How can I help?

For people in need of help
“How can I help?”
can be an overwhelming
question.

Instead,
listen and inquire deeply.

To unearth
their unconscious concerns.

Respect creatively.

To make value
from their unappreciated concerns.

Request permission.

Before sharing the load
of those specific concerns.

Be honest.

Enough to share
your own struggles.

And most importantly,
follow up.

Soon,
the need to ask
“How can I help?”
will vanish.

Learning from Disgust

People
who provoke our disgust,
may also be those
from whom we can learn
our limiting beliefs.

Anytime
we encounter someone
who disgusts us,
may we ask
what we’re telling ourselves
they shouldn’t be doing.

Not to judge their behavior
as wrong or bad,
but to discover
if we believe we
shouldn’t be doing them,
either.

And if so,
may we get clarity
on the fear or concern
underlying this belief.

Because
the moment we discover
that there are times
and ways
in which the risk
underlying our fear or concern
is either manageable
or worth the cost,
is also the moment
we will realize empathy
and learn a new choice.

A new choice
that could lead
to innovation.

The Compassion Trap

A founder
was feeling burnt-out.

“When was your last vacation?” I asked.
He couldn’t remember.

“I can’t take one.
My employees are working.
I should be there to help them.” he added.

“What emotions do you experience
when you think of taking a vacation?” I asked.
“…Guilt.” he answered.
“Let that sink in.
That’s significant.” I remarked.

He first looked puzzled,
but soon his eyes widened
and he blurted out
“Oh!
I see!
We should all take a vacation!”

When we feel responsible for “others,”
it’s not unnatural
to feel concern
for their suffering.

With sufficient concern
it’s also not unnatural,
to want
to help.

This is known
as compassion.

Despite best intentions,
however,
the impact of compassion
can also make things worse for others,
and burn us out, as well.

Sometimes,
we need to tame our compassion
to put aside our need to help “others,”
and instead help our “self”
through a vulnerably creative process.

A process
by which we can realize empathy
unexpectedly,
and let emerge
a connected entity
“we”
between self and other.

A process
by which we can learn
a new choice of sight,
that synthesizes
an unpredicted form of help
that helps not other
not self,
but us.

Being Strong

At our first session,
she would habitually use the word “strong”
to refer to herself.

“To be strong,”
she said,
“I should
Stop worrying and,
instead,
Focus on problem solving.
I should
Stop blaming my employees and,
instead,
Blame myself,
the CEO.”

On the surface,
these sounded wonderful,
virtuous, even.

But after a month
of realizing empathy with herself,
she discovered
that by “strong”
all she meant
was “numb to pain & discomfort.”

There’s a world of difference
between following advice
and realizing for one’s self
by leading through a journey of innovation.

A journey
through which we learn new
or unexpected choices.

Without the journey,
“stop worrying,”
can merely mean “repress stress & anxiety.”

“Focus on problem solving,”
can merely mean “focus on eliminating fear & concern.”

“Blame myself,”
can merely mean “lead with unconscious shame.”

To frame this phenomena
as someone’s “fault”
prevents a deeper exploration.

More valuable
would be to recognize what happens naturally
when we lack
a sense of choice
or proper support.

Beyond the Horizon of Cynicism

One of the most common block to insight
is cynicism.

To realize empathy with cynicism
it can be useful to model it
as doubt + judgment.

This implies that
once we strip our cynicism of judgment,
we can more clearly confront our doubt.

Then as we develop the requisite skill and will
to zoom into our doubt,
it can lead to the discovery
of our worry or concern,
ultimately fear,
over a future we do not wish to see happen.

When we can clearly see and hear
this undesired future
we can also increase the probability
of realizing empathy,
which ultimately helps us create choices,
the kind that gives us a feeling of possibility
beyond the horizon of cynicism,
which is a key
to designing toward a future
we do wish to see happen,
instead of staying stuck
unconsciously envisioning a future
we do not wish to see happen.

The Journey of Three Emotions

When we, as founders—
especially those with humane intentions—
work to fertilize change in our organizations,
3 types of emotions often rise up
in ourselves:

  1. Overwhelm
  2. Anxiety (also Worry / Doubt / Concern / Fear)
  3. Frustration (or Anger)

When we don’t spend the time
to realize empathy with ourselves
in relation to these emotions,
these can easily develop into:

  1. Sense of Isolation
  2. Hopelessness
  3. Helplessness

Which, over time, can calcify as:

  1. Sense of Betrayal
  2. Shame
  3. Resentment (or Contempt)

Efficient Use of Energy

Any time we have the urge to say “I disagree,”
It’s worth asking ourselves “What purpose am I hoping to fulfill?”

If the purpose of expressing disagreement is…

  1. To express disagreement, then spending our energy to express disagreement would likely be energy well-spent.
  2. To prevent something “bad” from happening, the energy may be better spent expressing our fear or concern of the “bad” thing.
  3. To ask the other person to do something, the energy may be better spent making a request to the other person.

Between Fear and Care Arises Concern

With accumulated life experience arises fear.
Between fear and care arises concern and anxiety.

Our concerns are well-intended.
Yet, when we behave out of anxiety,
it can also do harm.

How many parents ever intend to hurt their child?
Very few.
Yet, we were hurt by them.
Often by behaviors that arose out of anxiety.

I have yet to coach a CEO who does not care about their co-founders or employees.
Yet, these others were hurt by the CEO.
Often by behaviors that arose out of anxiety.
Same holds for CEOs hurt by co-founders or employees.

Not caring isn’t always the issue.
The challenge is also to care without anxiety.
It is to regulate our own tension.
A difficult, but necessary skill to learn as a leader.

Let us not confuse concern with love.

Let us not confuse concern with love.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling concern for the people we love. At the same time, concern arises out of fear, not love. Yes, concern can be fueled by care, but care is not love.

It’s worth asking ourselves if desires like “I want my employees to perform better” or “I want my students to be successful,” are born out of fear or love.

The kinds of design that emerge out of repressed and unidentified fear can be unhelpful to others at best and harmful at its worst.