Clever Remarks

When people say
“I feel uncertain.”

The temptation
is to say something clever,
like
“There was never a time
that was certain.”

As true
as that may be,
that can shut down
a valuable opportunity
for innovation,
where we can support their reflection
on what negative outcome
feels certain.

Dormant Potential

“I have to repress it.”
said the CEO.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m afraid
I’m going to crumble,
if I let myself experience it.”
she responded.

The ‘it’
being unpleasant emotions.

Most people
have difficulty processing
unpleasant emotions.

It’s no wonder
positive thinking life hacks
such as gratitude journaling
has taken off.

Except,
they merely mask the symptoms,
and blinds us
to the valuable information
encoded in the unpleasant emotions.

When I was researching art,
it was remarkable to witness
how actors-in-rehearsal
were supported
by their director and scene partners
in decoding the information
encoded in unpleasant emotions.

I also witnessed
over and over again,
how the information,
when decoded,
inspired the actors
to unleash their potential
for a brilliant performance
that lay dormant until then.

This
is the kind of teamwork we need
in business.

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.

Happy Parents, Happy Kids

10 years ago,
my mother
realized empathy with herself
and discovered
that all this time
she had unconsciously assumed
she had to do what she felt
was not worth doing,
only
to make others happy.

Ironically,
once she felt
she was given permission
to stop doing these things,
those around her
felt happier.

Why?

Because
She behaved toward them
less out of the resentment
left over
from doing so many things
out of obligation.

Something similar
happens in leadership.

Some founders I coach
started out thinking
it was their responsibility
to make everyone around them
happy.

A tall order.

Especially so,
because behaviors arising
from the tension they held
from that very sense
of responsibility
was contributing
to the unhappiness
of those around them.

But they needed permission
to invest the time and effort
to manage their own tension.

Because it felt selfish
to do so.

So instead,
they chose
to be strong.

The saying,
“Happy parents,
Happy kids”
is not a permission
to be selfish.

It is an invitation
to journey into
the vulnerable
and creative process
of survival
together
by striving
to be the best support
we possibly can
for each other.

Still a tall order,
but together.

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.

Two Sides of the Same Fear

I recently heard someone share with me
the following fear:
“I’m worried I’m pursuing an uncommon path,
because I’m afraid of the common one.”

Instantly,
I was reminded of others who had shared with me
the opposite fear:
“I’m worried I’m pursuing a common path,
because I’m afraid of the uncommon one.”

Two Different Uses of Force

First time we snowboard,
draw,
lead,
we tend to use a lot of force.

When our snowboarding,
pencil marks,
teammates,
are not to our liking,
we may apply even more force.

Years later,
when we snowboard,
draw,
lead,
we may feel more relaxed.

When we have to stop abruptly,
make a bold mark,
assert a final decision,
we may still use force.

But these are different uses of force.
In the first case,
it was probably because we were afraid of falling,
making a mistake,
being judged.

Once we can empathize with
the snowboard,
our drawing tools,
our teammates,
fear can vanish for a moment
in the experience of oneness
beyond “I” vs “them.”

Force used in fear
resists
Like two opponents wrestling.
Force used while empathizing
flows
Like two partners dancing.

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)