Grit and Grace…On Behalf of What?

I usually steer away from philosophy in this blog, focusing more on practical leadership topics. But from time to time, I think it’s important to step back from the ‘how to’ of leading with grit & grace and look more deeply at the ‘why.’  On behalf of what does this work exist?

The underlying purpose of Leading With Grit & Grace™ is to help individuals and institutions address what I call the ‘tyranny of success.’ On one hand, it is critically important to establish what we’re good at. This forms the very foundation of our effectiveness. For example, a leader discovers that she gets great results by being understanding with her people, so she adopts a compassionate leadership style. A company sees a spike in profits by downsizing, and develops a core ethos of ‘doing more with less.’ In other words: we take an action; we like the result. So we “rinse and repeat” a few times, and pretty soon, we’ve got a bona fide formula for success.  Great, right?

Not necessarily. We humans tend to fall truly, madly and deeply in love with what works for us, and this can become a problem. Over time, we may stop paying attention to whatever falls outside our loving gaze, and our attentions and actions become imbalanced without our knowing it. Seemingly out of nowhere, our once-reliable strategy for success starts to wreak havoc: not because it’s the wrong strategy, but because it’s built on a partial set of values that we believe to be complete. Sure, it’s great to be good to your people.  But at some point, too much kindness will tank your efficacy.  It’s great to maximize efficiency. But continually stressing your people and resources will ultimately exact a heavy price.

The tyranny of success occurs when we lean on one set of values (and their resulting behaviors) and neglect their necessary opposites: kindness to the neglect of firmness; profits to the neglect of sustainability; ambition to the neglect of service; growth to the neglect of recovery and stabilization.  It is in the forgetting of these necessary opposites that our strengths become liabilities and can begin to do real harm.  It is from this forgetting that burn-out, abuse, complacency, greed, exploitation, and demoralization arise.

So regardless of the scale or context in which we are working, the work we do at Leading With Grit & Grace™ is always about helping people and institutions to transcend the tyranny of their success, and to develop a more balanced and sustainable form of thought, action and impact. It is on behalf of this intention that we exist.

What about you?

What are your (or your institution’s) formulas for success?

What values are at the core of your formula?

What do those values make possible for you and others?

What are the positive opposites of those values?  Which of these positive opposites might you be overlooking or undervaluing?

How might you integrate some of those neglected values more fully to support your success?

When Depression Enters The Workplace: What’s A Leader To Do?

For exactly one month now, Robin Williams’ suicide has kicked off a worldwide exploration of the treacherous terrain of depression. While we continue to mourn the passing of a comic genius and a beautiful human being, many of us have also been taking a more intimate look at how depression affects us and those we know. I’ve read so many useful articles in the media. But I haven’t seen anything on the intersection of depression and the workplace – and more specifically, on the challenges that managers face when someone on their team is depressed. So I thought I’d take that on – from a very personal angle.

Anyone who knows me knows that I can bitch and moan with the best of them, but that I am basically a sunny person. I love to laugh and to make others laugh. My friends can count on me to giggle at even their bad jokes and to delight in the smallest of things. And yet, depression runs through my family tree and my personal experience. People don’t realize that true happiness and depression can coexist in a person. Robin Williams is proof of this. So am I. Maybe, so are you.

Depression is like being locked in a soundproof booth with heavy, mean-spirited air. Intellectually, you know that the birds are singing, that you are loved, and that the world is every bit as beautiful as it is botched. But in the soundproof booth, you can’t feel the good stuff. The only thing you can feel is the isolation of the booth and the foul smell of the air in there. No amount of effort or willpower can break you out so that the sunlight can actually reach your skin.

Many people suffering from depression are walking into the workplace… your workplace. And the minute they do, they present a very difficult challenge to their bosses and colleagues. I’ve been through two significant depressions in my life. The first one came in my early 30’s, and I was blessed to have had a manager back then who dealt spectacularly well with me and the challenges that my depression handed to him as a manager. His name was David.

I’d like to share with you some of the many things he did right, in case you ever find yourself in his position.

  • From the beginning, David had established himself as someone with whom I felt safe to share my struggles. Yes, he held us to high standards of performance, but he also demonstrated, time and again, his respect and care for us as people. He always affirmed that our humanity and our performance were inextricably linked. So as scared as I was to reveal my depression to him, I trusted that he would receive it compassionately. And he did.
  • The first thing he said was, “You are addressing this in the most skillful and responsible way.” In that powerful sentence, he communicated that my difficulty did not freak him out. He also managed to affirm a way in which I was still competent, which is easy to lose sight of when you’re depressed.
  • Then he inquired about my external support system. Was I getting help? Was I in immediate danger? Did I have family or friends to lean on? He was appropriately trying to determine whether or not I had the support I needed and whether or not he needed to connect me to the company’s counseling resources.
  • Next, he inquired about my internal support system. Had I experienced this before? If so, what had I learned about the things that helped and didn’t? What aspects of that experience would I be able to draw on now?
  • David helped me to stay engaged at work to the degree possible. Frankly, it would have been easier for him to just tell me to take a leave of absence and come back when I was feeling better. But he took the risk to let me stay involved at work by scaling back my responsibilities and accommodating my more uneven ability to perform. Staying even minimally engaged in our work kept me in the mix of life and in touch with my strengths. That’s not necessarily helpful for everyone, but it was key for me.
  • He protected my need for privacy. Not only does depression feel terrible, but it also feels shameful. David did everything possible to avoid adding to that shame. We decided together how he would communicate my periods of absence to the staff, so that I was comfortable about the narrative. And he stuck to the script, whether addressing staff, peers or senior management.

Here’s what David did NOT do, that also helped a great deal:

  • He did not shut down or withdraw from me. We stayed productively and appropriately connected.
  • He did not take my depression on as his problem to solve. He knew where the boundaries of his managerial role were and never crossed them.
  • He never discounted my experience. He didn’t tell me to “snap out of it” or to “buck up.” Nor did he try to convince me why I shouldn’t feel bad.
  • He did not unload his own experience on me. The last thing I needed was someone else’s pain, disguised as empathy, piped into my soundproof booth.

David did not rescue me. That was not his job and he knew it. But at a time when even the simplest tasks seemed daunting to me, he absolutely eased my way. For those of you managing someone who experiences depression, I hope you will benefit from David’s spot-on leadership. His compassion never wavered, and yet he continued to expect and encourage me to produce to the fullest extent that I could. Grit and grace in powerful combination.

 

“Aggressive:” The ‘Scarlet A’ of the Workplace

Aggressive. Abrasive.  These “A” words have become the “scarlet letter” of organizational life, the mark of blame given to so many women who display grit in the workplace. Once that indictment attaches itself to a woman’s reputation, it sticks to her like a tattoo and is about as difficult to remove. It’s stopped many a career in its tracks and muffled many a female voice.

Aren’t we over this yet? Haven’t we outgrown our grit-intolerance in women? Apparently not. A recent study published in Fortune compared the language used in performance reviews of both male and female high performers in the tech industry. The study showed that women receive much more negative stylistic feedback than their male counterparts. This is no surprise… except in the extent to which it is still true. Here was the researcher’s bottom line:

“In all, I collected 248 reviews from 180 people, 105 men and 75 women…  Negative personality criticism — watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental! — shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.”

Let’s put that into percentages: Negative feedback about personal style showed up in only 2.4% of the performance criticisms given to men, whereas it showed up in 75.5% of the criticisms given to women. This challenges the argument that implicit bias is a figment of women’s imagination. And lest we make this into a blame-fest of men, women and men provided this skewed feedback in equal measure. Our gender biases are a collective affliction.

Organizations are still preoccupied (dare I say “obsessed?”) with how women do what they do. Not only must women get stuff done, but they must look, sound and feel “just right” to us (whatever that means) while they’re doing it. And if they color outside of those invisible stylistic lines, they could spend their careers trying to pry that Scarlet A off their chest. Truly – it’s a lot of damn work.

Navigating this stylistic scrutiny is at the heart of the coaching I do with women executives. In the course of hundreds of coaching conversations, I’ve noticed a few core patterns.

1.  Stylistic bell curve.  Countless are the times a woman client has said to me, “Of course I have room to improve. But I resent being mandated to work with a coach for speaking too directly, when my male colleagues are actually swearing, pounding their fists and yelling at people in meetings. But I’ll bet you’re not working with them.”

Gaussian (bell) graphAnd, for the most part, she’s right. Most organizations view men and women very differently when it comes to style. Imagine a “stylistic bell curve” that captures a spectrum of behavior from the most assertive (“grit”) to the most affiliative (“grace”). Women consistently report that they must operate within a very narrow swath of behavioral territory right in the middle. They feel forced to maintain an elusive, razor-thin stylistic balancing point. Confident, but not arrogant. Passionate, but not strident. Attractive, but not sexy. Collaborative, but not wimpy. And if they stray from that tiny terrain, the Scarlet A of “aggressive” or “abrasive” is likely to come down on their heads. It’s a bit like leading inside an invisible fence, where the territory is small and the electric wires keep getting moved around.

On the other hand, organizations tend to afford men much greater stylistic leeway. They generally call foul on a man unless his behavior is out to the extremes. They generally don’t brand him as “abrasive” or “aggressive.” And rarely do they interpret his grit perceived as a fixed personal shortcoming. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m just saying that, at least according to the Fortune study, it happens about 3000% less often to men than to women.

2.  Bait-and-switch. Early in their careers, women, especially are often rewarded for grit traits, such as ambition, drive, critical thinking and toughness. In order to be seen as credible professionals, and later as “leadership material,” women must often  demonstrate a considerable degree of grit. They must prove that they can “hack it;” “keep up with the guys;” “show no weakness.” So women learn to hone and rely on toughness in order to succeed.

And then it happens. The Scarlet A arrives on their foreheads, and they never saw it coming. Often out of nowhere, women start receiving criticism for the very traits and behaviors for which they’d been praised in the past. My practice is full of women struggling to make sense of this wild shift in the winds of feedback and to navigate it before their career hits the rocks. To them, it feels like a real bait-and-switch of expectations, and seems to happen most predictably when women reach mid- to top-level leadership.

3.  Assertive vs. aggressive. I often hear women say, “There’s no winning. If you’re strong, you’re automatically considered aggressive.” I fully grant the heightened risk that women face of being negatively judged for their grit. At the same time, within these women’s own organizations, I see other powerful women who have NOT been branded with the Scarlet A. What’s going on there?

The powerful women executives I’ve seen who escape the Scarlet A are no pushovers. In fact, their styles may even be grit-centric. But unlike most of my clients, they also tend to have a good bit of grace online, which enables others to see them as assertive, rather than aggressive.  I’ve coached many women who were labeled as aggressive, and most of them shared a characteristic over-reliance on grit behavior, to the neglect of grace. Without the modulating effects of grace in a grit personality, the grit goes into a hyper concentrated form of itself, which I call “growl.” In each case, our coaching work focused on helping the grit-based women to reintegrate some needed aspects of grace. The result? Toughness with heart: an emergence out of growl territory into healthy, grace-infused grit style.

My observation is that when the Scarlet A befalls a leader of either gender, growl is usually present. This is not to minimize the fact that there’s still great gender disparity. Organizations will tolerate a whole lot more grit from men than they will from women. But whenever the term “aggressive” is levied, there is very often a valid invitation to cultivate a bit more grace.

4.  Burden and opportunity. The threat of the Scarlet A causes women to carry a heavy and unfair burden when it comes to style. Yet amid the burden, I do see opportunity. Just as pressure forms coal into diamonds, the stylistic pressure on women is creating a lot of transformative leaders whose example we all can follow. I see women leading the way into the kind of leadership that is needed in this world. They are the ones fighting for equality by holding both the lotus and the sword. They’re the ones calling bulls*%t while reaching across the aisle in cooperation.

And yet, is there any business or ethical sense in making women dance on the head of a stylistic pin at work? I hope that the Fortune study findings will wake all of us up to the fact that gender bias still exists and that we’re all participating in it. I hope organizations will hear this study as a call to take women out from under the stylistic microscope and hold themselves to a more equitable standard of feedback. I hope all leaders, whether male or female, will continue to challenge themselves not just to “tolerate” strong women, but also to embrace and invite the full spectrum of the power that women can bring.

 

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Selfishness or Self-sacrifice: Is That Our Only Choice?

“Even though my efforts helped that project succeed, I’m not comfortable tooting my own horn.”
“It’s really hard for me to leave the office on time when I know my staff is still there slaving away.”
“I just can’t seem to take a day out for myself.”

Women leaders say that kind of stuff to me all the time. And when I ask them why these actions are so difficult, their answer is usually some version of “Because I don’t want to be (or appear) selfish.”

Navigating the whole selfish/selfless thing is hard for grit and grace leaders alike. For you gracesters, much of your value system is tied up with supporting others. Thus, many of you would sooner give away the store than put yourself first.

But it’s no picnic for you grit leaders either – just for different reasons. Even those of you who are comfortable advocating for yourself may hold back, out of fear of being branded as bitchy or aggressive.

If you are a woman in a position of power, then you know that the pressure to be seen as ANYTHING but selfish can be pretty intense. As a result, it may seem easier to err on the side of selflessness, because it seems like the less risky of the two options.

But actually, there are tremendous risks in that choice as well. Your views go unheard; your accomplishments stay hidden; your visibility diminishes. You may burn out because you don’t say no. Your influence and impact may wane. And that’s not just a loss for you, it’s a loss for all of us.

So is this really your only choice: selflessness or selfishness, martyrdom or bitchiness? Nope.

There’s a third option, which I call self-fullness. Self-fullness originates from that quiet but unshakable sense of yourself… a sense of your own validity (if not perfection) and a connection to the values you hold most sacred. No one can give those to you and no one can take them away. So they are the seat and source of your truest power. From a full self, you can stand from your own dignity without pushing others’ to the side. You can lean in without running over.

Self-fullness originates from that quiet but unshakable sense of yourself… a sense of your own validity (if not perfection) and a connection to the values you hold most sacred.

Self-fullness is the ability to take action from one’s core.  It’s knowing our minds, our hearts, our values and our bodies.  It’s knowing what matters and what doesn’t, what we’re capable of doing well and not, and what our team is capable of doing well…and not.  Self-fullness is a realistic and full self-understanding, and that is the root of skillful action.

So what does that actually look like? Actually, self-fullness is not revealed by the action itself, but by the intent and spirit with which it’s carried out.

Here’s an example. I had a boss, Danielle, who took a walk at lunch every single day. Without fail. If Danielle had been rooted in selfishness, her walk would have communicated, “Screw you guys. I need ‘me’ time,” and we probably wouldn’t have appreciated it. If she were rooted in selflessness, she’d probably have given it up at our first urging. While we might have liked her for that, chances are we would have respected her a bit less.

But we could just tell that Danielle’s walk was self-fully motivated. A mid-day walk always returned her to ‘center:’ it restored her energy, perspective and sense of balance. Without her ever having to say so, we knew that that time to herself benefitted us as much as it did her. We respected and appreciated her for it.

The same action – taken from three different relationships to self. Each sending a very different leadership message and having a very different impact.

Danielle’s self-fullness had impacts far beyond herself.  She was known as a formidable and trustworthy negotiator in any setting. She did not abandon her point of view when it made someone else uncomfortable. But neither did she go on the attack. Because she was clear about her values and principles,  she knew where to stand and where to flex. She was nobody’s doormat and nobody’s witch.

Danielle also cultivated self-fullness in her staff. Danielle pulled me into her office. She sat me down and said, “Leslie, I’m concerned about your performance. I don’t see you staring into space enough. If you’re not staring into space, you’re not being as creative as we need you to be. So please stop doing so much, and stare out the window more.”

What about you?

Where do you tend to lean – toward self-sacrifice or selfishness?

What do you gain and lose from that default stance?

Think of a time when you felt really “self-full”.  What was different about your internal experience, your outward actions and the external result?

What made your self-fullness possible? Where were you rooted? What was important?

How can you cultivate greater self-fullness in your life and your leadership?

 

 

Grit Gone Wild – How to Torpedo Your Brand In One Memo or Less

A client said to me once, “Really, Leslie, what does grace have to do with leadership? Does the heart really matter?” My answer is absolutely ‘yes,’ and Microsoft CEO Stephen Elop has given us a master class in why.

A couple of weeks ago, Elop sent out an all-company memo announcing layoffs at Microsoft. If you haven’t seen it yet, read it here. It’s spectacular – and not in a good way. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/07/microsoft-lays-off-thousands-with-bad-memo.html

Elop began the memo by rambling on about business conditions and product line strategy, using passive voice corporate-speak. After eleven excruciating paragraphs, he finally got to the punchline: Microsoft will be laying off about 10% of its people over the next year. Elop took all of one sentence to address the human side: “These decisions are difficult for the team, and we plan to support departing team members with severance benefits.” What a peach.

I get it. Tough times require tough choices. But the mistake that Elop and so many other executives make is to become hyper-rational in implementing those choices.  They hide behind numbers, market share and productivity stats while taking actions that alter people’s very human lives. Yes, the decision will hurt.  But when leaders cut themselves off  from the humanity of the situation, they cause additional injury to those affected, to those who remain, to the culture and to…themselves.

Elop provides all leaders with a cautionary tale of what can happen when executives implement tough decisions with gritty objectivity alone.

1.  His own brand plummeted. The firings won’t hurt Elop’s reputation nearly as much as the robotic way in which he communicated his decision. I would suspect that he’s lost significant leadership credibility: not only within the walls of Microsoft, but also among the worldwide business community (thanks to social media). That memo makes him and his entire team of advisors look out of touch and utterly tone deaf.

2.  He undermined his own corporate strategy. Here is the first phrase of Microsoft’s Vision statement (from its website): “Global diversity and inclusion is an integral and inherent part of our culture, fueling our business growth while allowing us to attract, develop, and retain this best talent.” Trust me, Mr. Elop. If I’m the best and brightest, why would I want to work for a company that handles a firing that way?

3.  He’s given the ‘survivors’ more pain to process. Layoffs are always traumatic. But announcing a layoff the way Mr. Elop did adds insensitivity to injury. More pain means a longer recovery.

What’s important to remember is that while Elop’s actions were an epic example of what not to do, he’s by no means alone. I’ve seen many executives abandon their company’s core values when times get tough. I’ve seen them hide behind numbers when talking to people whose lives they’ve just upended. I’ve seen them take the stance that “This is just business,” when it’s a whole lot more than that.  What they don’t realize is this: extricating themselves from the humanity of a difficult business decision doesn’t only affect their people. It affects their own reputation and credibility as leaders. So does the heart matter? Heck yes.

What about you?

  1. When have you skirted away from the human side of a difficult decision?
  2. What’s your ‘way’ of doing that?
  3. What are you trying to avoid or protect by doing that?
  4. What might the costs have been – to individual employees, to the health of the organization, and to your own credibility as a leader?
  5. What would you have to do differently in order to carry out a difficult decision in a way that acknowledges the humanity of the people affected?

 

 

 

GM’s First Female CEO: Does This Matter?

Mary Barra is making history. She’s the new CEO of General Motors and the first woman to head up a large auto manufacturer. It’s big news for sure, but it’s got me wondering: is Barra’s gender of any real consequence?

Here are a few different perspectives on that question.

Parity. From the gender equality point of view, a woman at the highest level in such a male-dominated industry is a very important step. Good news on the equity front.

Profitability. A study of Fortune 500 firms has shown a strong correlation between the number of women in the executive suite and profitability. The 25 firms with the best record of promoting women to high positions were between 18 and 69% more profitable than companies with fewer women at the helm. This bodes well for GM and its shareholders.

Barra herself. GM is doing very well these days, so Ms. Barra is taking the reins of a healthy company. This is often not the case for women execs, who are frequently given top leadership positions of organizations that are hitting the skids (which can set them up for very public failure). But Barra’s being set up to succeed, bolstered by a tailwind of positive corporate momentum and unanimous Board backing.

GM’s culture. A change in gender does not guarantee a cultural sea-change for an organization. I know plenty of grit-based women who have a very traditional, command-and-control, style of leadership. But it sounds like Barra will bring exactly the kind of blended leadership that can transform an organization’s culture for the better. According to the Dallas News, “Friends and colleagues say Barra has an unusual mix of skills. She’s fiercely intelligent yet humble and approachable. She’s collaborative but is often the person who takes charge. And she’s not afraid to make changes.” To me, this is the most exciting part of this change: not that GM’s being led by a woman, but that it’s being led by someone who brings grit and grace in equal measure to the executive suite.

I’m eager to see how this story unfolds.

“Respect For The Humanity Of The Adversary”

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing, the world is saying good bye to one of the greatest leaders of our time – indeed, of all time. Over the last week, so much has been said about his character, his brilliance, his humility and his impact as a leader. I find myself with nothing to add to the analysis. Rather, I think the most useful thing I can do is to put myself on the hook of a difficult question: “How can I help to carry forward Nelson Mandela’s legacy?”

It’s a ludicrous question, really. Mandela (like other transformative leaders) provides an exemplar of what is possible. But this example is so remarkable as to seem unattainable. “Sure, but that was Mandela. What does his phenomenal quality of heart and character have to do with me, who’s just slogging away in my small corner of the world?”

It seems to me that one of the ways to honor Mr. Mandela’s legacy is not to learn to be like him (good luck with that), but to learn from him and to translate his example into our own context and scale. The invitation is to take even an iota of what he showed us is possible, and carry that forward in our own way.

The way to answer that invitation, I think, is to chunk his example down to mortal-sized pieces, and apply it to the mundane but meaningful interactions in which most of us engage.

The aspect of Mr. Mandela that has captivated my own imagination is his respect for the humanity of the adversary. Nelson Mandela stands tall in our collective view in part because of his extraordinary ability to maintain a deep respect – not just for the kind of run-of-the-mill adversaries that most of deal with, but for people who hated him, tortured him, even wished him dead. I have no idea how he managed that; it just boggles my mind and stymies my heart. And yet, to quote James Joseph, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, “If Mandela could do that, maybe I can too.”

I don’t know yet where this exploration will take me. I know that my efforts will look laughably humble and mundane. But the greatest way I can honor President Mandela is not with my admiration or adulation, but rather with my action – holding myself accountable to step in a fuller way into some aspect of what he’s taught me is possible.

What about you?

What was it about Nelson Mandela that touched or inspired you most?

In what way is that inspiration an invitation to you to keep Mr. Mandela’s light shining?

How will you put that into action in your world, at your scale, in your way?

 

Don’t Just Do Something; Sit There!

I did a really good thing last week: I went on a 24-hour personal retreat. From noon on Monday to noon on Tuesday, I set down all my ‘shoulds’ and to-do lists and went with a friend to a log cabin in a wilderness preserve about 2 hours from DC. No agenda – just space, time, wooded trails, a journal and some wholesome food.

As we began our retreat, each of us articulated an intention for our time there. Mine was to feel less scattered, to be restored to a sense of inner consolidation and wholeness. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling better. Within minutes of settling on that porch overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, serenaded by the whisper of dry leaves falling, the sharp inner edges smoothed out. I felt spiritually reconnected. I felt relieved to drop down into a mode where I was not making anything happen.

These 24 hours got me thinking about how much my life supports accomplishment and how little it supports personal renewal. Whether it’s in my business, my home, or in my community, the world around me is always calling for me to do more. And I want to answer that call. So I spend most of my time in what I call my ‘executive function,’ the grit side of myself that plans, aspires, organizes, and gets stuff done.

By contrast, there is very little around me that encourages me to slow down, to inhabit a more quiet, receptive mode. I don’t get messages from my environment saying, “Get less involved!” “Be content with what you have!” or “Hey – winter’s coming: time to slow down.” The drive to take things down a notch comes only from within myself – not because “I’m worth it,” but because I need it in order to be at my happiest and best. None of my most creative moments occur when I’m staring at a computer screen – they occur in the shower or on walks. Busyness does not cultivate kindness in me – relaxation does. The harder I’m driving, the less open I am to inspiration or delight.

I don’t know about you, but the world doesn’t tend to hand me renewal time on a silver platter. I’m going to have to keep carving it out for myself.

I am a fan of big breaks, like spiritual, contemplative or creative retreats or even spa get-aways. These can be immensely beneficial – kind of a whole-being reset. But these big breaks can also be beyond reach for many of us. No worries. Even the smallest reconnection with our ‘grace’ sides can have profound effects. So we have to reclaim and build renewal time into our daily lives, structuring in no-cost, low investment micro-retreats. Here are some ideas:

  • Breathing breaks. Unless the building’s on fire or your kid needs to go to the emergency room, most of us can take 60 seconds out to simply pay full attention to our breath. The breath is an express train into the present moment, which is actually the only place where stress does NOT live. Most stress is a fabrication of our minds, which are either fretting about the past or worrying about the future. For one minute a couple of times a day, be. here. now.
  • Mealtime meditations. When was the last time you sat down to a meal and brought your full attention to the act of eating? When was the last time you really tasted your lunch? Noticed the color, shape and textures of what you consumed? Chewed instead of shoveled? Even eating at your desk can be transformed into an opportunity to cultivate receptivity and presence.
  • Gratitudes. I don’t know about you, but once I get into task mode, I can tend to feel put-upon – even if I’ve put everything upon myself! It can be a game changer to take a second to register one thing that you’re grateful for, one way in which you feel blessed. Research has proven that a gratitude practice yields significant psychological and physiological benefits, and it’s easy to do. You can weave it seamlessly into your day – maybe doing it every time you’re standing at the elevator or walking between meetings. Maybe you write down one gratitude as the first note you take in every meeting. I have two ‘gratitude buddies’ – we try to email each other each day with five things we’re grateful for.
  • Nature time-outs. I have a client who sets a chime to ring on her computer two or three times per day. It reminds her to go outside and connect with the natural world for a minute or two. Nature returns her to a larger sense of perspective and a more gracious orientation to time. Nature’s often closer at hand than you think. Step out of your office and walk around the block. At your daughter’s soccer game, take your attention off of how she’s doing for a few seconds and just feel the sun on your face. At a stoplight, turn off the radio and open the window.
  • Music retreats. Music can change your state almost instantly. Put on a quiet piece of music in your office and just listen. Or shut your door and dance around to a favorite boogie tune.

What about you?

What happens to you when your life becomes all doing (grit) and no being (grace)? How does it affect your health, outlook and energy? How does it affect the quality of your relationships? How does it affect your effectiveness at work and at home?

Have you ever established grace-supporting structures or routines in your life? If so, what were they, and what impact did they have on you?

What impact did they have on those around you?

What enabled you to sustain these structures? What got in the way?

Given the reality of your life these days, what are two things you could do on a regular basis to give your grit-ful ‘executive function’ a break?

 

Senate Women – A Glimpse of “Grait-ness”

Two New York Times headlines leapt out at me this morning:
Senators Near Fiscal Deal and
Senate Women Lead Effort to Find Accord

The current U.S. government impasse has been a grit-fest. It’s been like watching “Godzilla Meets King Kong” – two opposing beasts slugging it out to the death, laying waste to everything in their path. In Washington, four weeks into a government shutdown and on the brink of default, Godzilla and King Kong are going at it tooth and nail, and there’s wreckage everywhere you look.

This is what happens when grit takes control. Unmediated, the productive forces of clarity and determination devolve into bullying and intimidation. The positive ability to stand for one’s own point of view goes sour with overuse, severing the relationships that are crucial to moving forward. The result? Utterly predictable, mutually-assured destruction.

So what heals a grit-fest? It’s not just a matter of calling in the ‘grace squad’ and ceding our positions. Caving does not mend a deep divide. It simply drives the conflict underground. What’s needed is a third way, where grit and grace are integrally combined and leveraged together, creating a wholly new form of power. Not grit or grace; not sometimes-grit and sometimes-grace. Rather, “grait” – where the two energies are linked in an inextricable partnership. Grait-ness happens when we are both bold and related at the same time and in the same action. In acts of graitness, you can’t parse out the care from the courage. They’re both on line and in full force in every moment.

Examples of graitness have been in short supply of late. But enter Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, who shows us how it’s done. According to the New York Times:

“Frustrated with the lack of progress, Ms. Collins, a Republican, quickly zipped out a three-point plan that she thought both parties could live with, marched to the Senate floor and dared her colleagues to come up with something better. A few days later, two other Republican female senators eagerly signed on — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. The three Republican women put aside threats from the right to advance the interests of their shutdown-weary states and asserted their own political independence.

Two powerful women on the Democratic side of the aisle — Senators Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Patty Murray of Washington — took a hard line and pressed their Republican counterparts to temper their demands, but they also offered crucial points of compromise. Together, the five senators starkly showed off the increasing power of women.”

Ms. Collins and her bi-partisan partners have taken decisive action, held each other to account and taken great political risk. But there’s more than grit in play. In each step, they are kicking ass with their hearts open. Fueling their independent actions is a desire for the collective well-being. Within their forcefulness lies a core of humility.

“I probably will have retribution in my state,” Ms. Murkowski said. “That’s fine. That doesn’t bother me at all. If there is backlash, hey, that’s what goes on in D.C., but in the meantime there is a government that is shut down. There are people who are really hurting.”

These Senators have had real impact where others have remained impotent. I think it’s because of how they have wielded their power. They have shown us what possibilities lie beyond the potential of the either/or approach to power. Instead, they have modeled a form of integrated power that is durable, productive and potentially transformative. They have given us a glimpse of graitness.

What about you?

Have you ever experienced graitness in yourself?

How did that differ from when you have leaned heavily toward either grit or grace, or when you have toggled between the two?

What did graitness enable you to do that was new or different? How did it transform the situation?

Have you ever experienced graitness in someone else? What can you learn from him or her as you make your own journey to graitness?

 

Dear Congress…

You are the best example of why I do the work I do. And that is not a compliment.

Beyond all the rhetoric, positions and posturing, what I see unfolding is the destructive potential of grit-only leadership, which, at its worst, is a bully’s stance. The beauty of grit lies in its potential for strength, focus, and resolve. But when grit becomes divorced from grace’s capacity for collaboration and compassion, leadership devolves into what I call “growl” mode.

With its ‘my way or the highway’ and ‘winner take all’ mentality, growl leadership isn’t strong; it’s brittle. It doesn’t move things forward; it fractures them. It isn’t grounded, it’s stuck in cement shoes, taking everyone down with it. Growl doesn’t create sustainable growth; it fuels the kind of greed that torpedoes countries, economies and ecosystems. It shuts down governments.

It’s only downhill from here if we can’t learn to stand for our principles while flexing our positions… if we can’t encourage both accountability and kindness and craft policies that do the same. I know this kind of blended leadership is possible. I’ve seen it, and it’s productive and transformative. And it’s necessary now – from you.

Congress, please do this work. Learn to stand and bend at the same time, in service to the principles and ideals that we all share deep down. Stop striving for the perfect answer or the big win. Please aim higher than that. Show us the true power of firmness and compassion braided together for the greater good, not for the next election. You have shown us the worst of ourselves. Now show us the best.