An Executive Leadership Lesson in Impermanence

Focus Mindfulness

An Executive Leadership Lesson in Impermanence

At this very moment, as I sit at my desk and write this week’s VIM Executive Coaching post on impermanence, the City of Houston is suffering through a catastrophic flood. While I understand that articles written for an executive and entrepreneurial coaching website should be “evergreen,” I also understand that this particular flood and its slow-moving storm (“Harvey”) will be remembered for decades.

Out of everything bad there must come just a small amount of good and I believe we are learning lessons from this flood at all levels of human interaction and organizations. Most of those lessons are good.


I can well picture the scene, perhaps a major budgeting meeting, around a Houston-area boardroom sometime in the early spring. The organization, be it a corporation or an entrepreneurial venture, was going about its business that day talking about projections, financial analysis, expansion plans, employee benefits, supply problems and compensation packages. I can well picture small cliques, idle gossip, reactions to reports and even some under the breath sniping.

Now we fast forward to today, the supposed day of the next major budgeting meeting. There will be no meeting because there is no board room, as it is under water, as is all the office furniture, the computer network, the telephone system and even the coffee pot. No one can drive or take public transportation to work. In fact, most of the cars have washed away. No one in remote offices can fly into the meeting. Most people scheduled to be in that meeting have fled the area with their families and pets. Many of those people no longer have livable homes.

They have all received a harsh lesson in impermanence.

From the Houston area, there have been many tragic scenes. Yet, there is something greater happening in that city. They are responding to that tragedy rather than reacting. People are helping one another, supporting and protecting one another, showering each other with compassion and understanding. Numerous scenes have emerged of the strong helping the weak, of loving rather than hating, without regard to political agenda, race, religion or gender.

There are many images of corporations in the foodservice industry, for example, giving away free food to first responders, of strangers taking in strangers, of strangers rescuing abandoned pets. This is all of us at our most human.

Back to the Boardroom

What does this tragedy have to do with corporations and boardrooms? Virtually everything. We must all learn to approach the dynamic within our organizations with a sense of understanding impermanence. We can never take anything for granted. Good sales, expansion plans, projections and expected outcomes must be couched in reality.

On the other hand, we cannot become paralyzed with fear over decision making. This leads to another important point and that is our reliance on one another.

In our “boardrooms,” meeting spaces, offices and cubicles, as well as our conferencing in whatever form that conferencing takes, we must recognize “the other.” Our teams, our interactions, the way we deal with one another must be based on response rather than reaction. We must be mindful of one another, and the potential contributions of one another without bias but with compassion.

If we go back to the example I initially proposed, of a board meeting in early spring and we picture the cliques and sniping, we can now well understand how pointless it all was. Our interactions with one another in our organizations should be based on compassion and mindfulness and not on personal biases.

Indeed, “the other,” the person who we may not initially understand, or who believes differently, or looks differently, or is in a wheelchair, or is younger or older may very well have the best idea. In becoming more mindful, we learn to better see the other person.

Final Image

There is a poignant image from this tragedy. It is a preacher in a small boat in the pouring rain who was going from one partially submerged car to another look to make sure there were no people or pets trapped inside the vehicles. He was motivated by his belief and his compassion. He was not only great as a person, but as a leader.

We should all be that way in our workplaces, mindful of what makes our organizations work is much more powerful than the forces that try to tear us apart.


VIM: - noun: lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality