Coping with COVID: Learning from the Salamander


CORNERSTONE & COVID: Our members around the world are stepping up to comment  on the new challenges facing our industry.   Here’s Martin Braddock of Dubai


Back in 2016, I wrote an article called: ‘Emulating the qualities of the Salamander: How an Executive Coach can help you’. Not the ‘catchiest’ of titles, but it was an interesting exercise comparing some of the qualities of that amphibian (no, it’s not a lizard!) with the qualities (often) expected in a Leader.

Well, 2016, seems like a long time ago and the current Covid-19 (no, its not the same as flu!) means that most of us are in environments that very few would have forecasted four years ago.

The media (fake & real) is awash with ‘gurus’ and ‘experts’ advising how we should best manage our lives under current restricted/virtual/remote conditions and how should prepare and position ourselves for a ‘New Normal’.

Well, as neither ‘guru’ nor ‘expert’ but as an Executive Coach, I’ve had this question from several clients:  “ What do you expect the future business environment to look like and, more importantly, how can I prepare for it?”

I could take the easy, “coach” option and counter with: “well, what do you think you should be doing?”. But I answer honestly with “I’ve no idea”, before taking refuge in my Salamander Solution.

It turns out salamanders are just as helpful as they were four years ago.  Even knowing a little about them, triggers trains of thought that encourage problem solving.  Here’s what I mean.

A quick re-cap: salamanders in literature and legend are associated with fire, being supposedly unharmed by the flames.  Clothes made from their skin are believed to be incombustible. The salamander also can regenerate lost body parts.

These are among five characteristics of this amphibian that can have special meaning for us today.

  1. Surviving the Fire

A pandemic causing sickness and death in the millions would surely qualify as a “furnace of adversity”.  Surving the fire, as the salamander does, can also  be interpreted as being able to ‘survive’ major disappointments, setbacks, mistakes or decisions.  A parallel could be drawn here with ‘resilience’–  a quality that has emerged strongly in recent years regarding a leaders’ ability to pick him/herself up from a major set-back and push-on with renewed vigour and determination.

  1. Re-generating body parts

The regeneration of body parts could be akin to being able to, if not re-invent yourself, then certainly re-position or refresh your thinking and approach to a challenge. For example, thinking through your communication strategies, recognising the increasing use of virtual/remote communication and how it can be used effectively.

  1. Permeable Skin

The skin of a salamander is thin, permeable to water and serves as a respiratory membrane, with outer layers that renew periodically through a skin shedding process.

How ‘permeable’ or ‘open’ are you to absorbing new ideas in the current ‘climate’? Could you strengthen or develop existing skills?  Develop new ideas and exploit learning opportunities that could enable you to embrace a new approach or methodology?  Perhaps you can re-invent your existing business proposition by shedding the ‘old skin’ so you can be innovative and fresh-thinking, with new and ideas and action.

  1. Protection from infections

An uncanny association in this Covid-19 world.

Glands in the salamander’s skin discharge mucus which helps protect against bacterial infections. It also makes them slippery and more difficult for predators to catch.

You may not have a natural defence against a coronavirus, but you can prepare yourself to resist “infection” from negative people or actions that can drain your energy and distract you from seeking positive  solutions.

What you need is PMA – a Positive Mental Attitude that influences you to build immunity from negativity.

  1. A ‘middle’ ear

Finally,  salamanders have a system in the middle ear, able to detect low-frequency vibrations which in turn warn them of an approaching predator.

Four years ago, I would associate the business world as being full of predators waiting to see you fail or steal your ideas. But I have mellowed.

Could we not emulate the early-warning ability of the salamander to spot the good things?  To  pick out a resource that can help you, a colleague that will have your back, an investor who shares your long-term goals?

Is that not what we mean by having a Leadership capability that recognises the differences in people, how they behave to you, you to them and to each other?

Let’s remember, as we travel down the exciting road of Emotional Intelligence, maybe the salamander got there first.

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