You know, like anything we do every day, we come to accept the stress of being a leader as just part of our leadership responsibilities. And every day, we tolerate a bit more stress.
Our vagus nerve, our nervous system and our brains recalibrate all the time to accommodate and adjust to minute environmental changes… like our muscles adjusting our balance in milliseconds when we walk or run. Not something we notice.
So, we too easily acclimatise to new levels of stress.
But then sometimes, the emotional charge is too much, our triggers stack up and we need to let some pressure escape, so we let rip. Even if it’s not very graceful, it’s a release.
We trade the risk of breaking trust, needing to repair our relationships and reputations, for the relief of truthfully expressing our frustration, our disagreement, our dislike… which could also be irrational, untrue, a miscalculation or misinterpretation, or even our own lack of influence.
Stresses, lies and horrible conversations — these are things we endure at work.
Stress escalates when we feel unsafe, need the approval of others or want to be more influential (among other things like burnout and lack of quality sleep) including when our direct reports don’t do what we’ve asked, we feel out of our depth, our boss doesn’t listen to us, or we need to have a horrible conversation (see horrible conversations).
Lying to ourselves works because it is a defence, it temporarily protects us and our team. Lying covers an amazing range of untruths and discomfort with reality from self-deception, avoidance, staying quiet, holding unrealistic expectations, polite pretence, and harmless little lies to a blatant, finger-pointing or career-damaging lie.
Horrible conversations are loaded with emotions, illogical opinions, inexperience, bad memories, guilt, doubts and second-guesses as well as fear (see stress). That’s why we avoid them. And when we can’t avoid them, we dread them.
I want to be clear. This happens to the most thoughtful, caring and growth-minded leaders.
Skill and confidence in leadership without stress, some level of deception and a tendency towards conversation avoidance is impossible if we don’t seek to understand what is happening for us and the other person.
All of these stresses, lies and horrible conversations keep us awake at night, looping over and over, with no clear answers. We’re left feeling stuck.
Why do we feel stuck?
Hello our ego.
Our caring well-intentioned ego and our not so helpful ego.
Our need as leaders to have the answers, give people advice and tell our people what to do are the biggest reasons we feel stressed, we sometimes deceive ourselves or lie to protect ourselves and others, and go out of our way to avoid that horrible conversation.
I’m not saying this is the only reason for the way we feel but it is a large part of the issue. We have more choices of how to show up than we realise. We have way more conversation tools and techniques to deliver a better conversation outcome than we realise.
We do have choices. What we lack is practice.
What if I said, let go. Let go of your ego. What comes up for you?
And what if I said, you don’t need to try so hard, to have all the answers, the next steps? You don’t need to solve other people’s problems.
I see it again and again in the leaders I train, though they don’t see it as ego. Not at first. This strong attachment to their own counsel, their advice, their way of doing things. This is ego speaking. And it gets in your way of leadership.
You don’t need to have all the answers.
You just need to be more present. Put your direct report (or boss!) at the centre of the conversation and solution creation. Help your people find their own answers and resist jumping in with your way of doing things.
How do you feel reading that? What might be possible for you? How could your stress levels be impacted? Would you need to lie or avoid to any extent? Would the conversation be so horrible?
As leaders, we can accept that stresses, lies and horrible conversations are all part of leadership.
Or, we can look for a healthier approach that uses coaching skills and is better for us mentally and physically, and that creates a healthier culture and team dynamic for our people.
Let me introduce you to Leaders Who Coach™. I mean literally, Leaders Who Coach™ — leaders who have graduated from our recent cohorts.
Here’s a small selection of their reflections, shared with their permission.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that LWC has transformed how I think about and go about my job. I’ve never felt so calm in any role I’ve ever been in, as I’ve never had such confidence in my purpose and the value I can now bring. I have had so many great conversations with my team over the last few weeks, barriers have been broken down and I really feel like I’m getting to know them properly — something I thought would be extremely difficult in a remote setting in a new role. I will be approaching difficult conversations in a completely different way but am confident that they will be much more effective.” — Simon
“I feel like I now have plenty of tools at my disposal for influencing others in a positive way. I have learnt a lot about really listening and trusting it will lead to the right questions. I have also learnt that the simple act of creating a space for someone is a gift in itself.” — Lizzie
“I now know that altruism, authenticity and agency are important to me. It’s important to me to look after others, to be true to myself (rather than craving the approval of others) and to make my own decisions and to decide for myself what I’ll focus my energies on.” — Chris
“LWC has changed my approach to coaching entirely. I now focus more on asking good questions (no more stacking questions!) and creating moments of silence to allow my clients to further explore their thoughts and feelings without distractions. This has been a very effective method of discovering deeper insights. It’s enabled my direct reports to explore options and solutions with the added benefit of building stronger relationships.” — Kishor
Leaders want to empower individuals to take ownership and responsibility both because it is business critical, and they love seeing their direct reports work through challenges and reach their full potential.
No need to feel stuck in stresses, lies and horrible conversations.
In conversations, you have way more techniques and strategies at your disposal than you realise. Slowing down to notice, observe and adjust your role in it are just some of the things you can do to transform the stresses, lies and horrible conversations into rich exchanges with your direct reports, your peers, your clients and even your boss.
“LWC was probably the best way to start 2022. Talking to my reports in our 1-1’s (about what?), helping them grow in their career (how do I do that?) and creating trusting relationship (is that possible?) is something that was constantly playing on mind like a broken record. I felt stuck and anxious – am I doing right by my people? Are they ACTUALLY interested in me just like I am interested in them? How can I mentor them in the way that will resonate? Well, LWC made all of these things possible.” — Mariam
As leaders, we can refresh how we understand and play our leadership role by becoming Leaders Who Coach™. Here’s your invitation.