Dark & Complex Days – How Do We Lead?

Dark Days

Dark & Complex Days – How Do We Lead? I’m a member of a small group of people who have agreed to meet to see how we might “pool our wisdom to the wider benefit of society.” How grand does that sound? The group has its origins as we came out of Lockdown late last year and our first discussion was related to how the pandemic had impacted on the rituals and sub-rituals that sustain and comfort us at home and at work. What happens when these rituals are turned upside down?

We agreed to meet again on the 24th of February, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. We had an agenda but before we began, I asked everyone present “How are you feeling about today’s events?” Therapeutic, cathartic and emotional: each description can in part or whole, be accurately applied to the discussion that followed.

Sometimes in our Leadership Role, whether formal or informal, we need to be sensitive and attuned to what is happening and its impacts on what I’m going to refer to as the “state” of the individuals and groups, we’re working with. Now there are risks, and I get that, not the least of which is to grant the event overpowering significance, yet if we choose to ignore it, do we then appear insensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others and the significance and meaningfulness the event holds for them?

The process took around 30 minutes for 4 participants to articulate their feelings and to have them acknowledged by the other group members. It was supportive and critical in allowing us to progress to the original Subject of Our Meeting. “Broken Rituals & Dangerous Assumptions”.

It is my view that we have been broken by broken rituals and what I’m going to talk about will have resonance with someone on your team, within your organisation or is part of a wider network, including social and personal. Before I go on, it’s important to agree on a simple reality: we don’t switch off our feelings when we turn on our work computer, or when we arrive at the workplace and switch them back on again when we leave. We may suspend them when we’re “on task” they do however remain ever present for most of us.

Our Broken Rituals & Dangerous Assumptions mean that we are either personally dealing with or are led by people who will have experienced the impact of what follows. In our leadership roles we will have an oversight of colleagues to whom we are important figures in their working lives and whose general well-being is affected by our capacity to “set the emotional tone” of the working environment. Here they are:

Racial Stereotypes Breed Poor Conversations

During the pandemic, what assumptions were made about the lifestyles and behaviours across our society? Which cultural, social binding rituals were (are) ignored at our collective peril?

Is there a wider and more disturbing element too, one that seeks to appropriate blame and marginalise? I wonder how keenly this was felt and what the longer term echoes will sound like? It further occurs to me that the current international situation has increased our vulnerability to being tempted into categorising people and the manner in which they experience and process trauma in relation to the dominant culture.

This includes an already evident degree of “Whatabouting” as one international conflict is conflated into others and in so doing, the narrative is drowned out as behaviours and blame attach themselves to assumptions for which there is little evidence but “big noise”. What are our values, personal and corporate, and does their presence mean that we should challenge and how do we communicate them and “live them” in our working environments?

Older People = “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

Whether in a care home, at home or admitted to hospital, older people had a rough, rough deal. This observation does not in any way reflect on the outstanding efforts of carers, families and communities. It is intended to draw attention to a national position that presented itself as hand wringing on a grand scale and to no avail. Members of our workforce will have aged relatives who need care and the last couple of years has raised our awareness of the emotional cost of isolation and our over-dependency on an overstretched and marginalised care system. How can we accommodate the potentially conflicting demands made of “carers in the workforce and the need for productivity?”

Gross Inequality is A Deadly (National) Virus

Death rates, infection rates, hospitalisation rates; you choose. None of it looks good when we consider how we look after whole sections of society where the combined impacts of inequality do most damage and continue to do so. What can we do in our leadership roles to help to create greater social mobility and access to well paid employment? How do we deliver our Corporate Social Responsibilities in a manner that has the potential to raise the aspirations and outcomes available to our younger people. What might you do?

Fake News is Deadly

… and has fed dangerous assumptions and alignments regarding the virus and other non-related issues that have made their way into what have  become dangerously normal conversations with dangerous outcomes. The unbelievable is now believed and dissenters are not to be trusted! In our leadership role, is the a moral imperative to challenge “Fake News” and how might this work.

Some interesting challenges, if you were to choose one to address in your workplace, which would it be and what outcomes would you expect? Good luck on your journey!


I would like to acknowledge that my article was inspired and informed by a piece by Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times: I’ve applied the structure to the Leadership Context.

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My work is informed by the belief that Human Dignity is the key to great outcomes and after leaving my last Local Government post (2002), I had the opportunity to work with people and teams who were looking for better alignment, a sense of purpose beyond the now and an opportunity to resolve tensions and conflicts that were holding them back. There have been some huge turning points; the opportunity to work with people as an enabler/coach has been fantastic. I’m a qualified mediator working with individuals and teams and work with groups in developing approaches to see us into a challenging and exciting future that’s also just a bit scary! I like walking, cycling, photography and using my local gym. I delight in connecting with people and believe that we all of us, hold the present in stewardship for the future. I’ve been lucky because I’ve worked with great people, I have to quote Einstein and Oasis, “Stood on the Shoulders of Giants!”