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Clarity Institute / Insights

This is what real leaders do while waiting for the other shoe to drop

Date: 13.07.2023

Category: Insights

By: Brad Deutser

It’s that uncomfortable pause. It’s the tidal wave of uncertainty. It’s an indescribable feeling that something uneasy is just around the corner. Many label this feeling “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” 

It’s an artificial roadblock fueled by inference that stops our thinking, energy, and natural flow of business, ideation, and relationships. It is causing individuals to ask at an all too frequent pace – when is the next shoe going to drop, and how will it affect me? 

Shoe after shoe has seemingly dropped on top of us. And we are still here. Frazzled. Battered. Confused. But, breathing, surviving, and living. Yet, the wait for what is ahead is characterized by a chronic state of unease that often includes a sense of fear. It forces us to ask questions about a future state that exists only in our minds. It habituates a constant state of unease and doubt, forcing the “thinker” in each of us out of our current place of being and into an undefined future state. How can we live somewhere that doesn’t yet exist? 

This raises every doubt we have about ourselves and our abilities, and even more importantly, it is a slow form of giving up on the future. It isn’t about the kind of certainty that we see when there is a fourth-quarter loss or a reorganization that brings both promise and challenge. It is about that unknown that you don’t see coming but still dread. It is that thing that you are overlooking or that comes out of nowhere, much like the unimaginable virus that inexplicably emerges and disrupts every part of our lives, our work, and the global economy. We know why we feel what we feel – but the inescapable feelings and negative thoughts persist and continue to compound. 

Of course, there is always the quick answer that it’s a sign of the times and where we are today. Before this recent pandemic, even the historically strong financial markets were making us feel agitated and compromised, knowing it couldn’t last – even though we have no known timetable for it. We still waited for the change – hoping it would not appear, but intuitively knowing it was imminent. But “the other shoe” is more personal. It has to do with not feeling up to whatever is going to be asked of you. It has to do with the weariness of always being on alert. And mostly, it has to do with the loss of that undeniable feeling of being in flow when things go your way. We miss that when it isn’t happening. 

In clarity, there is alignment, and we have a profound experience understanding that all things are connected. “The other shoe” is an intruder, the trespasser that violates our safety zone. The unexpected complication that no one could have anticipated. It is the X in the thought that “we’ll be fine as long as X does or doesn’t happen.” Some people call “the other shoe” bad luck. In clarity, we call it life. 

The extraordinary thing about this feeling is that it often nudges us to activate our innate leadership skills. You can step into leadership at any time, and all have the capacity to be one. Leadership is really about being the person who stands up and leads the way with clarity and precision – requiring the leader to strike a balance between knowledge, experience, and the natural tendency to infer. Leaders have great ideas about what to do next, but even more importantly, they inspire others to have great ideas. Unfortunately, we forget that leadership often starts with us, as individuals, first. 

One aspect of leadership that we encourage as a counter to this trend is to actively work on getting out of your head and learning how to ask for input. Our research has found that when leaders actively seek advice or elicit conversation around an issue, it helps to solidify what is more or less likely to be real. We encourage leaders to create personal dream teams or an advisory council that can help see things from a different perspective and help to bolster confidence against unexpected happenings. 

As we are experiencing today, we know that life is uncertain. We dread the other “shoe drop” because an ancient part of our brains favors safety over risk – until taking a risk is the only way that leads to safety. I encourage leaders to couple an original thought or idea with something that is tried and true. This already feels like a win to your brain because it knows what can bring reliable results, but with the new part that can make it feel more relevant and ready for deployment, if and when needed. Having contingency plans that can be routinely updated with new and appropriate adjustments, keeps dread of the unknown from creeping in. 

Dread and uncertainty about any hidden tripwire can always be assuaged by what I call guts and grit. This is the term for the hard decision that you know needs to be made. It is taking an honest look at something you don’t want to see. Mostly it is about stepping into your leadership where you know where you stand and what you have to offer. You step up. You are the volunteer – not of someone else’s cause, but your cause. You eagerly embrace what is hard and take it on – with your dream team or on your own. The thought of the unexpected happening is calmed by knowing you can take on whatever comes your way. 

Control is possible even in chaos and uncertainty. We may not control the environment or the factors that are driving it. In essence, we do control our minds and our ability to more effectively attack or respond to any future “falling shoe” by living in the present moment. This is at the heart of mindfulness (and meditation), and something research has proven to change the brain composition and positively impact our flight or fight response to the unexpected. When we live in the present moment and not in fear for what is next or next after next, we allow our brain to slow down and allow us the rest to be prepared to tackle whatever shoe does fall. 

Finally, an infusion of energy is vital to our positivity and outlook. Dread and unease create an oppressive atmosphere. Change the energy – your energy. Whether it is identifying your energy circuit breakers, those things that limit the flow of your energy or published circuit breakers like fear, inference, physical depletion, labeling, boredom, stress, resources, you can restrict the doubt creep and control the inputs to your brain. Believe that fortune’s smile is just a plausible as misfortune’s lousy visit. Positive energy is way more than merely trying to be happy – it is about being mindful, optimistic, inspirational, grateful, and yes, happy too. 

Positivity is the glue that binds us to what is most important. When we allow in doubt when faced with uncertainty, we are removing the control that we, as leaders of ourselves, own. We are enabling others in some fictitious future state to control our minds, our energy, and, sadly, our future. We are allowing unknown substances to erase the positivity glue that holds our dreams, hopes, and future together. Be clear; another shoe will eventually fall. By acknowledging that you can cope, adapt, and navigate, you will be claiming your power over uncertainty.