“But what if I really don’t care if my co-worker’s dog died? I am so not a dog person and don’t get all this pet stuff that people get into. I get that empathy is important but if I’m not feeling it, wouldn’t it be worse if I faked it?”
Touché. I had been facilitating a workshop on emotional intelligence and was talking about one of the important qualities for leaders, empathy. It was a great question and a challenge shared by other leaders I’ve worked with.
Empathy doesn’t mean total identification with someone’s specific experience, but rather recognition of the human experience of suffering. If we can get in touch with times we’ve suffered – experienced loss, sadness, loneliness – then we can use that experience to connect to another person and express empathy authentically.
I’m a bit of a biography nut and was intrigued by an article on Bruce Springsteen in a recent Vanity Fair article. In it he stated that, ““You have to create the show anew, and find it anew, on a nightly basis,” Springsteen said. “And sometimes,” he concluded, laughing, “it takes me longer than I thought it would.” Later on in the article, he says, “I’ve always felt a lot in common with Sisyphus. I’m always rolling that rock, man. One way or another, I’m always rolling that rock.”
I was struck by the connections to creativity and leadership in what he said. Our creativity gets expressed when we continue to push that rock uphill. In my case, just because I may have created a blog I really liked yesterday (or many other previous days!), doesn’t mean I don’t have to go through my creative process again and find some inspiration. While my creative process might become familiar to me, I don’t know that it’s gotten any easier. Some days that rock is pretty heavy!
And this is certainly true of leadership as well. We need to show up every day and find the inspiration and best parts of ourselves. Just because we made a difference one day doesn’t mean we don’t need to do the same the next day. We have to recreate our passion and commitment for leadership every day. And that, too, can feel like pushing a big rock uphill.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious. Carl Jung
“What most concerns you about the upcoming team session?” I asked one of my clients. I had been hired by the manager to help the team rebuild trust after a rather messy and complicated situation left many deeply hurt.
“That things will get really emotional and end up being worse.”
“That’s a pretty normal response,” I replied, “but surfacing those emotions in a healthy way will lead to healing and transformation for the team.”
My client looked skeptical but knew that not doing anything was no longer an option as people were avoiding each other and the morale was in the tank.
Dealing with those dark emotions we go to great lengths to hide is indeed uncomfortable. But hiding them leaves us depressed, anxious and stuck (and perhaps broke, overweight and alcoholic, depending upon what you do to keep them hidden!)
The next time you find yourself hiding from a dark emotion, take a moment, breathe, and:
- Surface the emotion.
- Name it.
- Experience it fully – where do you feel it in your body?
- Accept it as a part of being human.
- Ask yourself “What’s possible from here?”
- Consider developing a mantra, like the one I developed in the image above to help you move into those dark emotions.
A big thanks to Lisa Sonora whose 30 day journal challenge led to me developing this mantra and blog.
Transforming dark emotions is at the heart of my book, How to Forgive Your Boss. Visit the website and you can download the first chapter free.
I have had the honour of working with many talented leaders who are so people oriented that they drive themselves crazy trying to ensure people are happy. These leaders often have to make tough decisions, though, and it’s not possible for everyone to be happy all the time.
Even though intellectually I think most of these leaders know this, they still keep thinking that if they had done something different, people would be happy.
They won’t be – there is no one right way. That’s the reality of work and life – there is pain at times. Helping everyone accept this might just start to ease people’s suffering.
For anyone engaged in or facilitating transformative learning, let’s not fear those tears. They can mean anything and, in my experience, are often relief from carrying around things that no longer work. Create a sacred space for them instead of trying to force them to stay hidden.
I attended an awesome workshop based on the work of Brene Brown facilitated by my good friend and colleague, Laurie Hillis, as part of International Coaching Week this past May. I love Brene’s work and was particularly struck by the ideas around the “arena,” basically a metaphor for putting oneself out there and taking risks.
What’s powerful about this metaphor is Brene’s notion that unless someone has also put themselves into the arena are they deserving of our attention. I find this SO helpful, as I have tended to listen to all voices equally. This is especially true in the overdone and somewhat unhelpful practise of anonymous feedback forms at the end of a course or training program. I have been demoralized by hurtful feedback which has resulted in me losing confidence and enthusiasm for my work.
In most instances these are voices from the cheap seats, those whom have never put themselves out there in the way I have in my teaching and facilitation. And so it’s now a goal of mine to ignore these critics in the cheap seats and pay attention to those who are deserving of my time and energy.
The second speaker at last week’s Shareshop hosted by Michele Breuer of the Victoria Executive Centre was Monica Chang who introduced coaching, and did a short coaching session with one of the participants. As a coach myself, I always learn so much from other coaches and appreciated Monica’s ability to bring out the energy and motivation in the participant.