Hope is not leadership

If you run a startup you are familiar with the language of hope. You sell it to investors, you pitch it to your team, you whisper it to yourself at night to help you sleep when things aren’t going very well. 

Hope is a powerful. It can help you generate a lot of interest in what you’re creating. 

But hope is not leadership. 

Hiring someone and hoping they will do a great job is not the same as supporting them to do a great job. It’s not the same as inspiring them and getting the best work out of them. 

Starting a project and hoping it will get completed on time and with excellence isn’t the same as planning it well, giving it the resources it needs, indetifying the pitfalls and blocks and moving them out of the way. 

Hoping you’ll get enough sleep, or that work will ease up, or that your relationship will get better is not the same as creating time to rest and recover, getting clear on what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and being really present with the people you love. 

Hope is a powerful companion to leadership but you, your team, your company, your investors, your dreams, and your vision need more than hope. They need you to be a leader in a world where it’s much easier to act like a leader than actually show up as one. 

 

4 questions to ask when someone is upset

When someone in your life is upset a partner, a team member, or a coworker it can be hard to know how to handle it. There might be a desire to fix or solve the problem that caused the upset. You might feel defensive or scared based on their emotional state. You might even want to avoid the person or situation entirely hoping it will resolve itself. But few of these responses create the space to hear someone who’s upset or get to a place of repair that will help you and them move forward. 

So here are the steps I try to follow when I’m being with someone who is upset. 

1) Do I have space for this and do I want to hold space for this? 

Just because someone is upset doesn’t mean you HAVE to make them feel better, try and fix their problem, or even be upset too. 

You might feel a natural sense of empathy or a desire to help the person who is upset. But even if this is your initial impulse it helps to check in and see how you’re doing. If you’ve got space and want to hear or help the person go for it. But it’s also totally ok if you don’t have space. 

You can lovingly start by saying, “I’m really sorry you’re upset right now, I don’t have the space right now to hold you in your upset.” 

Then you can offer to be with them at a later time OR you can simply decline to hold space. 

You might say, “I’d be happy to talk to you about this once I’m off of work.” 

Or “I’d be happy to talk to you about this once you’ve calmed down a bit.” 

Or “I hope you can find someone else to talk to about this.”

Or “I hope you can find someone else to talk to about this, but if you can’t you can check in with me later.”

This kind of loving boundary might be hard for people to hear, but it’s better than trying to be there for someone when you simply don’t have the space. 

2) Is this about me? 

When someone is upset about someone or something there can be an instinct to either try to calm them down or fix what’s wrong, which is why it’s first important to discern if the upset is about you. 

If someone is upset about someone else or something that’s happening in their lives it’s very likely they just want to express themselves and be heard. They may want a solution at some point but only after they’ve cleared out some emotional space. 

If the upset isn’t about you, the best space to start is to just listen to them and reflect on what you’ve heard. This is also true if it’s about you, but because it’s so easy to make other people’s upset about you I think this is an excellent place to start. 

If it’s about you, you can hold space and reflect on what you hear while trying not to get defensive or combative. If it isn’t about you, don’t make it about you. Let them be upset. It might be hard, but as much as possible don’t try to fix them or their problem. Remember it’s not even about you. They just need a space to be upset. 

3) It’s about me, now what do I do? 

If it’s about you, the best thing to do is to start by hearing the other person. It’s possible they’re going to say things you disagree with, feel unfair to you, or that you think are wrong or upsetting. While it’s important you don’t let someone verbally abuse you, short of that you’re going to be better off if you can avoid taking things personally and just listen to the person. 

Take a deep breath and see if you can simply listen to what they are saying and from time to time reflect back to them what you’ve heard. 

This is KEY! Just because you’re reflecting back to someone what they heard, doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with them, or that you’re saying what they are thinking is true. 

The first need most people have when they are upset is to be heard and to have their feelings validated. Even if what they think you said or did isn’t what you said or did, it’s often better to just honor them and their feelings. 

Whether or not you agree with what they thought happened their feelings are real, so simply reflect what you’re hearing as closely as you can. 

“So when I showed up at 9:05 you were upset because you thought I was late and you hate having to wait on me.”

“So when I went to class without you, you were mad because you felt like I didn’t care if you were with me or not.”

Bonus points if you can tell them their feelings made sense. Remembering that someone’s feelings can make sense based on what they experienced even if what they experienced was different from what you thought or experienced. 

4) What do I have to apologize for or own here? 

The final question to ask yourself is what do you have to apologize for or own. It’s very likely that if someone is upset with you, something you did play a part in it. You may not have intended to hurt them, to say something unkind, or to do something they didn’t like. But your intentions only matter in part, what ultimately matters is your impact on people, so if you can apologize for the impact you had on them or any mistake you made. 

“I’m sorry I was late and didn’t text you. I was trying to text you and it didn’t go through, but that doesn’t really matter, what matters is that you felt dropped by me.”

Bonus points if you add what you’ll shift next time and thank them for sharing themselves with you. 

“Next time I’ll pause as soon as I know I’m going to be late and send you a message. Thanks for helping me better”

 

You need time apart

No matter who it is. Your romantic partner, your business partner, your work wife, your closest friends, or even your kids you need time apart. And this can be hard. You get into a groove, a routine, a rhythm, and you don’t want to step away. 

The thing you need space from might be a person, an activity, even a way of thinking. But no matter the category all grooves become ruts without time away from them. 

So take a moment to reflect on your life and see what you’re stuck on or with. And consider taking some space. For 30 mins, for a day, or even a week. Usually when you return you come back with greater appreciation, love, and a deeper understanding of what does and doesn’t work for you about that relationship, task, or way of life. 

 

How to stop complaining

If you’re honest with yourself, you like complaining. It feels good to kvetch, to moan, to whine, to carp, and to grumble. You’re not getting what you want, BUT you can make it someone else’s problem. You can send the dish back, post a bad review, leave a crappy tip, and get your friends and family to agree with how the world has wronged you. 

But complaining rarely makes us feel better. Even when we’re right, even when the dish is brought back, complaining leaves a residue. One of entitlement, of suffering, of the idea that we are living in an unjust world. 

This doesn’t mean you should let people walk all over you. Or not speak up if they bring you chicken instead of beef, but it does mean that you should be present to the impact of complaining. 

So instead of jumping into complaint try these 3 questions:

  1. What can I be responsible for? – How did I contribute to this? How can I clean up my side of the street? Maybe I misspoke, or maybe they misheard. Where can I find a place to own my part of this breakdown?
  2. Will complaining about this matter? – My complaints will not make the flight leave on time, it will not change the weather, and it will not make a person who canceled plans want to spend time with me. It’s ok to have feelings, but to complain usually just makes things worse for me and others around me. I might be better off just accepting what is, feeling my feelings, and then doing what there is next to do. 
  3. Do I need boundaries and/or communication or a complaint? – If someone isn’t treating us with respect or love, would you be better off complaining or setting a boundary?

 If your friend keeps canceling plans, why not talk to them about it? If your parents keep nagging you about when you’re going to settle down, why not ask them to stop? Often we use complaining as a way to get by, when really what we need is to face our challenges head-on. 

And what about complaining for the fun of complaining? Well, I get why it’s fun, and I’m not suggesting that you try to never complain again, instead my offer is to reflect on what’s behind your complaints, connect with the feelings you have, and accept what there is to accept, change what you can, and try to find a way to be grateful for the goodness life has given you.

 

Why is it so hard to learn new stuff?

We say we want to improve only to find ourselves back in old habits and ways of being wondering how we ended up here.

Recently I’ve been working on improving my Spanish and I find myself struggling. I do pretty well for a while and then a waiter will say something I’ve never heard before, a new accent will make the words tricky to discern, or the speed of someone’s speaking overcomes my ability to translate in my head. 

In English, I have a sizeable vocabulary, I can write poetry, make metaphors, and even make clever puns. In Spanish, a 3rd grader has a more advanced vocabulary than I do. I celebrate navigating the grocery store. I rejoice in understanding simple sentences. 

The experience is humbling and it’s HARD. But I’m committed so I keep going. 

This is no different than what it takes to improve your leadership or get better at communicating. You don’t know the vocabulary of good leadership, you don’t know how to navigate listening to people when they talk. 

You have an old language you’re familiar with, a mother tongue of habits and skills you’ve relied on to get you to where you are. 

But in order to learn a new language, to improve as a leader, to serve your team and vision in a new way, you have to let yourself be humbled, to slow down, and to be willing to look foolish and make some mistakes. 

Otherwise, you’ll just end up speaking your old language and never discovering what a new place, people, or language can hold.

 

Why some leaders aren’t meant for your business

Sometimes leaders think that someone who disagrees isn’t a leader.

But this isn’t true.

You and I can both be on a hike together.

We can both be responsible for getting this small group to our destination.

We can both show up as leaders.

But if one of us wants to go to a different spot, then we’re no longer on the same journey.

We are leading but not together.

This doesn’t mean I’m a leader and you aren’t.

It doesn’t mean if I don’t convince you to follow me I’m not a leader and you are.

Two leaders can lead powerfully and still go different ways.

If you’ve got a great leader on your team.

But they have a different direction.

Get clear on what it is.

Inspire them to lead.

Even if that means it leads them out of your team.

 

Why leaders won’t follow you

A lot of my clients decry that there are no leaders in their companies. 

They wish people would take more responsibility. 

They wish they would take more initiative. 

But of course they quash any leadership they don’t agree with. 

Creating leaders is one thing. 

Empowering them to make choices is another. 

And letting them make choices you don’t agree with is something else still. 

If you want to create leaders that will follow you, you have to generate trust. 

You have to enroll them. 

You have to really hear out their points of view. 

Otherwise, they either won’t follow you or won’t be leaders. 

 

Instincts

At the end of the day as a leader all you have is your instincts.

You might have data, research, a high level view, and some experience, but a lot of times it comes down to gut.

That can be hard to admit.

You want people to agree with you. To believe your arguments. To be right.

Because it feels like you’re being wrapped in data, information, and feeling of trust. 

But in truth you’re totally naked. You have some data and some experience but mostly gut. 

You think the customer wants this not that.
You think the market will go here not there.
You think that this feature will work better than that one. 

It’s ok to say: This is what I think, I might be wrong, but it’s what my gut tells me. I’m open to being challenged but I might go with my gut anyway. 

No one can argue with your gut.
They can challenge your thinking.
Challenge your data.
And it may change your mind.
You gut might respond.

But at the end of the day.
It’s your instinct.
You can be humble and choose it.
And be willing to sit with whatever shows up. 

 

The Work of a Life Coach

This is my work. Though it doesn’t look like work at all.

Recently, I took a client out to the desert to talk about leadership, life, sex, purpose, the challenges of growing up, and what it means to increase your capacity. 

We wondered at ancient sandstone formations, shared deep secrets, and revealed our hearts and dreams. 

It was a powerful, intimate weekend that both of us will remember for a lifetime. 

This is why I’m a coach. Not simply to improve sales numbers, or increase team engagement, it’s to have life-changing conversations with people who deeply care about their lives and work. 

It’s not work you clock into and out of. It’s work you have to live 24/7, even when that means revealing that less than marketable parts of yourself. But that’s who I am. 

I’m not a 9 – 5 coach. I’m a 24/7 365 person who stands for possibility. And I ask my clients to be the same. No front or back of stage. All on stage. Being proud and intentional about what shows up. And humble and reflective when what shows up isn’t what you’re proud of. 

Why should we ask less of our leaders or of ourselves? 

If this is an adventure you want to go on. Let me know. And if not I hope it inspires you to take an adventure of your own.

 

Manager vs Director

Some companies hand our director titles like candy, but few really understand the distinction between a manager and a director. So here are some simple guidelines. 

Managers focus on doing things, directors focus on how things are done. 

To the manager, the day is filled with tasks done in a certain order. The focus is efficiency and a willingness to get in there and do stuff or help other people do stuff. 

To a director, the day is filled with understanding how things are done and how they might be done better. They are trying to make tasks happen but they are also looking at what should be happening and how it can happen better. 

Managers focus on projects, directors focus on visions

To the manager, the project is the largest unit of focus. The work needs to be divided up, procedures need to be followed, and people need to be motivated. 

To the director, the vision is the largest unit of focus. This is how things could be. Let’s figure out how to get there. The vision may be their own or part of a larger vision or work in coordination with several other visions, but it’s not just about doing the work it’s about changing the way things work. 

Managers focus on small time scales directors on larger ones

Managers focus on the next 7, 30, and 90 days. They live in the week month and quarter. They manage priorities, they motivate people, and they keep things running on time. 

Directors focus on the next 30, 90, 365, and 1800+ days (5 years) They live in how things will shift in the future. They see over the horizon to what’s coming and they make decisions that will shape what that future is. 

In truth, anyone can be a director. The hardest part is the shift in focus and the shift in identity. If you’ve been a trusted team member for a long time and you’re great at getting things done, learning to shift into thinking about how things happen and what’s coming next is a challenge. 

You no longer get as much done. At least not in the way that you used to. Instead of doing, you create. Instead of managing, you envision. It’s a leap beyond a simple upgrade in skills and it’s a powerful one if you have the courage to make it.