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If you are an average leader (Who wants to be average? I know!), you are likely subject to your thoughts and feelings much of the time.  You don’t have your feelings. They HAVE you. You aren’t conscious that you’re often afraid, you just ARE scared. You likely won’t easily see it or admit it though.

Since we humans are hard-wired to scan our environment for threats unconsciously much of the time, fear in the workplace is a topic we need to wake up to.

Simon Sinek says good leaders make their people feel safe. I agree. To a point.


Leaders certainly ‘bring the weather’. They create the culture.  And cultures need to be safe enough so people can be themselves, so they can have failures without dire consequences (Listen around min 17 for Safe to Fail Experiments). They also need to inspire risk-taking for forward movement in order to achieve results.  

And sadly, no amount of safety provided by leaders and the culture will be sufficient when individuals in the team are unaware of their own underlying beliefs. Beliefs are usually some version of “To be safe, I need to_____ (comply, control everything, keep my distance, be right all the time.”

Creating and managing the right amount of tension between purpose and safety takes great intention. Many leaders are not yet self-aware enough to manage this tension for themselves, let alone their company cultures.

I’ve noticed that the prevailing mood in some of my client companies is subtle fear.  The leaders we coach in these companies oscillate between pursuing what matters and playing safe, playing not to lose.  One month they will be on fire with purpose. The next month they will be gripped with uncertainty and fear, for themselves and the company. I see the incredible energy riding these waves consumes. And I see how the energy doesn’t translate into the results they so desperately want.

Other client companies dance more in the realm of their purpose, slipping into fear less often. Individual leaders still have uncertainty and fear because they are human. But overall the culture is safe enough that they feel free to be themselves and experiment. Their superior results are the evidence that enough safety + a compelling, shared vision drive results.

Accepting an invitation into the purpose vs. safety dance, we can pose great questions.

How can we:

  • Help our people get their safety needs met so they can live on purpose?
  • Face what is present and name it versus avoiding or wishing it was different?
  • Reveal our own tendencies (how we try to stay safe) and help our people do the same?
  • Lead with backbone and heart and create a safe AND courageous space for our people?
  • Encourage ourselves and our people to feel feelings all the way through so we can move from drama to our vision?

It’s awe-inspiring to witness a leadership team alive with purpose.  It’s soul-sucking to witness a team living in fear.

In the purpose vs. safety dance (or tug of war!), which side is winning at your company right now? And what are you going to do about it?

Her most important thing is to be helpful, sweet, caring and loving. She rescues by easing pain and suffering, at least temporarily.

She prides herself on making homemade treats for those she loves, who are in “need”; she makes homemade cards too.   She’s proud of her listening ear, how her thoughtful deeds will have you feeling special, and how she’ll put your needs ahead of hers at the drop of a hat.

She learned her beautiful style from all the heroines who raised her and all the heroines she befriended over the years.

She’s been around for a very long time, always finessing her caring approach.  

Lest this be a tale only of sweetness, I must tell you that Heroine Helen has many fears. She’s afraid of being rejected or tossed aside. She fears anger: her own and others’. She is totally in her element when she’s an angel. She judges herself harshly when she is anything less than sugar, spice and everything nice.

What she MOST wants, and feels she NEEDS is to be approved of and loved deeply.  She’s willing to go to great lengths to feed her wants, to meet her need. Giving love and approval is her insurance policy that she’ll always have enough of it herself.

She’s lovely.  She’s so human.  I can see her so clearly now.

That’s because she is a part of me, a ‘persona’ I am finally welcoming in.

And as I see her and open up to her, I see that Heroine Helen needs me to befriend her at long last.  She’s a beautiful piece of me. She needs loving support to unhinge her identity and her worth, from her deeds.

I’m going to help to her experiment with giving her gifts only when she wants to, when she comes from a place of abundance versus lack, from a place of creating what she wants versus complying. I’m going to help her say no when she means no. I’m even going to encourage her to let her anger out when it arises.  

I’m going to love her through this. Together, we’ll observe what happens. Together we’ll see if others will too.  

I am confident Helen and I can grow wise together.  Our world will be the test.

I have other personas that are not nearly as sweet as Helen.  I’ll need to befriend them too.

What are the parts that make up you? Which parts/ personas need more love right now?

Lead From Love

For three mornings in a row last week, my little girl Lali woke up as angry as a hornet. On the third morning of fury, exhausted from her highly charged storm clouds, I wept openly in front of her. It happened spontaneously as I allowed her to bring me to my breaking point.

About 30 seconds in, I became conscious of my impact on her. She was crying too, in a calm and quiet way, observing me. And then the clouds lifted for both of us. We were able to hug and connect, to recover. The rest of the morning was smooth, happy even.

Hearing about my difficult week, my best friend Alana sent me this cheat sheet for when our children get angry. The tips were a great reminder for me to come back to consciousness with Lali. I quickly realized they were also the perfect tie-in to deep listening for leaders.  

It’s not the first time I’ve borrowed from education and parenting to write about leadership.

Parenting and leadership are excellent arenas to practice consciousness for the sake of better outcomes at home and at work.

Earlier in the week, my colleague Monica Callon and I had coached a leadership team. We’d focused part of our session on a fundamental coaching skill—deep listening, at three levels¹, to improve their leadership effectiveness. It struck me that the cheat sheet is a good supplement to our work with our leaders on listening.

The next time your colleague or child gets angry, or even slightly irritated, try these:

  1. Use your Pause Button. Stop what you’re doing; drop your agenda, just for now, and breathe. This will give you a few seconds to choose how to respond.
  2. Choose love. Make the conscious choice not to act while you’re triggered. 
  3. Change your mind. Reframe mentally. Use a mantra to talk yourself down and reshape your perceptions, so your mind turns off its alarm system. Maybe remind yourself of some wonderful things about your child/colleague to put this current “offense” into perspective.
  4. Choose to see things from the other person’s perspective. This is the key to being able to understand another person’s anger. In any disagreement, each person thinks they’re right. Consider how they could, indeed, be right. And maybe even consider how this situation, as awful as it may feel, is a perfect ally for your own growth.
  5. Acknowledge your child’s/colleague’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. Rage doesn’t dispel until it feels heard.
  6. Open your heart. Connect, and wait until your child/colleague feels heard, long before you make your own points or correct.

That’s it.

Less drama.

More listening.

More connection.

More love.

Yep. I said it. Love!

Maybe you don’t think love has a place in the workplace?

And I’d say this.  

How can you truly lead without it?


P.S. As I press send on this post, we’re still having some stormy weather on the home front. I got coaching on it today and left my coaching session with a big tweak to the above list. My coach encouraged me to “feel my feelings all the way through”, even in front of Lali. That would have meant continuing to cry until all my tears dried up instead of cutting them off to protect her. This doesn’t come easy to me (and to many of you) as I have learned to be in control of my emotions and keep them hidden. Perhaps a part two will be in order after my homefront experiments!


¹ Email me if you want our handout on Levels of Listening.

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