Helping leaders emerge



A Blessing for 2020

You may have set New Year’s resolutions or be in the process of setting them. As part of your resolutions, I’d like to challenge you to include an intention about how you want to feel this year.

If you are like the executives I coach, you are probably quite driven and mastered the “doing part”, so I’d like to encourage you to set an intention based on how you want to feel in 2020 and let that be the motivator for what you do in the world and how you show up.

Here is a simple yet powerful intention you can say to yourself at the start of your day, throughout the day, or before you fall asleep. I like to say these phrases to myself when I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and want to feel more personally resourced.

Feel free to use the following blessing or adapt the language to make it your own:

May I feel safe
May I feel happy
May I feel healthy and strong
May I feel at ease

These phrases are not meant to be a mantra, but rather a blessing, so try noticing and welcoming (without judgment) whatever feelings arise for you. Sometimes you will feel something and other times you will feel nothing. Whatever arises for you is okay because you are planting seeds that will blossom when they are ready.

Happy 2020!


“We live in a materialistic world that pays insufficient attention to human values. We seek satisfaction in material things instead of warm-heartedness. But human beings are social animals. We need friendship and that depends on trust. Building trust requires concern for others and defending their rights, not doing them harm. Friendship is directly linked to warm-heartedness, which is also good for our physical health”.

                                                                                                        – The Dalai Lama

Idiot Compassion

Idiot compassion
refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion.
In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling.
It’s the general tendency to give people what they want
because you can’t bear to see them suffering.
Basically, you’re not giving them what they need.
You’re trying to get away from your feeling of
I can’t bear to see them suffering.
In other words, you’re doing it for yourself.
You’re not really doing it for them.

Pema Chodron

In my work, I’ve learned that leaders who show up with wise compassion – that is with presence, deep listening skills, and appropriate boundaries – have richer connections and are better able to inspire their teams, manage their schedules, delegate tasks, provide valuable feedback, and mentor their colleagues – which leads to better business results.

What is Wise Compassion?

Wise compassion includes empathy (the ability to listen deeply to, understand, and experience what another person is feeling) plus the desire to help the other person who is suffering. What makes wise compassion a skill is that it requires our willingness and ability to tolerate our own uncomfortable feelings in order to take the action that truly helps the other person while being true to ourselves in terms of values, self-respect, and appropriate boundaries.

What is Idiot Compassion?

Idiot compassion occurs when we convince ourselves that we are helping the other person but what we are really doing is taking or not taking the right action to avoid feeling our own emotional discomfort. This approach can inhibit the other person’s growth and lead to overwhelm or resentment for us.

Examples of how Idiot Compassion Shows Up at Home and Work

  • Offering advice versus being present with and listening to the other person and trusting them to find a solution. This shows up at when we try to “fix” a situation for someone versus trusting in the other person’s potential by being present, asking open ended questions to help them figure out what they want to do, and trust that even if they makes a mistake, they will learn and grow from the situation.
  • Not providing honest, constructive feedback because of fear of hurting the receiver’s feelings. Providing direct, honest, and constructive feedback takes courage and, if delivered with a generosity of spirit, can be life changing (and a relief!) for the receiver.
  • Not delegating because of feelings of guilt or having trust issues. Doing something ourselves that should be delegated because we don’t want to burden others with more work or have issues letting go deprives the other person of an opportunity to grow and learn.
  • Quickly agreeing to take on a project versus taking enough time to understand if your team is sufficiently resourced to deliver. What can make this a challenge is our tendency to people please, our desire to be the hero, having enough patience to understand what the project really entails, and having the courage to say no when the request is not realistic.

Steps for Showing Up with Wise Compassion

  • What does the other person truly need in this situation? For example, they might need for me to listen deeply and be present with them without providing immediate advice. They may need space and time to figure it out on their own, or they may need additional resources and support.
  • As I help this other person, what are my personal boundaries so that I don’t go into hero or rescue mode? And what do I need to in order to feel like I am being valued and respected versus feeling resentful or taken advantage of?
  • What are my watch-outs? How might my fear of being with my own discomfort get in my way of doing the right thing? Or my need to be right, nice, or liked?
  • How can I stay grounded and non-reactive while being with and managing my own emotional discomfort so that I can truly help the other person? Self-management strategies include: I will practice straw breathing (see below, a tool many clients love!) or prepare in advance by writing it out and/or reviewing with a trusted friend or go for a walk.
  • What might I need to let go of in order to truly help this person? For example, my ego, my image, my desire for a quick fix, or my short-term emotional comfort.

Straw Breathing for Self-Regulation
A fight with a partner, a disagreement with a co-worker, someone cutting you off in traffic, or feeling nervous about an upcoming speaking engagement can be a trigger. Straw breathing is a simple tool that can help you down regulate and be in charge of your own physiology. Click here to learn more with Fleet Maull.

How to Know if You’re Making Progress in Your Meditation Practice!

Worried about your meditation practice? Are you making progress? And is it worth it?

Assess your practice by asking yourself the following questions by Joseph Goldstein:

  1. Are you less immediately reactive in difficult or stressful situations, both in meditation and in life?
  2. Overtime, are you generally becoming aware of the wandering mind, more quickly in the sittings?
  3. In daily life, the feeling of rushing is a good feedback that we’re ahead of ourselves not beings settled back in our bodies, do you find that your rushing less often or becoming aware of it, more quickly?
  4. Is there more awareness with your speech, perhaps refraining a little more frequently from angry or judgmental speech?
  5. Is there a little more openness in being with other people, more willing to listen?
  6. Are you becoming a little more familiar with the qualities of calm and concentration in the practice?
  7. Are you using the tool of mental noting, is it becoming a little more continuous, at least for periods of time? Is the tone of the note becoming softer?
  8. Is there a little more ease in being with whatever arises in your meditation practice, simply noting it for what it is?
  9. Is it a little easier to sit longer?
  10. Are you becoming somewhat more aware of the changing nature of all experience and holding onto things a little less?

Source: As told by Dan Harris in his Ten Percent Happier Podcast #184, click here for more information.

The Science Behind Gratitude

Our family has a Thanksgiving tradition where each person shares around the dinner table what they are grateful for and why.

If you don’t have this tradition, you might consider it because research suggests gratitude activates our parasympathetic (rest and digest) system and positively impacts our brains:

  • Improving general well-being,
  • Increasing resilience,
  • Strengthening social relationships,
  • Facilitating more efficient sleep, and
  • Reducing stress and depression.

Shawn Achor, a Harvard educated happiness researcher who works with Fortune 100 companies, suggests the following tips for cultivating gratitude.

  • Journal – Each day, journal about one meaningful experience by writing down three specific details about it. It’s called the doubler because the brain doubles the experience, and you get to relive the experience. And, according to Achor, you only need one positive memory to judge the overall day as meaningful!
  • Express Gratitude – Each day find three new things you are grateful for and why. Achor calls this the 45–second disrupter, claiming the practice of spending 45–seconds (about the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth) on what you are grateful for and why, three times a day, has the power to transform someone from being a low level pessimist to low level optimist in just 21 days! The key is to find new things (which retrains your brain to scan the environment for positive experiences) and the why (which attaches positive meaning to everyday experiences that could be overlooked or taken for granted).
  • Write a Two Minute Note – Each day praise, recognize, or thank someone by writing them a short email note or text. Achor claims this is the most powerful habit.

For more information, I recommend listening to The 10% Happier Podcast #156: The Science Behind Gratitude with Shawn Achor and Dan Harris.

Tough Conversations

Being able to have tough conversations is an important part of being an effective leader – whether at work, in our communities, or at home with family members. Most people shy away from engaging in difficult conversations because it often feels uncomfortable and/or like they are being unkind. But to quote Brene’ Brown: clear is kind and unclear is unkind.

The key to being able to have tough conversations is being clear about what you want to say and how you are want to say it, and having a set of thoughtful questions makes the process more effective and easier – and will help manage anxiety around having the conversation.

Recently, a client struggled with one of his direct reports who was gaining a reputation for taking over meetings, not listening to other colleagues, and shutting down discussions. As a result, team members did not feel like their opinions were heard or valued, not committed to final decisions and not fully engaged in their work.

My client decided to provide the tough feedback to his direct report – he wanted to see if he could help her shift her behavior from thinking she always knew the best solution on her own to one where she was being more collaborative through active listening, asking questions, and engaging others for their point of view.

My client used the following framework to prepare himself for having the tough conversation with his direct report (see below for his process). This framework was developed over a series of workshops I led for an organization on having critical conversations. Personally, I have used this framework successfully whether at work, at home, and in the school system with teachers as I’ve advocated for my son and daughter.

Steps for Preparing for Tough Conversations

How do I want to “show up” for this meeting? What are 3-5 things I would like to hear the other person (or a fly on the wall) say about me after the meeting? Able to give the tough feedback, empathetic, fair, supportive, and calm.

What do I want? What is my goal for this meeting? What does success look like from my point of view? To deliver the tough feedback and see if she is able to hear me and willing to change her behavior. Get information– understand that she may or may not be able to hear the feedback, so I need to remain grounded and calm regardless.

What does the other person want? What might a successful meeting look like from the other person’s point of view? To be recognized as a a valued leader within the organization. To be able to hear the feedback in a way that she is inspired (versus embarrassed or shamed) in order to make a change in her behavior to be a better leader.

What is best for the relationship? What can I say or do in order to bring in a sense of generosity, enhance the relationship, and lead to more trust? I believe this to be a blind spot of hers and not consistent with what I know of her values as a person and that I believe her behaviors are not consistent with her intentions.

What is best for the business? What are the needs of the business? That her job as a leader is not to know everything – or even be the expert – but to depend on her team for their expertise. Best for the business if everyone feels like they have a chance to contribute in meetings – team needs to feel like they are listened to and that they are valued for their opinions .

How can I be honest and respectful? How will I demonstrate that I’m listening to the other person? What do I want to communicate via my body language and tone? How might my need to be liked get in the way of having a tough conversation? I will start from a place of generosity and respect and share that I think this is a blind spot and make sure she does not think I am judging or shaming her. I will share a situation of my own development if it is helpful and appropriate. I will be careful to use the right tone and not show up as aggressive or harsh.

How do I minimize drama? What do I need to refrain from saying that might trigger the other person and make them feel defensive? What are my watch-outs? I need to be sensitive and make sure she has time and space to process. I will make sure that I make this about leadership development – that we all have things we are working on. I will offer support and resources so that she can work on changing her behavior.

How do I remain calm? How will I prepare myself for the meeting and what will I do so I don’t go into reactive mode? If I do get triggered, how will I get centered again? I will remind myself that this is an important conversation and be okay with feeling uncomfortable. I will take a short walk before the meeting. During the meeting I will focus on my breath and feet on the floor to stay grounded. If things get heated, I will suggest a coffee or bathroom break to give us both time to get centered.

Aimless Love by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Boundaries and Trust

Setting boundaries and establishing trust are a challenging and important part of being an effective leader – whether at work, in the community, or in our families.

An executive client recently found these video clips by Brene’ Brown inspiring and helpful, so I’m sharing in this month’s blog. In case you don’t know her, Brene’ Brown, PhD LMSW, is a research professor at the University of Houston and an author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead.

Setting Boundaries
Brown shares why boundaries matter and how research suggests that the most compassionate people have the best boundaries. Brown defines boundaries as what’s okay versus what’s not okay. And that boundaries enable us to be loving and generous versus being resentful and hateful. Click here to learn more and watch Boundaries by Brene’ Brown (six minute video clip).

The Anatomy of Trust and Braving Connection
Brown defines trust as choosing to make something that is important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else and that trust is built in very small moments throughout our lives.

Brown shares her acronym BRAVING connection as a tool to create trust and build connection. Click here to watch The Anatomy of Trust by Brown (23 minute video clip but worth the time!)

  • Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them AND you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them
  • Reliability: I can only trust you if you do what you say you are going to do consistently – over and over again
  • Accountability: I can only trust you if when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends
  • Vault: I can only trust you if what I share with you, you hold in confidence and what you share with me, I will hold in confidence
  • Integrity: Trust involves three things one: you choose courage over comfort; two: choose what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; three: practice your values, not just profess them
  • Non–Judgment: I can only trust you if help is reciprocal and without judgment. I can fall apart and ask for help and be in struggle without being judged by you and you can fall apart and ask for help and be in struggle without being judged by me
  • Generosity: Our relationship is only a trusting relationship if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors and then check in with me

For the Meditators

  • Click here to listen to my two favorite meditation guys – Jack Kornfield and Dan Harris on Love, Death, Tech, and Psychedelics from Ten Percent Happier Podcast #204
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