have the same choice to make - between fear and love, between escape and trust. 


It goes without saying what a leader chooses.


Everything else will follow from the answer you give to this fundamental reason for action. Knowing the direction is enough: escape or trust?

 

 

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