We may be isolated but we are not alone

A woman wearing a face mask in Regents Street in London (Jewish News)
A woman wearing a face mask in Regents Street in London (Jewish News)

How are you?…..

That’s the question I’ve been asking leaders this week when I’ve spoken to them.  Some have given an initial ‘fine’ response, then we get into unpacking how they really feel. Some have said, ‘I’m so grateful you asked me’ and some have held back the tears as it’s possibly the first time they’ve been asked that or had time to consider the response.  I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of fear of loneliness from many leaders I have spoken to over the last few days.  For some it has been about working alone, or making decisions that they feel are on their shoulders or are their responsibility.  They aren’t sure if they are doing the right thing.  We don’t know the rules of engagement at the moment, we don’t know when there will be an end point and we can’t be exactly sure what the right thing to do is.

Some people may be feeling anxious about spending a huge amount of time in a space with those they love and live with but don’t spend their every waking moment with….. a strange tipping of scales that we just can’t describe.  In a world where we may feel we don’t have enough time alone, to reflect, pause, take a step back or indeed spend with family in the comfort of our home – we are now facing the prospect of being forced into isolation.  Whether alone, or with those we live with, the combination of stocking up the cupboards, caring for those who may be ill or missing the world outside is enough to bring on a level of anxiety in all of us.

As if this was not enough, we are still getting on with our lives.  Working from home, or still needing to travel to work and physically be in spaces with others.  Making decisions each day as to what is the best for us and those we work and live with.  For leaders in organisations and communities it will be a testing time and we should be mindful that the decisions we make are the right decisions – they will always be the right decisions as they are the ones we felt were best at the time.  We may look back and think, maybe I should have done this, or I could have done that.  That’s ok, that’s reflective.  That’s learning.  It’s how we get better at things, how we adapt and develop ourselves.  It doesn’t mean we were necessarily wrong, it just means the next time we make a decision we will be more informed, more experienced and have a deeper frame of reference on which to call.

We are also rarely alone in our decision making.  Though as leaders we may feel the weight of decision making on our shoulders, we will be calling on those around us to help us navigate the data, feelings, advantages and disadvantages.  We will be using all we can to inform us of a situation and make a choice.  We will call our senior leadership teams, our front facing teams, our lay leadership.  We will be making decisions for individuals and our organisations for the good of everyone.  For those of us seeing the decisions being made, let’s be supportive, assume good intent and give thanks to those taking leadership.

As a community we are working outside of our comfort zone.  We have historically been great at working together in a crisis.  We come together to support each other in grief and also in celebration.  We cook, we eat, we offer shelter and support to those in need.  We rally round, connect, build relationships and share.  We pray, sing, give thanks and stand together, shoulder to shoulder.  We can do none of this now.  We are isolated in our own spaces but we are not alone.  We must remember, we are not alone.  As we may hold in our hearts loved ones we have lost in times gone past, we must hold our communities in our hearts.  Know that we are still a community, even if not physically.  Know that life will return to a normality – albeit a different type of normality.  Know that round the corner there are people who are able to help if we need support.  Know that we can offer and give support.  Know we can connect in ways that are different to what we are used to but still valuable and meaningful.

Each of us has the potential to be a great leader.  We have the capacity to lead, to make change, to bring about good in our life and the lives of others.  As we approach Shabbat this week and read Vayakhel-Pekudei where we hear about Moses gathering the community of the children of Israel – let us gather our thoughts, our strength and ourselves to work towards sustaining and strengthening our communities in new and creative ways that will lead us forwards together.


About the Author
Michelle Janes is the Executive Director of Lead, a division of the Jewish Leadership Council.