On one of my many trips to Ireland, I traveled to western counties. The green fields amazed me, and the gardens in front of cottages and wild hedgerows were stunning. As I spent time there, I often experienced what locals call “soft rain.” These soft rains are light and steady. Sometimes, they take the form of mist or slow rain. This weather doesn’t deter the people of Ireland. They continue to walk in the fields with a cap – getting rained on isn’t a problem.
Nature can be both devastating AND nurturing.
Today, we are experiencing more extreme weather events. The 10-15” rainfalls in California demonstrate lots of rain falling in a condensed timeframe. There is even a weather term to describe weeks of significant rain. In California, they are experiencing an atmospheric river event that creates weeks of deluges.
The problem with this kind of rain is that it comes down too fast, and once the surface roots and ground saturate, it turns into runoff. The soil can’t absorb anymore because of the volume and speed of the rain. California and the western United States have been suffering from significant drought over the past three years, which is part of a long-term pattern. I am sure some people thought all this rain could be captured and used to ease the drought. However, the volume and intensity of the rain don’t come at a pace that allows the water to be absorbed into the soil.
Soft rain, on the other hand, is a slow, light, and steady rain that falls at a rate that allows the soil to absorb it. As a result, it creates conditions for crops and flowers to grow and store excess rain in their deeper root systems. Comparing the deluge happening in California, Australia, and other places in our world to soft rain, presents a picture of how nature can be both devastating and nurturing. In organizations, we have hard angles and choices like layoffs, closing stores, and short-term decisions that create long-term negative impacts for communities. But we also have examples of decisions that nurture and create conditions for the life of the future organization and the communities they reside in.
How does the concept of soft rain help our organizations?
This month I have been exploring how softness serves an organizational system. This theme explores how softness, soft skills, and a soft pace (like soft rain) help build resilience in our organizations. Having deluges of goals, activities, stress, pressure, and results can exhaust the people who work for the organization and put our productivity at risk.
In my consulting practice, I am noticing that leadership teams are starting to fray around the edges. During the pandemic, these same teams were rock solid in leading the adaptive strategies that helped their organizations survive and, in some cases, thrive amidst significant challenges. The time and focus of their response created something similar to an atmospheric river after over two years of facing adaptive pressures in response to the pandemic and the cascading impacts it had on lives, employment, economics, social norms, and organizational forms and purpose. With vaccines, greater awareness, and shifts in health behaviors, we are coming out of the worst of the pandemic, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. The pandemic will still be around, impacting lives and our organizations.
With the shift from being locked down to learning to live with the pandemic, we are seeing how 2+ years of a pandemic made it challenging to nurture each other and bring softness into our organizations in ways that helped us with the stresses and volume of challenges we were facing. Now we are experiencing the loss of that balance between driving hard and having space to breathe and “till our soil.”
Maybe it is time to intentionally bring the strategy of softness into our leadership teams to help them recover and strengthen their resilience for what is coming next.
This post and “how does softness feed an organization” couldn’t be more serendipitous for me right now, as I have chosen “soften” as my life theme this year–a theme that drives my intentions and actions through the year.
The theme came to me in December, as I realized I was hard-charging through my career, daily life, and even motherhood (overcommitting, overscheduling, rushing my child through the day, etc.).
To me, softening is about taking a breath before responding–or choosing not to respond at all. It has done wonders for me so far both personally and professionally, and arguably for my family as well.
There is a time for driving hard to achieve goals, get somewhere on time, etc. and a time for softening and pulling back to observe and appreciate. It’s all about balance and timing, like we see in nature. Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations, Kathleen.