Charles Starrett

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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.

Latest Posts

How can we feel joy in times like these?

Reading the news it seems like the world is just getting worse and worse. From war to shootings to climate crises to human rights being taken away…

Not to mention whatever personal struggles we are each going through.

Is it possible to feel joy with everything that seems to be going wrong? Is it even okay to feel happy despite all of this?

It’s more than okay. It’s required. For those of us in the business of creating change for the well-being of all, it is our job, as professionals, to practice gratitude and joy every day. Noticing acts of kindness, witnessing the resilience of nature, feeling the parts of our bodies which support us in going about our day.

We develop our own inner capability and capacity for joy and the enjoyment of everyday living to deepen our connection to life. And we grow our caring for life so that we can stand up for what matters and do what we can to make things better for all of life.

It can be easy to get pulled into hopelessness and despair by present problems, but it is when things look the worst, that we need to practice joy the most. It’s joy that keeps us going now so we can do our part to co-create a better future.

5 July 2022


Independence or Freedom?

Today is Independence Day in the United States.

That phrase raises questions for me. What does it mean to be independent? And what does it mean to be independent and united?

What does it mean that when the country declared freedom from England, many of its inhabitants were enslaved? Or that the land the country founded itself was stolen from those who were here before? And that all the land would one day be seized, “from sea to shining sea.”

Can we survive and be truly independent? How large is the web of connection I depend on to sustain my own body and mind: providing me with food, warmth, clothing, transportation, employment, healthcare, and love? (Just to name a few of my needs…)

If freedom is the true goal, and not independence, what do we need from ourselves and each other in order to feel free?

4 July 2022


Choosing to fail again

Most of us got to where we are by being good at what we do. And we’re better at what we do now than we used to be. There were times when we struggled, stumbled, and failed. But we learned, got better, and now we enjoy the fruits of our success.

But what do we do if our achievement grows stale, or we start to discover that what got us here can’t get us any further? Most likely we need to learn new skills, which means that first we have to get used to failing again.

Having achieved success and enjoying the feelings of excellence and mastery, it can be difficult to leave the comfort and security of where we are and venture out into the dark forest of the unknown.

Doubts creep in: How long will it take to gain mastery this time? Will I be successful? Can I even do this?

And if we manage to convince ourselves to leave the comfort of our castle, the initial excitement of new adventure quickly gives way to that awkward “learning how to walk” feeling which comes with learning new skills. We fail. Often. And failure rarely feels pleasant.

What makes it worse is that repeated failure can feel like a lack of progress. Each failure may reinforce the belief that we’re not getting better. We can feel like we’re just walking in circles.

This is when we need to remind ourselves of why we’re doing this. Why are we putting ourselves through the pain of being a beginner again? What matters to us so much that it’s worth dedicating our life to this path, no matter how difficult?

Remembering why we chose this path of learning, and that failure is part of learning, can strengthen our commitment to keep going through the unknown forest when what might sound better is to return to the comfort of our castle.

I invite you to pause for a moment of stillness and ask yourself what keeps you going on the path of learning, especially when you fail?

3 July 2022


Holding space vs. holding your tongue

Growing up everyone thought I was a great listener. I really wasn’t.

As the youngest child (by a significant margin), I learned that it was easier to keep quiet than to try to break into the verbal melee to be heard. So I retreated into my own thoughts — an imaginary world in my head where I felt more free than my body did being stuck at the dinner table with a bunch of people talking.

Later, I began learning how to listen in a way that contributes to dialogue. Supporting those who are speaking to hear themselves and each other in a way that inspires new insights. Insights that didn’t come from anyone there, but came from everybody there and the environment we created together. Insights that came out of the space between all of us.

This is one way to understand “holding space.”

If I hold my tongue, I’m simply not talking. In my mind I could be drafting an email, planning my dinner, or fantasizing about the weekend. If I’m holding space, then my full attention is on the dialogue, as well as the thoughts and feelings the dialogue may be bringing up in me. The only focus of my attention is on what I am noticing right here and right now. I’m not thinking about the past or the future. I’m not even thinking about what I could say. I am simply paying attention to what is being said, and not said, in this moment.

I want to add two more points:

One, this takes practice. After years of “spacing out,” I am still learning how to keep my attention focused in this way. The only way I’ve been able to stick with it is to be kind to myself when I notice that my attention drifted and simply start paying attention again without blaming or shaming myself for the lapse of focus.

Two, holding space is an experience which is difficult to describe. To be honest, I’m not completely satisfied with my description here, but I wanted to give it a try.

Have you experienced “holding space” yourself, or felt it when you were in space that was held well? How would you describe it? I’d love to hear!

2 July 2022


Time travel won't help you

A favorite exercise of coaches and career counselors is to ask the client to think back to their childhood and remember what they loved to do before societal pressures and the need to earn a living intruded on their lives. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who hasn’t gotten anything from this, despite trying multiple variations on the theme.

The problem is that from the moment we’re born, we’re impacted by our environment. The people around us, their values and personalities, the kind of attention we receive or are denied, and the resources and opportunities that are available to us or not are just a few of the hugely influential variables that affect each of us.

Besides, everything we’ve learned and experienced since then has shaped us even further. We’re not even the same person as we were yesterday, let alone as a child.

There is some value in reflecting on how circumstances and the adults around us may have pushed us in one direction or another, but what really matters in this moment is who we are now. What is important to us now? What really matters now? What will motivate us to commit and persevere through difficulty now?

And how can we know that what we think we care about, is what we care about? In other words, how do we know that it’s coming from inside us, rather than from outside expectations of society or even our friends?

This “inner knowing” is not knowledge, but a skill. It’s not something we can capture in a weekend workshop, but rather a capability and a capacity that we can build over time by learning to listen to our own self. Noticing what we like and dislike, and being honest with ourselves about it. Investigating what we think we know about ourselves with the question, “Is that true?” Picking up on clues like how energized or tired we feel after an activity or conversation.

Growing up, most of us were taught to listen to our parent, teacher, and boss, rather than to listen to ourselves — to our own body and mind. So it can take time to relearn how to listen to what truly matters to us in this moment.

But it’s a relearning, because we were born with this skill. And each step we make towards understanding who we are, brings a little more joy into our lives.

1 July 2022


Is it your body or your mind?

What is your body feeling right now? Does your posture feel comfortable? Does your body want to move a bit? Or stand still for a moment? Does your body need a drink of water, or a snack, or a bio break?

If the only thing stopping you from interrupting your current task and taking care of your body’s need in this moment is you, try doing what your body is asking you to do. Notice how it feels to just drop what you’re doing and attend to your body’s needs. Notice how it feels to come back to what you were doing after your body got a bit of attention.

On the flip side: if you notice yourself going for a drink, or a snack, or daydreaming about a nap, is that what your body is asking for, or are you doing it as a reaction to something in your mind such as boredom, stress, or anxiety?

This isn’t about shame or blame. The invitation is to simply become more aware of when we act on signals from the body, and when we don’t. When we ignore our body’s needs, or when we use our bodies (like with stress eating) to deal with something that would be more effectively dealt with another way (such as through journaling, conversations, and trying new behaviors).

Whatever you may be doing, or not doing, check in with your body regularly. What do you sense? And whose voice is it? Your body or your mind?

30 June 2022


Appreciation builds culture

Why we do something matters. Which is why the push to have leaders show appreciation to their people more is misguided.

If the reason for doing something (like showing appreciation) is to get someone to feel something (such as feel appreciated) then you’re trying to do the impossible. Although we can temporarily inspire feelings, such as excitement, anger, or fear in another person, we can’t genuinely make another person feel anything.

Long lasting feelings come from the person’s own lived experience. And humans are very good at picking up on something phony. Nobody is going to truly feel appreciated when what they really feel is that you’re checking off a box on your list of things leaders should do.

Why are there so many parodies of “corporate speak” and two-faced managers? Just because nobody calls you on it in the moment, doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing right through you.

Genuine appreciate is spontaneous, immediate, and relevant to the relationship. And genuine appreciation is key to building a healthy culture.

As we notice and express appreciation for what people do to make things better, even small acts, we’re saying, “What you’re doing is making us all better.” It encourages the person to do more of that, it gives a tangible example to others of who you could be as an organization, and it builds a better culture for everyone.

So practice appreciation, not to “build morale,” but to build a culture that everyone can appreciate.

29 June 2022


Standing (and ceding) your ground

Conflict is a powerful force.

The polymath social scientist Gregory Bateson talked about the double-bind: what happens when life is faced with two, equally bad options. There is an invitation in the double-bind to uncover or create a third option. One which was previously unseen or unknown, but which frees us from the trap of double-bind.

Conflict can also clarify. When we’re not sure of our position on a topic, but we feel our body react with a visceral “No!” to someone, that clarifies where we stand.

Without conflict and tension, there would be little innovation because people generally avoid change. Change is uncomfortable and difficult. To get ourselves to change, the tension we feel around not changing has to be greater than the difficulty of the change. That tension, or conflict in our current situation, is the force that moves us forward.

However, conflict and tension can also be destructive. When our goal in an argument is to “win,” we stop listening for emerging insights or innovations, and simply listen for opportunities to put down our “opponent.” The truth and the relationship are both casualties of our ego-centric war.

When we see life as a zero-sum game where the more others have (whether that is money, power, or rights) that means less for me, then we engage in conflict that goes against our evolution as social animals. Our society — our ability to live and work together for mutual well-being — becomes a casualty of our ego-centric war.

And when it gets out of hand, ego-centric conflict can explode into wars of entire nations.

Standing our ground is an important part of creating the tension that activates the creative force. But we have to be clear about why we’re standing our ground. Is it for insight and innovation to serve the well-being of all, or is it because we want to “win” or don’t want to be seen as weak.

Because part of allowing conflict to do its work, is knowing when to let go of our old worldview, and step forward to embrace the new.

28 June 2022


A monk cannot shave his own head

Living in our own bodies and minds day in and day out, we become very familiar with many of our strengths and weaknesses. Maybe too familiar.

We may take our strengths for granted, thinking “everybody can do that” when the reality is that everyone cannot “do that.” Similarly we may underestimate the impact of our shortcomings on those around us, or we may become hypercritical and blow them out of proportion.

What holds us back even more are the blindspots in our self-awareness: those strengths and weaknesses that we don’t know about. To become aware of those, we need a mirror; we need another person to reflect back on us what they see in us.

It is said that “a monk cannot shave his own head.” Likewise we cannot see ourselves as others see us. The only way to become aware of our blind spots is to ask the people around us what they see, and then to listen to the answer with openness and vulnerability.

Who can you trust to be honest with you? And are they someone you feel ready to listen to, no matter what they say?

27 June 2022


Pausing helps

When passions and voices rise in dissent, it’s usually because we care. We rarely get worked up over something unless some part of us feels it’s worth getting worked up over because it’s touching on something that matters to us.

What can get lost in the emotions, though, is why we care.

So when we notice ourselves getting worked up over something there’s an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves what is at the root of all the emotion. What is it that we care about enough to get so worked up about?

The challenge is that what we say in the heat of the moment, isn’t necessary at the root of what we feel. So the question is whether we can be honest with ourselves about what we are feeling, regardless of what we may be saying.

It’s also an opportunity to ask ourselves whether there is something (or someone) else we also care about that we might be unintentionally hurting through what we’re doing and saying in that moment of heightened emotions?

And can we stand up for what matters without harming other people or the planet in the process?

It’s a lot to ask in the heat of the moment. Which is why pausing helps.

26 June 2022


We live in the material world

Assuming you’re a human being, you live in a body. That body has needs.

Many of these needs support our physical existence, such as: food, water, and shelter. Others contribute to our sense of social belonging. And still other needs are in the realm of self-actualization — or becoming who we are capable of becoming.

One thing that all of these needs have in common is that they need to be filled in material, tangible ways. This is obvious when it comes to food, water, and shelter, but no less true for social belonging. Those needs are filled through such acts as conversation, physical touch, generosity — very real human activities.

Self-actualization also requires us to act with outcomes that are visible. Perhaps cooking a new dish, or getting better at coding, or running for public office.

Even mental health, much of which can be invisible, has objectively measurable impacts on the physical health of our bodies and our ability to meet our body’s needs.

From grappling with individual decisions to debating want kind of society we want to live in, we must never forget that we live in a material world. Everything we think and feel has the potential for very real outcomes on our human bodies, our social body, and the Earth body.

So the question is: what outcomes will best support the well-being of all? And what do we need to do to secure those outcomes?

25 June 2022


Wired for connection

We’re wired for empathy. Our brains have what are sometimes called “mirror neurons” which light up when we see someone who is feeling joy, pain, anger, or sadness. The way they work, as I understand it, is that they use our own personal experience of joy, pain, anger, or sadness to “mirror” what someone else is feeling. It allows us to experience someone else’s emotions as if they were our own.

What this also means, though, is that we need to have felt something ourselves, in order to feel it in someone else. In other words, if we push away our own feelings of loneliness, shame, fear, or anger, it makes it harder for us to feel it in others. It weakens our empathy.

There can be many reasons why we may not want to feel negative, uncomfortable, or even painful emotions. And working through those emotions needs to be done with care. But it’s also true that the existence of those mirror neurons is a sign that we’re meant to work through these things together. We’re meant to share these struggles so they can be a little lighter on each of us individually.

Our society lionizes the “strong, independent hero” type, but that’s not how we’re designed as a species. To be human is to live together, work together, feel together, suffer together, and celebrate together.

We’re wired for connection. And that connection is the secret of our strength.

24 June 2022


Ego vs. Ego-centric

The ego is often misunderstood.

Talking about “big ego” as a bad thing or “lack of ego” as a good thing misses the point.

A healthy ego is essential for human survival and is a part of who we are. The ego is what motivates us to stand up for what matters to us. To defend our values, our friends, and our own bodies. To take care of our “self” and everything we see as being connected to ourselves.

The ego is part of being human. It’s no more of a problem than our need to eat and sleep. The problem comes when we become ego-centric and make everything about us.

It’s easy to look at someone who is always talking about how great they are and acting as if they are the most important person in the room as someone with a big ego. But what about the person who is always talking about how wonderful their friends are, or all the acts of self-sacrifice they make, or even proud of the fact that they are “egoless?”

Both of these people are acting in an ego-centric way. They act as if what their feelings, actions and opinions are more important than anyone else’s. They find a way to make everything about themselves, even when it seems like they’re focusing on someone else.

One consequence of ego-centric behavior is that it weakens our connection to other people. Relationships rely on a back-and-forth flow of connection, but the ego-centric person only gives what they want to give, and will take what they want to take, without considering the perspectives of those around them. They may say things that hurt other people without meaning to, and then defend themselves by declaring that they had good intentions. And that just sends the message that they don’t care what anyone else feels, except themselves.

Like all things human, it’s rarely this extreme or all-or-nothing. Sometimes we are more ego-centric than other times. When we’re under stress, for instance, it’s natural for our perspective to narrow and for us to focus more on ourselves.

The invitation is to notice. Notice where your attention is from moment-to-moment.

When someone else is talking, are you listening to what they’re saying, or what you’re thinking about what they’re saying? When someone tells a painful story do you jump in to tell a similar one to show “solidarity” (but shifting the focus to you), or do you simply listen and offer your support for what they are going through? When something bad happens, can you feel the impact on other people, as well as on yourself?

Notice also what happens in your relationships as you shift your attention from “ego” to “eco,” or from yourself, to the environment (and people) around you? Do you find people responding differently to you? Do you find yourself feeling differently about them?

Our ego is natural, necessary, and good. And if we want to have healthy relationships, it needs to make room for others, too.

23 June 2022


Hearing ourselves

“The answer is inside you.”

That old chestnut of coaching advice is incredibly frustrating if we don’t know where to look inside ourselves for that answer. The answer may as well be halfway around the world. What good does it do having it inside me, if I can’t find it anyway.

This is why we need people to ask us questions, especially the questions we wouldn’t think to ask. So we can hear ourselves answering these unexpected or maybe “obvious” questions (so obvious that we wouldn’t think of them), and then hearing ourselves give the answer that we’ve been looking for.

Having a real human being ask us in real time is part of the magic, too, because we say things differently to another human being, than we would say to ourselves.

Yes, the answer we need is very often inside of us. But the question we need in order to find the answer may be in someone else.

Who do you know who could ask you the questions you wouldn’t think to ask, and create time and space for you to hear yourself answer?

22 June 2022


Wholly sustainable business

Can we have truly sustainable energy without sustainable business?

Can cleantech ventures be truly successful in reducing harm to people and the environment without clean business strategies?

As long as we live in a capitalist system, technology alone cannot create change. The technology needs to be embedded in a product or service, which is then embedded into a business. But what kind of business will create the change that we need for the survival of our species?

Didn’t we create this ecological crisis with the current winner-takes-all, race-to-the-bottom, ends-justify-the-means, extractive and exploitative approach to industry and business? One that puts profit and shareholder interests first? One which doesn’t care about the impact to humans or the planet of the unfettered use of fossil fuel and the careless dumping of industrial waste, as long as it makes the rich richer?

We need more than ingenious technology to save ourselves from our own destruction. We need a new approach to the businesses that distribute the technology.

One where the intention of business is to be a creative force for good, just like the technology. Innovative business that are environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable. Businesses that support the well-being of all, not only through their products and services, but also through their impact on all stakeholders — including customers, employees, partners, communities, society, and the planet.

Where do you see your role in wholly sustainable business? Are you ready to lead the way to a wholly sustainable future?

And if not now, then when?

21 June 2022


What are we not asking?

Our education system rewards us for having the answer. We’re conditioned that looking smart means shooting a hand in the air and saying what the teacher (or boss) wants us to say. For many of us, knowing the answer is what got us to where we are today.

However, if we’re in the business of innovation and responding to an unknown future, knowing the answers is much less useful than knowing the questions. What are the questions we’re not asking? We know what we know, and we know what we don’t know, but what are the unknown unknowns?

Where are the shadows in our understanding of the situation where we need to be looking?

What would it look like if your culture supported asking questions that probe the shadows, more than rewarding clever answers?

20 June 2022


This moment as it is

If you asked my middle school science teacher how long a meter was, he’d hold out his hands a meter apart and say “about this long.”

His point was that he didn’t believe in learning the metric system of measurement by comparing it to the imperial system that we used in the United States. He wanted us to learn it as an independent system. We should feel the weight of a kilogram, measure with rulers in centimeters, and weigh a cubic centimeter of water and see that it was one gram.

He wanted us to get a fresh sense of the world directly measured in the metric system, rather than converting everything from our past experience, which would result in an approximation.

It’s natural for us to compare and contrast new experiences and acquaintances with those we’ve had in the past. This person’s voice reminds us of someone from a previous job, or this restaurant is noisier than that other one. When we compare and contrast it helps us to make sense of our experience of the world — for it to feel coherent and whole.

The downside is that it also colors how we experience the present moment by putting more attention on the things that relate to our past experience.

As an experiment, try noticing what happens when you describe a situation or person without comparing or contrasting, just as-is. What aspects seem most important?

For instance, notice how it feels to say, “This food feels comforting,” without giving a reason. To describe how it tastes without saying what else it tastes like, or what it reminds you of.

It can be the same when enjoying a sunset with someone, or a concert, the satisfaction of finishing a project. How might it feel to simply fully experience this moment as it is, without comparing it to any other time, person, place, or thing?

Comparing and contrasting is a very useful skill. But so is our ability to come to each moment with a beginner’s mind, and sense everything fresh.

What do you feel or sense in this moment, when you bring your attention to it, as if for the first time?

19 June 2022


Emotions are contagious

We humans are sensitive to our environment. Even if we’re not conscious of it, we pick up little signals from everything and everyone around us. Especially from our fellow humans.

The hardness or softness of our tone of voice, a look that conveys gratitude or disapproval, a joke that uplift or that sting, our driving behind another car patiently or impatiently.

We can spread feelings like comfort, anxiety, anger, joy, belonging, and separation without any conscious effort. It just comes out of how we do what we do and how we are around others.

What takes conscious effort is choosing what we spread. Taking the time to notice our thoughts and feelings and how our thoughts and feelings influence our attention, words, and actions. And then making a conscious choice to listen, speak, and act in a way that reflects what matters most to us, rather than how we feel in that moment.

We can choose what we spread, but we have to choose again and again in each moment. And what we spread are the seeds that grow to become the world of the future.

So what will you choose to spread in this moment? It’s up to you.

18 June 2022


Mind your own business

There’s more going on in the world than any one of us can keep up with.

Government in-fighting, societal unrest, unpredictable markets, climate crises, wars, displaced peoples, not to mention the drama in entertainment and social media circles.

It’s good to be aware of our larger environment, but we can spiral ourselves down into feeling hopeless and helpless when so much of our attention is on things “out there” beyond our grasp.

The fact is, there’s so much in our lives that we don’t know. And there’s so much that we can’t directly influence.

If you find yourself feeling hopeless and helpless, that may be a sign to mind your own business. In other words, to pay attention that what is within your reach. Where do you have direct response-ability — the ability to respond? What is the Work that is yours to do? Who are the people around you for whom you can make a difference?

There are things we can do as citizens of the world to support the well-being of all. And if we don’t each do the Work that is ours to do, and make a difference for the people around us, who else is going to do it?

If you’re feeling there is nothing you can do, try looking closer to where you are. What do you see?

17 June 2022


How is it working for you?

It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. Thankfully, humans are a very adaptable species.

Take opening a jar, for example. If we try to twist the top off, and it doesn’t come off, we try other ways. Maybe we use something that gives us a better grip. Maybe we run the top under hot water to get it to expand a bit. Or we might just ask for help from someone who is stronger than we are.

So if you’re not getting the desired results, maybe the answer isn’t trying to do better or faster the same thing you’ve always done. Maybe the answer is doing something different.

Maybe “this is the way we do things” is exactly the problem.

16 June 2022


Is that true?

One thing that makes “blind spots” and “unconscious bias” so difficult is that we’re not aware of them. It’s a belief we assume is true without thinking of questioning it.

When we’re aware that we don’t know something, then we know what to do: educate ourselves and learn.

But when we’re not aware that a belief is an unfounded assumption, then we may not even think of educating ourselves.

One way to uncover unknown assumptions is to look carefully at our lived experience, notice where our experience is limited, and then make choices to fill those gaps. This is a floodlight approach to expose ourselves to new perspectives which may illuminate some of the shadows cast by our previous lived experience.

Another way is to simply make it a habit of asking ourselves, “is that true?” This is a spotlight approach to shine a light on our various beliefs and look at the evidence. Often when we shine this light we will see that we have more than enough evidence to feel confident that it’s true.

But sometimes we will see that it is an assumption that we adopted and that we don’t know if it’s true or not. Then it becomes a “known unknown” and we have an opportunity to investigate and find out for ourselves if it’s true or not.

Try asking yourself often, “Is that true?” What do you notice? You might create some opportunities for learning and growing, as well as connecting at a deeper level with the world around you.

15 June 2022


Ask questions first

Have you ever had someone “help” you in a way that wasn’t helpful? When someone jumped in as a “knight in shining armor” to “save” you, just to do something for you that maybe even made things worse?

The step they probably skipped was to have a conversation first.

To sit down with you and create space for you to reflect on and share what you’re struggling with. Not only to listen, but also ask questions that could help you uncover what would really serve you best right now.

We may think we need introductions to clients, but what we really need is help with our communications. We may think we need help with a plan, but what we really need is help in getting clearer on our intention. We may think we need help in getting more done, but what we really need is help in how to do less.

As social animals, often the first, best way we can help each other is to ask good questions, and to listen, so we can uncover what we really need in this moment.

And then act together from that place of shared understanding.

14 June 2022


Take your thoughts out for a walk

If you get caught in a loop with the same thoughts going around and around in your head, try taking your thoughts out for a walk.

This could be a literal walk outside, creating some space for the thoughts by bringing awareness to the feet touching the ground, and seeing the sky above.

This could be a walk on paper, where you let your thoughts go straight to your hand and into written words. Let the thoughts spread out and travel to where they want to go without censoring. Write whatever comes out. Nobody will see this but you.

Or you could draw your thoughts, letting them walk in lines around the paper. What colors, shapes, or textures appear from your hand?

Sometimes the head is too small a space for our thoughts so they spin around and around like a dog chasing its tail. Notice what happens if you let your thoughts out from between your ears and give them some space to roam.

13 June 2022


Leading is always by example

There is no other way to lead, other than by example.

If your people see you consistently say one thing, but do something else, they won’t trust you and won’t believe you.

You don’t have to be perfect. That’s impossible. But if leadership matters to you, then when you make a mistake, especially when someone else points it out to you, you need to own it. And that can be hard.

But if you have the capability and the capacity to be with the discomfort, embarrassment, and even shame of not living up to the standards that you expect of your people, then you have an opportunity. You have the opportunity to talk about how what you did was wrong and what you will strive to do better. You have the opportunity to model how to handle making mistakes in a public way that builds trust and relationships. You have the opportunity to reinforce the culture’s values by showing, in word and deed, that they matter.

Making mistakes is unavoidable. It’s what we do next that matters. And whether they say anything or not, your people are watching.

12 June 2022


Using anger to identify values

Most values exercises involve a long list of words and invite us to read through and pick those that represent our top values.

The challenge is that so many of them sound good! There can be so many we recognize expressing or acting on in the past, that it can be difficult to choose which ones are most important. It can be even more confusing if we’re having difficulty sensing the difference between what we truly value, what we’ve been taught to value, and what we feel we should value.

One way to try to get clarity is to sense into how you feel when a value is violated. How angry do you feel when someone crosses that value? Try to be specific and imagine particular scenarios when someone was dishonest, disorganized, impractical, unimaginative, inconsiderate, too slow, too fast, and so on. Go through each value that you’re having trouble deciding on, flip it to its opposite, and notice how much you would care about someone being or behaving in that opposite way.

Sensing your level of anger when a value is violated might help you to separate out the values that you simply agree with from the ones that are absolutely non-negotiable. Because we don’t get angry unless something or someone we truly care about is in danger.

11 June 2022


Relief from restlessness

Nobody likes restlessness — that dissatisfaction with where we are in our work, or in life.

It’s natural to want to get rid of that feeling. Whether through distraction, or projects, or study, or travel, or something else, we try to find a way to get away from our dissatisfaction through doing. This the origin of the classic “mid-life crisis” trope, which can happen in any stage of life, before or after the supposed “middle.”

The problem is that none of these help with the restlessness. Usually all that happens is we get increasingly frustrated, on top of feeling restless.

The best relief from restlessness is not more doing. The answer is in the name.

Relief from restlessness comes in rest.

The source of restlessness is usually that our outside — what our work and life look like — and who we are inside are out-of-whack. And these usually go out-of-whack because we’ve lost touch with who we are. We’ve drifted from what is important to us. We’ve forgotten our own likes, dislikes, values, and goals under pressure from the world around us to be someone other than who we are.

If we spend enough years listening to other people’s suggestions and advice, no matter how well intentioned, it becomes easy to forget what matters to us. And so we lose track of our internal compass that keeps us on the path — aligning our outside reality with our inside reality.

A great first step to rediscovering that compass is to rest. Really rest. Don’t read books, or go to workshops, or spend nights and weekends filling out self-discovery worksheets.

Instead, learn to be still and quiet with yourself. Take the time to catch up on sleep if you need to. Pay attention to when and what you eat. Spend time in nature if you’re able.

But most of all, practice being quiet with yourself and notice. Bring your attention to your body. Notice how it feels and how those sensations change from moment-to-moment. Notice your thoughts: when they get caught in a loop, when they run off into fantasy, when the thoughts are happy ones, or sad ones. Notice what it feels like to be you, in this moment.

Notice when you judge or try to change things about your body or thoughts. See what happens if you let go of the judging, and don’t try to change anything, but just notice and be aware of your body and thoughts as they are right now.

Spend a few moments to practice noticing each day. And maybe one day, as you start to feel more at rest in your body, you’ll start to find the end of a thread that can lead you back to that compass you lost, and start to make changes around you that will make you feel more at rest in your work and life as well.

10 June 2022


Ceci n'est pas une culture

René Magritte’s famous work, “The Treachery of Images” is a painting of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” or “This is not a pipe.” The point is that it’s a painting of a pipe, not an actual, physical pipe.

Culture is much the same way. We can describe it or influence it by writing out sets of values, guiding principles, and even policies or procedures, but at the end of the day, culture is what culture does.

It’s what people say and do that creates the culture. The habits, patterns, and unwritten norms of interaction. It’s how people behave under pressure, and when (they think) nobody is watching.

And it’s the little acts of care, and the little acts of disrespect that grow over time into a culture that is thriving, or toxic.

It’s absolutely worth taking the time to discuss and write down what kind of culture you want. But what’s even more important is paying attention to the culture you have. And reflecting on the gap between the two.

9 June 2022


Thanking the messenger

How do you react to people bringing you bad news? When they let you know about the things that aren’t going well?

It could be a key supplier pulling out of a deal, or losing a major customer, or a product safety problem that requires a recall, or a damaging story hitting the news.

Do you get angry or blow up at the messenger? Or do you shut down and become cold? Or maybe push back and ask them to see it differently, as a “probletunity?”

Or do you say, “Thank you. I needed to know that. Now we can take care of it before things get worse.”

Because isn’t that the truth?

But in the heat of the moment, that’s easier said than done. We’d all rather get good news than bad news. Good news means we can keep going. Good news means we’re doing all the right things. Good news means our future looks bright.

Bad news means the opposite, and worse, that now we need to spend time and energy on an unexpected problem. And that maybe it’s our turn to share the same bad news with someone else.

Yet we all know that bad news is unavoidable. Nothing goes well all the time. So the best thing we can do for ourselves, our business, and the people we live and work with is to grow our capacity to be with bad news. To learn how to hear and accept the bad news as part of living, part of doing business. To practice taking the time to let the initial shock pass, so we can respond from a calmer, more grounded place.

Especially if you want to encourage the people around you to share what they know openly, honestly, and freely.

Because saying that you want to hear bad news doesn’t mean anything if you can’t act like it when it matters.

8 June 2022


Calling for a pause

We humans like to think of ourselves as rational, but when our emotions ramp up, like when we get in an argument, the centers of our rational thinking in our brains start to shut down.

If you’ve ever thought after an argument, “I wish I didn’t say that,” then that’s probably what happened. Once our emotions start to take over it can be hard to think straight, and we do or say things that aren’t really “who we are.”

The best way to avoid this is to call for a pause, or a “time out,” when you notice things getting too heated. To stop talking, and take a few deep breaths together. To hold silence and just feel the physical sensation of your breath, your feet, and your body.

After a few minutes of pause, try talking again. Pay extra attention to listening to the other person, and listening to yourself so you can both stay more aware of what is going on emotionally, as well as what you’re saying.

This isn’t about avoiding conflict or not having difficult conversations. This is about allowing our emotions to settle a bit until we can listen to the other person, and have the presence of mind to notice what we really feel.

Conflicts and difficult conversations can strengthen relationships, rather than damage them, if we create enough space and bring kind attention to ourselves and the other person. All it takes is a moment of pause.

7 June 2022


Business network

The key part of any business isn’t the business plan, or the product, or the balance sheet, or the organizational structure.

It’s the people. All of them.

The people who imagine and design the product. The people who make the product. The people who market it. The people who sell it. The people who buy it. The people who ship it. The people who appreciate it and talk about it. The people who balance the books. The people who make hiring decisions and firing decisions. The people who maintain the equipment. And many, many more.

The people who care for each other, for the customer, and for the planet enough to commit themselves to make things better by making better things.

So, if a business is made up of people, how strong are the connections between them? What is the condition of the relationships that make up the human network which keeps information and action flowing freely inside and outside your business?

And how much of your time, attention, and energy is focused on the people of your business? What would happen without them?

6 June 2022


Suffering is misunderstood

Having grown up in the United States I’m used to the ritual greeting:

“How are you?”
“Fine.”

Unless you have a close relationship with the other person, and time to get into the details, then you’re expected to answer, “Fine,” regardless of how you’re actually feeling, so that you can get on with (or over with) the interaction.

I think this underlies a deeper philosophy about life here, that the default of life is “fine,” rather than that life is hard — being an aware, feeling human being is hard. Feeling thirsty, getting wet in the rain, missing a deadline, our child crying, getting cut off in traffic, twisting our ankle running for the train, getting caught in an argument, getting sick, burning ourselves on the stove, bruises, mistakes, disappointments… Not to mention losing a job, or losing a loved one.

Navigating all the challenges of daily life along with societal pressures and the larger global realities is in fact really, really difficult, and how many of us are really “fine” unless we’re just numbing ourselves to all that?

And to say that life is hard isn’t to be negative, but to be honest. And kind.

It’s not to say that “life is hard, so deal with it,” but rather, “life is hard, so it’s okay to feel that it’s hard.”

It’s not to say that “life is hard, so we may as well not bother,” but rather, “life is hard, and I need to be honest about how hard it is, so that I can make a better life.”

It’s not to say that “life is hard, and if people suffer it’s just meant to be that way,” but rather, “life is hard for everyone, and we need to work together to make things better for everyone, including ourselves.”

The first step to shift from “Fine” to honest is building up our capacity to feel that life is hard, without giving up or becoming bitter. To develop the capability to feel that life is difficult, and exhilarating. That life is suffering, and joy. That life is painful, and beautiful. At the same time.

That these experiences of living fully are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually dependent.

Can we know exhilaration without difficulty, joy without suffering, or beauty without pain?

The more we feel, the more we feel. Of everything. It’s a package deal.

And from that feeling comes motivation, and from motivation, action to make life better. For everyone, including ourselves.

5 June 2022


The internal compass

When we feel that the life we’re living and the work we’re doing is not really ours, it can be like a shirt we’ve outgrown and has some holes, but we’ve gotten used to wearing. We have to face the question of, “If not this shirt, then what?”

The devil we know can be better than the devil we don’t.

And to find a new shirt that fits who we are, both inside and outside, we need to have a sense of how we would feel in that kind of shirt, and we have to go out and look for it.

Similarly, there are two parts to finding the work and life which is ours. One is that we have to go out and experiment so we have a chance to encounter something that fits us better, and the other is that we have to have the ability recognize what fits.

(Having the courage to take the leap of enacting the change is for another post. This is just about the search.)

There are a lot of opportunities through volunteer work, social events, as well as books, blogs, podcasts, and videos, to experience directly, or through others, all manner of work and ways of living.

The more difficult part is knowing: “What is mine to do?”

After spending a lifetime (so far) being and working as someone who is not quite ourselves, it can be hard to discern what really resonates with our core, and what doesn’t. In order to survive in a world that expects us, and rewards us, to be who they want us to be, rather than who we are, many of us shut off that part of us that yearns for a life and work which is ours. We had to ignore that calling so that we could keep doing what we were expected to do. And now we’ve forgotten what that call sounds like.

The ability to re-cognize, or know again, that which is ours is still within us, but we’re out of practice, and maybe we also feel a bit uncertain whether it’s safe to start using it again. Just as after being bedridden with illness, we need to rebuild the strength, coordination, and confidence to walk again, re-membering that part of us which once knew what was ours requires gentle practice.

Noticing what draws our attention and then pausing to ask ourselves, is that attraction coming from me, or is it something someone told me I should like? When I notice a particular feeling, or impulse, asking myself where that is coming from? Is it a habit I learned in order to comply, or is it coming from somewhere deeper in me?

And if I don’t know the answer, that’s okay. What’s important is that I take the time, each time, to ask the question. To start to shed the wants and ways of being that I learned from elsewhere, so that I can see the source more clearly, of who I am, and what is my work.

Take your time. Be gentle. Celebrate the small wins. Fix your gaze on living a life which is yours. And keep going.

4 June 2022


Presencing rather than presenting

Helping the listener to hear is an underrated skill.

As speakers, we can start with choosing words that are easy to understand. Regular pauses allow the listener to digest what has been said. Using vocal techniques to vary the delivery makes a long talk less tiring to listen to, and selective emphasis helps the listener to understand what the most important points are that you would like them to remember.

Most of all, knowing who your audience is and what is important to them will help you know what to say and how to say it.

It’s presencing — being present with your audience — rather than presenting — talking at your audience.

At the end of the day, we want to be heard. So why not help our listeners to hear us?

3 June 2022


Positively closed

One stereotype of a leader is someone who is always positive. Who always sees the bright side of things. Who has a “can do” attitude. Who always tells their team that they’re doing great.

The problem is that this kind of constant positivity closes the leader off from being able to listen.

Leadership requires deep listening, which means listening with presence and openness.

The openness of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

What does this have to do with positivity? Well, there’s no curiosity without doubt, no compassion without pain, and no courage without fear.

In order to have curiosity, compassion, and courage, you need to allow yourself to feel doubt, pain, and fear. It’s not easy, but with practice, it’s doable.

And once you become skilled at feeling doubt, pain, and fear, and keep going anyhow, it will become a superpower.

Besides all that, if your team knows things are not going well, but you pretend that they are, they won’t trust you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t tell you what you need to know.

It’s okay to say things as they are. And to trust that you and team can handle the bad times together.

There’s no need to be positive all the time. But as a leader, you do need to be present all the time.

And open to listen to what is.

2 June 2022


Listen to Connect

If I talk to you and you don’t listen, there’s no connection. And I can’t make you listen, either.

So the only way for me to ensure that there’s connection is if I let you talk, and I listen.

If we are serious about wanting to connect with another person, we must put our own agenda aside and listen with curiosity, courage, and compassion. We may not like what we hear, but if we can accept it is true for the other person, even if we don’t agree with it, then we have a chance of making a connection.

And with connection comes a chance of authentic communication, and even collaboration on making a change that matters, together.

And it starts with listening.

1 June 2022


Talking less and feeling more

In the United States our epidemic of mass shootings is getting worse, and we’re more divided than ever over what to do about it.

This is only made worse by our increasing inability to agree on facts, and our unwillingness to consider that our facts — the foundation of our reasoning — might be wrong.

Maybe it’s time to stop trying to argue the facts, and start feeling the pain and grief of these deaths together. Maybe the more productive and healthy choice for all of us would be to stop trying to solve this problem by arguing about it, and instead, to help each other to process all of these deaths regardless of our political opinion.

Whatever we may think about guns, we can come together as one human family around our shared grief for the lives that are being cut short by violence. And maybe if we can feel the grief together as one, a more sane path forward will emerge from us together. One we can all agree upon and move into action as one human family.

31 May 2022


Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S.. A day of remembrance.

On this Memorial Day I feel a yearning to re-member our social body — to reconnect the parts that have been separated by anger, fear, aggression, and unnecessary death. To recognize and remind ourselves that we are connected to each other as humans, and we are all a part of nature as mammals.

I feel a yearning to re-member my own body which feels disconnected from others because of my own anger, fear, and aggression. To recognize and remind myself of my responsibility and my agency in the re-membering of our social body.

I welcome the sadness that speaks to me of the loss that matters to me. And I welcome the joy of having had something and someone worth losing.

30 May 2022


The one you have with you

Many practicing photographers will tell you that the best camera is the one you have with you. The most sophisticated camera in the world is useless if it’s not there to take the shot.

Conversely, for much of my life I didn’t see the point of vacations because what I really needed to get away from was myself — my own nagging thoughts and feelings of emptiness. If anything, I felt better when I kept myself busy and distracted.

This is why learning to work with the breath for focus, for cultivating awareness, and for coming home to ourselves is so useful. It’s free, it’s ours, and it’s with us all the time.

The breath also encourages gentleness for those of us who may not want to come home to ourselves and face what is inside of us. The gentle rhythm of our breathing reminds us that we can take on the challenge of getting to know ourselves one breath at a time, wherever we happen to be.

29 May 2022


Speaking from I

I heard a CEO talk about having to fire someone the other day, saying, “When I saw him berating a junior employee at the company, I knew he had to go. That’s not our culture here.”

There is vulnerability and power in owning the experience. Rather than only saying, “I had to fire him because he wasn’t a good fit,” he gave a specific details and opened himself up to judgement.

Because he let us know the situation, we could wonder, was the firing too harsh? Should he have given the guy a second chance? Maybe put him through some training first?

If he just said, “I had to fire him because he wasn’t a good fit,” then we don’t have anything to criticize. We have to just take his word for it.

On the other hand, giving a specific reason builds trust. Whether we agree with the firing or not, it doesn’t feel arbitrary or nefarious. It also tells us something about the CEO’s values. All these things help to build and strengthen the relationship.

And relationships are how leadership happens.

28 May 2022


We're not meant to go it alone

Much of business culture still focuses on individual success. It rewards the superstar and promotes the highest achievers to higher-and-higher levels of leadership.

Which doesn’t really make sense, when you think about it.

Leaders need to excel at collaboration. They need to understand the social psychology of groups and how a team can be most creative and effective — together.

Phenomenal individual contributors make for great stories, but they don’t necessarily know anything about working together.

The success of an organization is much more dependent on its employees’ competence with real skills, than it is on the technical excellence of a superstar. And the stronger our real skills for working together, the stronger the organization.

With all due respect to Batman, humans are not meant to work alone. It’s long past time that our education system, and corporate training programs, spent more time focused on the real skills of working together, and less time on creating lone wolves.

27 May 2022


There is no shortcut

That’s the uncomfortable truth.

To do anything well takes skill that comes from practice. And practice takes time.

Although some approaches to practice are more effective than others, even the best practice regimen still takes time.

And the time spent on looking for shortcuts would be better spent practicing. Because eventually, that’s where you will end up if you’re serious about what you want to do. So you may as well start now.

26 May 2022


Human tragedy calls for more awareness, not less

Profound human tragedy is hard for us to see. We can be tempted to look away. And sometimes for self care we need to.

But action requires awareness, and the shared action required to respond to human tragedy requires shared awareness. We need to look together and feel the pain together, in order for a shared intention to arise. An intention to make sure we do whatever we can to stop this from happening again.

Only by looking each other in the eye and feeling each others’ pain together, will we have a chance of working together to make a difference.

And staying with the pain of human tragedy takes courage, capacity, and the commitment to create a world that supports the well-being of all.

25 May 2022


We don't need to be helped. We need to be heard.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after the Physiological needs and Safety needs comes the need for Love and Belonging. Being felt, seen, and heard go a long way towards supporting a sense of Love and Belonging (as well as supporting Esteem and Self-actualization which are needs four and five).

The irony is that when people try to “help” us, they often skip the step of hearing us. They may see us struggling and charge in as a Knight in Shining Armor without understanding what we need. Without taking the time to ask questions and listen.

Often, we are all capable of helping ourselves. We just need someone to hold a space where we can feel felt, seen, and heard and activate the will within us to act.

To paraphrase Dr. Rachel Remen:

When I try to help a person, I see them as weaker than me. When I try to fix a person, I see them as broken. But when I aim to serve, I understand that their suffering is my suffering, and their joy is my joy, so I serve as an equal. A fellow traveller in life.

The truth is, deeply listening without acting is often more uncomfortable and more difficult than springing into action to “help.” And that more difficult act, of holding space to listen without acting, is what most of us really need from each other.

24 May 2022


Don't explain. Apologize.

Mistakes happen, and the longer a relationship goes, the more chances you have of making a mistake.

When this happens, don’t explain. Apologize.

Even if you meant well but your best intention ended up hurting the other person, don’t explain. Apologize.

Even if there’s a really good reason why you did what you did, don’t explain. Apologize.

When we hurt another person, it’s not about us. It’s not about our motivation or our reasoning.

It doesn’t mean we’re a bad person, either. It’s really not about us at all. It’s about the person who we hurt. And if the relationship matters to us, the correct response is to apologize for that hurt no matter what.

Because if we explain instead of apologizing, we make it about us. And the message we send is that we value our own ego more than the relationship.

So feel the pain of hurting another person, admit to yourself that you don’t like feeling that way (nobody does!), and apologize anyway.

If the relationship matters to the other person, they will forgive you. But only if you let go of your own ego, and apologize for hurting them — simply, clearly, and directly.

23 May 2022


Feel more to know more

Often when we get into a conflict, we can be tempted to react right away. The problem is, in the heat of the moment, we rarely understand completely what happened. We don’t have all the information we need to respond wisely.

Part of the problem is that there are often facts that we don’t want to admit to ourselves. Things about the conflict which trigger anger or fear and which we don’t want to look at directly. So we ignore this key information.

Taking the time to feel something fully is taking the time to get to know the situation more — including the parts that are uncomfortable to look at.

Taking the time to feel what we don’t want to feel can help us to get more of the facts before we act.

22 May 2022


The wrong thing or the wrong people

If you discover that you are caring more than the people who you serve, then either you’re caring about the wrong thing or serving the wrong people.

You’re caring about the wrong thing, because what you are caring about is not what the people you serve are caring about.

Or, if you don’t want to change what you care about, then you need to find new people to serve — people who care about what you care about.

Either way, caring more than the people who you serve is is not serving anyone.

21 May 2022


You're right. And so are they.

Each of us is right in our own head. That’s why so many arguments don’t go anywhere.

I’m right. And so are you.

What if instead of arguing about this, we started by agreeing that we’re both right. And then compared notes.

How am I right? (What do I see?) How are you right? (What do you see?)

Listening with curiosity and empathy to what each of us sees, can we build a shared understanding? A shared map of the world we both live in? Can we see together something that neither of us could see alone?

And then from that shared understanding, sense what shared action we also see.

When we “agree to disagree,” it’s a cop-out. A way to avoid really listening to each other.

But when we agree to listen to each other without trying to change each other, real possibilities for collaboration can emerge.

20 May 2022


Things are bought by people

People are behind every decision to buy. Even if you do business-to-business sales, and even if a company is paying for your product, the decision to buy was made by people. Human beings with human needs, wants, fears, and aspirations.

Of course you want to sell something you can be proud of. A product you can stand behind.

But it’s not all about the specifications and the value you see in your product.

It’s about the person who is deciding to buy it, or not.

What are their needs, wants, fears, and aspiration? What do they believe? (It’s very likely not the same as what you believe.)

To make a sale is to make a connection — human to human. And to do that you need to know as much about the person you are selling to, as you do about what you are selling.

19 May 2022


You won't succeed if you don't try

You won’t succeed if you don’t try. Yes, it’s a truism, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Equally true is that you can’t avoid failure if you want to succeed.

When doing anything new, anything worth doing, you will inevitably fail along the way. Probably many times. Or in the words of Jason Mraz, you’ll “win some and learn some.”

The only way to avoid failure is not to try. And if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.

It’s not “success or failure,” but “success and failure.” It’s a package deal.

18 May 2022


Show, don't tell

If you’re a human, then I’m willing to bet that at least part of your business involves people. And, because you’re in a people business, you may find it difficult to explain what makes the human part of your business special.

How is working with you different from working with other people? What do your clients and customers feel when they work with you?

No matter how many testimonials we have, it’s difficult to communicate the experience of working with us when all we have are words on a page. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t try.

Instead, find ways to show a potential customer what it might feel like to work with you. Create invitations for them to experience you in a webinar, through a video, or a podcast. Let them hear your voice, sense your personality, and feel for themselves if they would enjoy working together.

We really can’t tell someone whether we’re a good match. The best we can do is show who we are, and let them decide for themselves.

17 May 2022


It's not over 'till it's over

“It’s not over ‘till it’s over.”

This may be a tautology, but most of us humans forget this in the heat of the moment.

In the moment of the big failure, we feel like our career, business, or lives are over, even though we have no idea of where this failure might lead us. We have no idea what will happen next in our lives.

In the moment of the big success, we may think that we finally made it, even though we have no idea where this success might lead us, and what will happen next.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t feel disappointed with failure, or feel happy about success. It’s important to feel what we feel, but beware the thoughts that come, telling us where this failure or success will lead.

Because the hard truth is, we have no idea what the future holds.

The best we can do is to do what we can with what we have, right in this moment.

16 May 2022


Leadership is not a thing

If we want to learn to ride a bike, it takes more than reading books, watching videos, or going to workshops. It’s a skill. And to learn, we need the courage to get on a bike to ride, fall, and ride again.

It takes practice, commitment, and just as importantly, a bike and enough space to ride in.

The same is true of leadership. Just like riding a bike, leadership is a skill. And it takes more than reading books, watching videos, or going to workshops to become better at leading. We need the courage to practice together with other people in a safe enough space where we can lead, fail, and get back up.

Leadership is not a thing we can have, but a skill we can develop, if we have the courage and commitment to practice.

15 May 2022


Attentive versus rote

Rituals require attention. When we brush our teeth, we need to pay attention to the teeth we’re brushing, the force we’re using and how long we’re brushing to make sure we do a careful, through job.

This is something we do multiple times a day for our entire lives, and it can be easy to fall into “rote,” or just going through the motions. But then we won’t get our intended result: clean teeth.

It’s the same with interpersonal rituals. Things like greeting each other in the hallway, reading out the agenda at a meeting, or saying goodbye at the end of a phone call. If we say the correct words but do it in a perfunctory way, without really paying attention to the other person or the relationship, people feel it.

If anything, speaking by rote has the opposite effect. It sends the message that we don’t care about the person, the relationship, or the work that we’re doing together.

As an experiment, try to notice whether someone’s speech is rote or attentive. And notice how it makes you feel.

Then ask yourself, how do you want to make people feel?

14 May 2022


Who will see it with you?

When we don’t know what to do, we often make a critical mistake.

We think the problem is that we don’t know which choice is best, or maybe we even think that all the choices are equally bad.

But when we feel stuck it’s often because we’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re not seeing all the possibilities. We only see a few.

The best way to see more possibilities is to get help. If I ask a trusted partner or three to sit together and sense into the challenge I’m facing, it gives me the chance to to borrow their senses and to widen my perception.

The trick is to ask that they not give advice, or try to fix the problem. Their job is to be my extra eyes and ears so we all see, feel, and sense more together, than I could alone.

Once I get a broader, higher-resolution picture of the situation, I’ll often know what to do.

If I know what’s possible, then I know what the best choice is for me to take. But that’s a big if. What I often lack is the awareness of all the choices that are available to me. That’s where I need help — to see, feel, and sense the whole. Together.

13 May 2022


It takes courage to listen

Every one of us is a world. We each walk around with a unique version of the world in our heads.

So when we really listen to another person with an open mind and an open heart, we risk being changed. We risk that what we hear will shift something in us so that we never see, think, or feel quite the same way again.

This means we may learn that what we thought we knew is wrong. Or that we are not showing up as the person we thought we were.

So it takes courage to really listen to another person.

Because before you can really listen, you have to be willing to be changed by what you hear.

12 May 2022


Daring to let people down

It’s easy to shut down a project or business, or to end a relationship when everyone agrees that things aren’t going well. When it’s draining everyone’s resources without enough benefit.

It’s more difficult when some people are benefitting, but you aren’t.

Maybe it’s taking up too much time or emotional labor. Maybe you’ve learned everything you can and now you’re just going through the motions. Or maybe something new is knocking at your door and the only way to let something new come in to your work and life is to let go of the old.

But when you know that your letting go is going to let people down, it can feel like you’re stealing, or even causing harm. This is a very uncomfortable feeling, and we need to have the courage to feel it so we can let go of things that no longer serve us, even when they appear to be still serving other people.

The alternative is to deny ourselves and refuse new possibilities. This path leads to the same end as letting go of the project, the business, or the relationship, but it will take much longer and be much more painful in the long run.

So the question is: do you have the courage to endure the discomfort of letting people down now with gratitude for the past and excitement for a possible future, or will you hang on through a long, slow decline into resentment and apathy?

11 May 2022


Human mirrors

The person who is the hardest for us to see objectively is ourselves.

We know too much of our own history, and we will tend to underestimate or overestimate ourselves more than anyone else. That’s why we need each other.

If I can see you clearly, and you can see me clearly, then we can help each other.

And the more mirrors the better. Each person brings a lens, a perspective, a way of seeing which is different from others.

So the more we can gather together and reflect back to each other, the more clearly we will be able see the truth about ourselves.

And from that clearer awareness comes better decisions and action.

10 May 2022


New culture, new skills

Culture is the way of being of an organization. The action and words of each member of an organization come out of that way of being and express the culture.

So changing the culture of an organization requires more than working groups and wordsmithing. It requires building new skills and capacity for this new way of being.

And building new skills and capacity takes time, attention, and practice.

All of this means that changing culture is not for the faint of heart. It’s a commitment to becoming a better organization which makes better things.

It’s worth it, but only if you’re in it for the long haul.

9 May 2022


Will or skills

Sometimes willpower is what we need to succeed, like when training for a marathon or studying for an exam.

But when we’re in uncharted waters, especially when doing inner leadership work in yourself or your team, then powering through with your will is a bad idea.

What you need is new skills, and to grow the capacity to use those skills.

What you need is patience and compassion to fail, learn, and fail again as you develop new competencies.

So it’s important to ask yourself, does this challenge need me to bring more will, or more skills.

8 May 2022


Three steps to getting better

My piano teacher once told me there were three steps to becoming a better musician:

  1. Practice
  2. Practice
  3. Practice

This is true for anything we want to get better at. Want to be a better speaker? Practice. Want to be a better listener? Practice. Want to become better at noticing your emotions before they get out of hand? Practice.

It takes commitment and consistent practice to get better at any skill. Which means creating lots of time and opportunities to practice, either on your own, or with others. Preferably when the stakes are low so you can push your edges, and learn from your mistakes without much consequence.

So the next time you’re tempted to spend time looking for new techniques, tips, or tricks, stop and use the time to practice the ones you know already instead.

You can thank me later.

7 May 2022


Listening to intention and impact

When we act, we are more aware of our intention — what we want the outcome of our action to be — rather than the impact — how the action is felt by others.

We focus on our intention, whereas people on the receiving end focus on our impact. Likewise, we focus on the impact other people’s actions have on us, and can only guess at what their true intentions were.

Because of these mismatched perspectives, when someone gets hurt by another person, there can be an assumption that the hurt was intentional. Or that the person who feels hurt should be understanding of good intentions.

The truth is that repairing a hurt relationship takes a little more work than that.

The first step to close the intention and impact gap is to trade experiences. To have an honest conversation, listening with an open mind of curiosity to share intention and impact with each other and see together what happened from each person’s perspective.

Then comes the hard work of apologies and forgiveness. This requires an open heart of compassion for ourselves, and for the other person. To take responsibility for actions that hurt, even if that was not our intention. And to forgive the person who hurt us, knowing that this happens in relationships.

The only thing which is guaranteed to make things worse, is pretending everything’s okay. If the relationship matters, then it’s worth going through the effort of listening to each other with an open mind and open heart to mend and move forward.

The bonus is that relationships which go through genuine and heartfelt hurt-heal cycles tend to grow stronger each time.

6 May 2022


Fear of speaking up

When we notice something isn’t right, but don’t say anything, nine times out of ten it’s because of fear.

This is human, natural, and irresponsible.

Along with the awareness that something isn’t right, comes the responsibility to call it out. To shine a light on it. To make those involved aware of what we see, so that you can see it together and act together to make it right.

So what can we do when we fail to speak up? Look inside.

Investigate the fear, starting with self-compassion (because this fear is human and natural). Get to know the fear. Not the story of the fear, but the feeling of the fear.

Because just like breaking in a pair of shoes, the more we allow ourselves to experience the fear in a grounded way — walking with it — the more comfortable we become with it. Until we find that when it’s time to speak up, and we feel the fear, we can speak up anyway.

5 May 2022


Rituals Strengthen Relationships

It can be easy to assume someone knows how you feel about them. We may think that everyone at the meeting understands the purpose of the work we do together. It might seem like enough to have a list of company values prominently posted in the break room and on the website.

Until someone does something that violates the norms of the company, or team cohesion starts to break down, or psychological safety is lost.

Relationships require care and feeding, and one way to do that is through ritual.

It could be saying hello and goodbye to those in offices near yours. Or beginning each meeting with a reminder of why the meeting was called. Or reading a set of guiding principles at the beginning of each company gathering.

Little things that don’t take much time, but might feel repetitive or redundant. These little rituals are threads that knit a team and an organization tighter and tighter – one conversation and one meeting at a time.

What rituals might you create or stick to more closely in your organization to remind each other of why you are there, why your work matters, and that you belong together?

4 May 2022


We are all living in our own world

Every person is a world. We each walk around with our own version of reality. What I see and hear is not the same as what you see and hear. We each have a perspective that is shaped by genetics, personality, and how we were raised. And there is no way for me to see and hear what is in your head, unless you tell me.

And yet, it’s almost impossible to get any work done unless we can agree on reality. We need to know where we’re starting from, if we’re going to be able to get anywhere together.

This is one reason that honest conversation, and listening with curiosity, compassion, and courage is so essential to teamwork. It’s such kind conversation that allows us to start aligning the worlds in our heads, until we are standing in the same place, looking at the same goal, and ready to take that first step in the right direction, together.

3 May 2022


Willpower and willingness

There’s a difference between willpower and willingness.

Willpower is the power to will yourself to do something even if you don’t want to.

Willingness is the opening of the will to do the work that matters to you.

When we struggle with procrastination, we may think that we lack willpower. The question is, are we really willing to do what we need to do to get what we think we want. Are we being honest with ourselves about how we feel. About what we really want.

When we’re aware of our true wants and needs, our decisions and actions will naturally move us in the direction of those wants and needs. But if we’re unclear about what we want, or fooling ourselves about what we want, then we may find that we can’t push ourselves through the difficult challenges of doing the work.

That’s a big reason for why we procrastinate: we’re not being honest with ourselves about what we truly want.

It’s not the strength of our will, or willpower, that we need. It’s the openness of our will — our willingness to see, feel, and act on what we truly want — that carries us through.

2 May 2022


Listening creates trust

When we listen, we have the opportunity to create trust.

Trust that we care enough to spend time on strengthening this relationship. To put aside our ego, opinions, and biases and see things from another perspective. To allow ourselves be changed by a conversation.

But listening is more than not talking. To build trust, we need to give our full, open attention to the other person. This is a skill.

And every conversation we have is an opportunity to practice that skill, and to create trust, if we choose to.

1 May 2022


Learning to disappoint

There are many forces that keep us stuck in our old ways of living and working, even when we know we want to change.

One of these forces is the people around us who expect us to keep acting the same way we always have. Some will be pleasantly surprised when we start to act more true to ourselves, but others won’t want us to change.

They may feel surprised, frustrated, confused, betrayed, and even angry if we break out of our old patterns, and start acting more true to who we really are.

Sometimes we need to make the hard decision to disappoint someone else, so that we can stop disappointing ourselves. That’s easier said than done, but we have to do it if we’re serious about our own growth.

And when the fear of disappointing others threatens to stop us from doing the right thing, we can keep going by remembering the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

30 April 2022


Curiosity is fear's Kryptonite

Fear can expand to control our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. It has the ability to block everything else out of our awareness.

And resistance is futile. It will counter any argument we bring and laugh at any attempt to put a silver lining on it. We can’t fight it head on.

We need another tool that can get past fear’s defenses.

Curiosity is fear’s Kryptonite. Curiosity and fear cannot co-exist. Fear is the force that layers us in armor and locks the doors to keep us safe. Curiosity is what pulls us outside and opens our eyes and hearts wide to see and feel what is there.

If we can find a way to be even a little bit curious when we feel afraid, it makes a crack through which we can find our courage again.

29 April 2022