Seeking Bigger Pastures

Critical takeaways:

  • The sheer volume and complexity of today’s challenges make it hard for strategic communicators to do what we do best.
  • Seeking bigger pastures will enable us to see around corners and best position our organization for what’s next.
  • Focusing on the gain, not the gap, grounds us on the path to our bigger pastures.

We are a little over halfway through the decade that 2020 has felt like. It’s easy to find our heads spinning. 

We endured an economic shutdown to try to flatten the curve but failed to finish the job. Every day brings a new drumbeat of bad COVID-19 news. The country faces a reckoning about our history, race relations, social justice and equality. Our political climate is polarized and toxic. Big brands are leaving Facebook, and other brands are facing their own existential threats. Do brands remain relevant after COVID-19? Should brands take stands on social issues? What if they enter the political fray? Hurricane season is off to a historic, foreboding start. Unemployment remains high. Confidence is low. 

Any one of these things poses a challenge, and we – all of us – are facing them all at once. It’s really difficult now for strategic communicators to do some of the things they do best. Whether because of our own weariness or the sheer volume and complexity of it all, seeing around corners and thinking about what’s next to position our organization’s reputations for the future have become daunting challenges. 

We are all hemmed in by the realities of these big issues, and that can make us think small.

A Bull’s Nature

I recently read about a Zen teaching that talks about the mind of a strong bull. If a bull is kept in a small pasture or corral, he becomes aggressive and acts crazy. He circles his small space, snorting and agitated, charging at his keepers. He is stressed, unproductive, rattled. A bull’s nature does not lend itself to being hemmed in by an environment he can’t escape. The bull focuses on its enclosure, not on being a bull. 

For four months now, I’ve watched and helped strategic communicators grapple with their metaphorical corrals. Every day brings more challenges and ever-greater pressure. Even the best, most confident strategic communicators are agitated. They feel confined, pacing their small enclosures, which also double as their homes, a classroom, summer camp and a dining room.

But that same bull released out into a bigger pasture will naturally calm down. He finds more space for himself and becomes more productive and confident in his role. That bull’s nature is aligned with the space he roams. He’s not focused on an artificial environment. He gets to be a bull.

And so, that notion of a big pasture is when communicators have the ability to think beyond the unrelenting momentary inputs confronting us. 

Escaping the Corral

Escaping a metaphorical corral and seeking bigger pastures requires a mindset shift. 

A mentor and coach of mine offered this thought which I hold dear: “Obstacles are the raw material for achieving our goals.” With that truth, and as you consider your goals and the way you want to show up for your organization, break the goal up with clarity around the results you will achieve. What does success look like? With that in mind tackle what is in your way (obstacles) and pick them off one at a time.  

It’s easy to feel like the solutions to all our current problems – what we used to think of as “normal” – are far away. Focusing on the gap between where we are and where we want to be keeps us in our corrals. Focus instead on the gain: the small steps forward that you and your team took today. Celebrate them. 

Every week, we kick off our Kith team meetings with a celebration of our gains, whether they be professional, personal or spiritual. This exercise grounds us onto the path as we’re seeking bigger pastures. We don’t dwell on how far we have to go – That’s small thinking. We mark our progress instead. 

This mindset shift can be hard. Some of the problems we are facing are chronic, like issues around race and justice, living with COVID-19 and coping with all the rapid changes in our economy. What’s the right thing to do for our teams? What’s the right thing to do for our customers? Those are big issues, with some big gaps. Stepping away to think about what’s going to happen in the fourth quarter of 2020, or what’s going to happen in 2021, is a real challenge for strategic communicators.

Finding Your Path

So I really want to encourage you to think about finding yourself a bigger pasture. Give yourself the space to think, organize and care for your team, and care for yourself. Bring in specialists who can take on some of the challenges in the moments in front of you. Find an agency partner that can help you think about bigger pictures as it tackles some of the minutiae. Take time to breathe. Call time-outs during your day and celebrate little moments of progress. 

The focal point we all need to have is the ability to see something bigger than the immediate challenges in front of us. Granted, there are tons of critically important challenges in front of us that we need to address. Seeking bigger pastures will empower us to serve our organizations with key strategic insight by seeing beyond the immediate into a bigger future.

Bill Coletti

Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.

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