“In a year when everything was disrupted overnight, a spotlight was put on leaders – good ones and bad. The crisis has actually been an equalizer, highlighting that we are all leaders with a part to play,” says Good Life Designed founder Pernille Spiers-Lopez in a recent conversation with journalist and life designer Karin Gråabæk.
As a professional board member with 20+ years as an executive leader, she has had her fair share of experiences leading through crisis. We are excited to share her perspective on how all leaders – from heads of countries to heads of households – can show up and thrive in times of uncertainty, crisis and constant change.
Anyone who knows her and her work through Good Life Designed, will recognize that her unique approach to both holistic self-development and leadership have a lot in common. She believes we are all leaders in our own life, and just like you are never done reflecting, adapting to change and working with the Good Life Designed tools, a leader is never done practicing leadership. “Living an authentic life aligned with your values is a daily practice.“
This year has been a huge year for leadership, with it having been an election year but also the onslaught of a global health crisis. What would you say is the mark of a good leader?
Pernille | Both good and bad leadership qualities become even more clear in crisis. A good leader has a level of humility, accepts change and shows compassion.
This year has been a tough year for leaders who don’t have trust. It is a very difficult time to build trust. If you are already trusted, you have a great platform to speak from.
For leaders in companies, I have seen that the ones that have shown up honestly and authentically in good times, have been even stronger in this time. Leaders who accept that they don’t have all the answers and are humble, compassionate and clear communicators have shown up even stronger.
We have seen the country leaders who have clearly said they don’t have all the answers and have been guided by experts, end up in a much stronger position.
A lot of people think a leader should know everything. The truth is you don’t.
It is powerful to say ‘I don’t have all the answers’.
How does good or bad leadership make a difference in crisis?
Clear communication and compassion are key. If you as a leader keep speaking to people as if you are truly seeing them, that will make a huge difference. We have seen angry reactions when leaders have been slow to react, inconsistent in their messages, over-promised, falsely raised people’s hope or have chosen to not lead by example. Take, for example the Governor who did a good job and then went to a friend’s 50th birthday party at a Michelin-star restaurant, with a lot of people and did not wear a mask.
If you say that the health of the people comes first, you need to stick with that and not make short-term decisions to try to create satisfaction that is undermining your own credibility.
In a health crisis where nobody knows the answer, leaders need to stand with us in the struggles, see and hear people, bring in the experts and not pretend they know everything. “I am here with you and understand you. I will address things from that perspective.” That is compassion.
Are you saying that a good leader is able to help people stay comfortable in uncertainty? A concept you have brought to the Good Life Designed toolbox, where working with being comfortable with the present reality, the unknown, is an important aspect?
Absolutely…and that is something we actually don’t see as much in leaders right now. We don’t hear them say that we are all in this together and what are the things that people can do to deal with that whether it is in company, government, or in their private lives.
There is a constant focus on what people can’t do instead of some great suggestions and ways to deal with the here and now. When we don’t get the birthday, Christmas and New Year we had expected, what are things we can do instead. Yes, the government gives you money as part of the unemployment scheme, but personal wellbeing and tools to deal with the crisis are almost untouched. The conversation is still about going back to normal and future solutions. People are just supposed to deal with it all.
What could be some important ways leaders could offer this?
Living in the now has always been more of a conceptual idea. Most people focus on the future or live in the past, finding it hard to be present. But ‘now’ is all we have, and despite everything that is going on, it is an amazing opportunity for innovation and reflection.
Leaders need to keep their people and their personal lives in mind, while asking how we can re-imagine a future that works for everybody. We need leaders to lead with both their head and their heart.
I always try to look at situations as infinite possibilities. Everything, if you’re paying attention, is always in constant change and it requires the ability to be agile and adaptable. The opportunity to reflect and redesign has been presented to all of us and magnified in many ways this year.
A more hopeful leader focuses on what we can do instead of what we can’t do.
For years, lots of companies didn’t believe it would work with people working from home. Overnight, we saw how adaptable employees are- in many cases almost too productive, telling me ‘working from home’ now feels more like ‘living at work’.
It’s crucial that people on a personal, country or company level are willing to really take advantage of this time and ask: what can we do, what are we learning and how do we take this learning with us, not when things become normal but as we develop a new normal.
The more comfortable you are with change, living in the unknown, bringing other people’s views in and having a ‘beginner’s’ mindset, the better you are set up to thrive in any circumstance.
Has working from home and the other challenges brought up a bigger need for each of us to step up as personal leaders, being clear on our boundaries and needs?
The crisis has actually been an equalizer, highlighting that we are all leaders. When you are in a company Zoom call with 500 others, suddenly we are equal. The CEO is also sitting in his home office or bed room and a kid runs into the room. It has humanized us. It is no longer just about business and titles.
I believe we have seen a disruption of leadership. Leadership is in every part of our life. You can lead from any chair, any room and position.
Whether you are a formal leader, a coworker or a parent it is more important than ever to be clear about what you need as a person to keep you energized. What is important to you? When you know that and create a life aligned with your values, you will feel inspired and inspire others to do the same.
With Good Life Designed, you have made a point of demystifying personal development concepts and making them accessible for everyone. More than a decade later it sounds like everything you are talking about from top leadership to every day actions in our lives benefit from the same tools. Has it come full circle for you?
When you are in a company, especially more progressive workplaces, you get offered opportunities and tools to grow as a person and leader.. There is a focus on what is needed to be an innovative company and a good leader… and yes, I think this is a moment when it has become very clear that you can apply all of these things to your own life.
With Good Life Designed it has always been about giving everyday people the tools to design a life that works for them. And the tools that are most important to sort what is going on and how you need to respond outward is to stop and reflect. We talk about the power of journaling, which is hugely important right now because people need to go inwards to figure out what is going on.
In companies you go inwards all the time; doing data analysis and employee and customer surveys. Companies look at all kinds of things so they can make better decisions. As individuals, we also need to stop and think about what is happening in our own lives and how to make sense of what is going on. We must ask ourselves ‘what matters the most to me? Am I living in alignment with that or am I constantly making the decisions based on what other people are expecting of me?’
No one else is taking responsibility for that. I have always believed that you are a leader of your own life. This crisis has shown even more that we need the tools to embrace the unknown. People are scared in the unknown. That is ok. But it is also in the unknown that you find clarity and make big leaps.
You become humble, start to accept yourself as a beginner and suddenly new things pop up. I see that all the time. People who allow themselves to go into the unknown, stay there for a while will come up with things that are dramatically different. If you just want to hurry back to the known, to how things were before- you are missing this entire opportunity. We skip the unknown because it is so uncomfortable and we are supposed to always know.
When you look back to the beginning of the pandemic and fast forward to now, how would you sum up the learning and innovations in your own company?
In the beginning, the Good Life Designed team and myself realized that we needed our tools to ground ourselves before we could start speaking to others about grounding themselves. Putting our tools into practice in such a difficult year is definitely the number 1.
Number 2 for me was to be reminded that being grounded and happy is an inside job. This year has been all about realizing that when dealing with crisis, you have to go inward before you can go outwards.
The work we do on ourselves is never done, and this year there was an even bigger realization that when we need these tools, it’s exactly what others need too. Our blend of community, being with others in similar situations and simple tools to deal with change has been hugely helpful navigating the pandemic, the election, civil unrest and everything else we faced this year.
We were unsure if we could create the supportive, open and honest connections via Zoom, but it really worked. People also got to deeply connect with life designers across the world asking the same questions in very different places and all kinds of life situations.
Continuing to do the work alongside our participants ties back to personal leadership. A leader is never done practicing leadership. It’s a daily practice. Just like doing the rest of our work, yoga or any good habits are a daily commitment. Being a good leader in your own life and as a formal leader is also about constantly reviewing and renewing yourself. The only way to do that is to challenge yourself and continue to step into uncharted territory- accepting constant change and being comfortable with being part of that change.
Good Life Designed helps people focus on what they can control in order to make their lives more dynamic, fun and adventurous even in the smallest of things.
Some people who have gone through our program, can’t fully change their business or job right now for practical reasons but they go into their job and life with new energy and a huge shift in perspective.
Many times it’s the small things that are revolutionary to people and that is so inspiring to see.
As a leader it all comes down to if you actually care about your people and want to hear their stories. People want you so see them, hold space for them and that is what we do. We see people and hold space for them to do the work to create a full and happy life. Their personal life matters- their whole life matters to us.
What are the biggest personal learnings you are taking with you from this year?
In 2020, we experienced so much sadness, loss, grief, hate, and worry in the unknown. But there is also magic in the unknown. This year provided me with lots of opportunities to develop my own creativity, openness, compassion, resilience and adaptability. I have been in awe as I have watched all of this in people around me as well. I see how people have celebrated significant life events via Zoom, I hear the stories of new brilliant businesses popping up, I saw how Americans mobilized around Black Lives Matter and engaged like never before in the election.
What is your personal leadership mantra for 2021?
My personal mantra is to continue to explore the unknown with a learner’s mindset. If I reflect, learn and accept that I don’t have the answers, I can become comfortable with the unknown. That is where real development happens. I never stop learning as a person or leader – good leadership is a daily practice and the work is never done.
Self Development in Good Company.
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Good + Grounded New Year Workshop December 30th | 11am – 1pm PST | 2-4 pm EST | 7-9 pm UK
New Designer Circle starting January 12th | 11am – 1pm PST | 2-4 pm EST | 7-9 pm UK