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Leading in a Fish Bowl


Sometimes, leadership can feel like being in a fish bowl.  You’re swimming along, doing your thing, going where you need to go, and EVERYBODY is watching. There’s no hiding out. Your actions are on display for the whole world to view.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if all is tickity boo. But what about when things are NOT tickity boo? What about when the waters start to churn around you for whatever reason - a looming deadline, unexpected requests, illness, or change of any sort -- what’s it like to be “in plain sight” then?

I’m going to say it’s stressful -- and that might be putting it mildly. Turbulent, might be a better word. Either way, discomfort is definitely part of the equation.

Years ago I found myself in some “turbulent waters.” I kept trying to move forward and get things done, but it felt like it was all going to hell in a hand-basket.

I reached out to a trusted mentor to try and figure out what was going on. She knew that part of my challenge was that I had just experienced some massive change in my world. And she astutely said, “Gail, it’s like someone has taken their hand, put it in the fishbowl of your life, and shaken things up. The water around you is churning. And to be able to navigate through it, you’ve actually got to be still, just for a bit.”


Her advice felt totally counter-intuitive. My sense was that if I stayed still, I would drown (metaphorically, of course). Sensing my internal resistance to her sage advice, she went on to remind me that while the waters are swirling, it’s hard to gain any clarity. Being still would allow the waters to settle -- likely into a new formation from what had been in my life previously -- and as they settled, I would know what to do.

Again, I say, huh.

So, I took a deep breath, and gave myself permission to stop, even if just for a moment. I let go of the idea that I had to “look like I was accomplishing things” and instead let myself become aware of what was shifting around me.

It made a world of difference. As I became still, and heightened my awareness, I gained clarity as to what was truly needed in the midst of this particular storm of change. With this new knowledge, I was able to make astute decisions and choose aligned actions.

Bottom-line: When you’re leading, the world is watching. And, that does not mean that you have to be in constant motion. Sometimes, being still is your best option. To paraphrase the great poet, Rumi, you’ve got to let the waters settle around you; and then, as the world watches, you will know exactly how to proceed.