Responsibility, Leadership and Integrity in Challenging times

This is the best time to Show Up in the World.

As I am writing, France is under confinement, which means that citizens need to stay at home, and can only go out for buying groceries, medical reasons, and practicing sports. A few days ago, as I went to the little organic store, there were five people waiting outside the store before the opening. Each person left a gap of 1.5 meters before the previous one. No panic, no anxiety, just calm and acceptance. The lady in charge of the store came out, and told us about the products available, and that there would be deliveries in the following days. She asked us to take only what we needed, and to leave some groceries for other people who needed them too.

I had come with my large backpack, and a list of all the things I thought I was missing. I had planned to purchase 18 eggs, to have enough for the next 9 days. There were many other items on my list. As I finally entered the store (only 5 people are allowed in the store at the same time), I saw some of the shelves empty, or with very few items. Barely any cheese (I wanted to buy some, even though I still have some left in my fridge), and no eggs.

The only time I saw a store with so few products was in Iraq eight years ago.

The truth is, I felt my heart open up. I picked up only what I thought I truly needed. I felt my heart open at the idea that other people would come that day, and buy what they and their families needed. I felt my heart open, seeing these two brave women, taking care of the whole store. I saw their job as a duty they were performing – maybe unknowingly. I bet that they think they are just “doing their job”, just like the pharmacists, the doctors, the police officers, the firefighters, and all the others.

No, they are not, they are Entering the Market with Helping Hands (Conscious Leadership practice #8).

I left the store with less groceries than I expected, but more fulfilled with trust, gratitude and hope. I felt connected to the others in this crisis instead of rambling in my mind about all the things that I didn’t have.

That woman in charge of the store displayed two great qualities of Leadership in challenging times:

Responsibility. Response-ability is our ability to respond in any given situation.

75 years ago, an Austrian psychiatrist was captured and detained in a concentration camp. During his hard time there, he observed the behavior of prisoners, and wondered what made the difference between those who stole, became violent, and regressed to an animal-like state, and those who, on the contrary, performed acts of kindness such as giving their last piece of bread. He found out that the latter still had hope and gave a meaning to their life. For him, he had the secret project of writing a book, and, he kept the unwavering hope to rejoin his beloved wife one day. When the camp was liberated, he found out that his wife had passed. However, he published a book, which became a main reference, and changed my life: Man’s Search for Meaning. From this experience, Viktor Frankl recounts:


Fast forward a few decades. I am teaching the Conscious Business class to bright students. One of them, in addition to her final paper, sends me a video she created on her own initiative (no grade, I not asked for such a production !). She summarized brilliantly the concept of Unconditional Response-ability:

Is there a situation where you feel stuck?

What if you were powerful beyond measure; how could you respond?

What would you do if you could not fail?

A second concept that is being put to the test these days is our ability for Integrity.

This is a tricky concept.

In business, it is common to talk about ethics. What are “good” practices, and how to be “good people” in business. I believe that integrity goes beyond that. Indeed, as one of my favorite psychologists said:

“I would rather be whole than good.”

C.G. Jung

Integrity means being whole. It means to stand up for what you truly are in your fullness of being.

One day, I heard a coach ask the question:

Is there any area of your life where you are out of integrity?

Is there an area in your life where you have committed to something that you are actually not really committed to?

I find this helpful, as it differs from the conventional “doing good” definition of integrity.

There is another helpful vision about integrity, depicted by Fred Kofman (former VP of LinkedIn, today Head of Leadership and Development at Google, and great coach):

“Integrity represents a summary of human wisdom accumulated over thousands of years.”

fred kofman

He recommends to direct our intention towards the process of our action, instead of the outcome. In that sense, it is a way to let go of the outcome. This echoes with the Bhagavad Gita, the 2220+ year old Hindu scripture. The Gita is the story of a battle, where prince Arjuna is on his war chariot, about to face members of his family on the battlefield. He starts to panic and feel afraid, as he does not want to injure or kill family members, although he feels that it is his duty to fight as a prince. Lord Krishna [a major deity in Hinduism, worshipped as the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu and also as the supreme God. He is the god of compassion, tenderness and love. He has been described by scholars as the first motivational speaker in human history – I love that !


Krishna appears to him in the form of a charioteer, and says:

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.”


This is a secret of Karma Yoga: performing your duty in the best of your ability, and totally letting go of the results.

For coaches, this means to serve your clients deeply with everything you have. It does not matter whether they sign up or not for your coaching.

This can be explained with a paradox of systems theory, described by Kofman:

 “To win the game, you must be ready not to win the sub-games. If you try to win the sub-games, you will lose of sight the goal and probably lose the game.”

fred kofmAN

As a coach, there will be clients who say yes, others who say no. Paradoxically, it is by having clients say No to you, and saying No to some clients that the real great clients will say Yes. You need to be selective, and trust the process. If you try to please everybody, you will end up serving nobody.

As a human, you don’t have to make every week productive or a “win”. For instance, this week for a lot of us has been one of adjustment to the situation. On the long run, this will be a Win (read my article on How to transform Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity into an advantage).

How about you, is there a way you could take up more leadership in your life right now?

Is there a situation where you feel you could respond to the best of your ability?

Is there a decision you feel you need to make to be more in integrity?

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