The following is part three in a series of posts that are inspired by my conversations and deep listening with celebrated poet, author, and business consultant, David Whyte. I had the privilege of accompanying him and some hearty travelers on one of his tours through the countryside of West Ireland to experience the magic, poetry, and wisdom of the ancient Celtic culture and beyond.
In my last post in this series, we looked at your willingness as a leader to lead by example and have the courageous conversations in your business (and life). But what does it actually take to gather the courage to confront a person or problem that you may have been avoiding for a number of reasons?
When I think about the things I’ve avoided—or witnessed this pattern in business owners and managers that I’ve worked with—the first step is a willingness to take ownership of what is being avoided. We have an amazing ability as human beings to be in incredible denial about our behaviors and impacts. There are a million ways we can each deflect from taking full responsibility for an action and blame someone else or the situation, that we are probably embarrassed or feel shame about. Yet, there is no power or real self-authority in blaming others as the source of the problem (and solution) is always outside of us. By definition, if we carry around a victim mentality, we are not empowered to change. And the only way for change to happen is to first own what it is we are avoiding and why.
Articulate Your Resistance
Once you can name what you’ve been avoiding, you can get into a relationship with it and understand it better. The more you can articulate your resistance to what it is that you are pushing away as a leader, you can better understand what is holding you back. I recommend allowing the resistance to fully be there, and let yourself either write down or speak out loud all of the reasons why the conversation you know you need to have, should be avoided at all costs. This helps discharge some of the pent-up fears and defensiveness that is holding you back.
And the second part here is to look underneath all the resistance to what it is protecting. Ask yourself, “What’s at risk if I speak with _____?” For example, “If I confront my direct manager about some of his behaviors that are having a negative impact on fellow staff, I might lose my job.” This might be a very reasonable fear. Yet I have to weigh out how much I’m willing to put up with. At the same time, there might be a golden opportunity to make a difference if something I’m noticing is off the radar of a fellow staff member and they are open to my feedback and experience.
When we can articulate our resistance and get into relationship with it, we now have power over the very thing that’s been difficult for us, versus the other way around
Incremental Steps Forward
One of my favorite sayings from David Whyte is the notion of “being half a shade braver.” Can we be just half a shade braver than the day before? What incremental step can we take, instead of going from 0 to 100, that is actually more practical and kinder to ourselves? We can put too much pressure on ourselves that we need to perform at an unrealistic level, and then our own inner critic can do a number on us where we never even take the first step.
If you don’t take that first step to losing weight, writing the first page in your book you’ve been dying to write, calling one of your clients who still owes you money, investing in your marketing activities like you may have been talking about for months, or whatever goal has been hovering over you, if you don’t take the first step, nothing happens.