How Does Clarity Lead to Empathetic Leadership

Clarity is the third of the five pillars in my upcoming book, The Empathy Dilemma: How Success Leaders Balance Performance, People, and Personal Boundaries.

What are the Five Pillars of Effective Empathetic Leadership?

These are common traits and behaviors seen over and over again in the successful empathetic leaders I interview, speak to, and advise. Even those who truly are empathetic, but don’t label themselves as such! The 5 pillars are a result of hundreds of podcast interviews, research, and data and are common threads across all those who are empathetic and high-performing.

Let’s dig into the third one: Clarity

What Is Clarity? 

Ensuring everyone is on the exact same page through clear communication, expectations, feedback, and understanding of job roles, all of which roll up to an action- able mission statement and meaningful company values.

Why Is Clarity Important? 

Resentments build where misunderstandings thrive. One of the biggest reasons leaders and workers butt heads is lack of communication on mission, roles, and responsibilities. When people know what’s expected of them—including in emergencies and on an as-needed basis— they are less likely to become disgruntled or even feel entitled. Clarity helps people feel seen, heard, and valued; reduces the likelihood of conflict; and enables everyone to work together more effectively.

Clarity is so underrated. And woefully underused.

Sure, plenty of leaders talk a good game about its importance, but plenty more shy away from actually creating clarity when things get diplomatically dicey. 

Here are five strategies to try to be more clear. More details, examples, and tactics to try can be found in The Empathy Dilemma, so don’t forget to snag your presale copy now!

  1. Revisit Purpose and Values

Clarity on minutiae won’t mean bupkis if your teams don’t have foundational clarity on the company’s purpose and values. And neither leaders nor employees will be able to act compassionately if the shared purpose and values are confusing or vague.

  1. Clarify Roles and Expectations

How many people review their job descriptions after they’ve been hired? The number probably approaches zero, except during annual review periods. Given that, consider what you can do to ensure your team members understand and agree to their roles and responsibilities. Think beyond the job description to how you can clearly articulate the team’s rules of engagement. Have these discussions. Document them. And revisit often.

  1. Link Clarity to Accountability

You can’t hold people accountable if they’re not clear on their expectations and goals. Otherwise, what are they being held accountable to? Everyone on your team should be able to say,

“I clearly understand my contribution, I clearly understand that I’m accountable for this piece of the puzzle, and I’m accountable for how I show up every day.”

  1. Tell People Why

Leaders are busy and overwhelmed, which means they often convey what needs to be done and when but omit the reason why. Lacking a reason why, people feel disrespected or kept in the dark. This amounts to an empathy gap, and one that can be closed quickly and easily with clear explanations. They may not like the answer, but at least they understand why the ask is being made.

  1. Ask Better Questions

Little-known fact: clarity doesn’t come from having the right answer; it comes from asking the right questions. This can include knowing the right prompts when someone approaches you with a concern or problem. 

To better understand these deceptively simple strategies in detail, please check out The Empathy Dilemma for stories from leaders, and tactics to put these strategies into practice. 

These 5 pillars will transform how your team engages, performs, innovates, delivers for you and your customers.  

Enjoy special pre-sale and launch bonuses – click here now to check them out!

Check out more about the book here:

Photo Credit: David Travis, Unsplash

3 Reasons Why Cutting Your Training Budget Will Cost You Dearly

When times get tough, our family knows it’s time to sit down and review the credit card statements to see where our money is going. We think in terms of essentials and nice-to-haves. We must make difficult decisions. We must look at alternate ways to get things done. And we must make sacrifices.

Organizations are going through this process right now. The challenge lies in what to consider essential or a luxury. And it’s not always as easy as we like to think.

The tendency is to cause long-term pain in the name of short-term gain. It might look nice and pretty on the balance sheet to cut things that appear non-revenue generating. But stop for a minute: What about the long-term impact of those decisions?

Consider shoes. Yes, shoes. What I have learned in my life is that a bargain in the short term is foolish in the long term. I can opt for the cheaper pair of trendy shoes because it feels good to my wallet at that point. But after wearing them four times, they are trashed. They come apart. They hurt my feet. Because I scrimped on quality for the short-term cash savings.

Contrast that to investing in a well-made, more expensive pair of shoes. I have shoes in my closet I have had for YEARS. They still look great, they hold together, they don’t hurt my feet so I actually wear them more often than I ever wore those cheaper shoes. In the long run, my investment was smarter.

Can you compare company line items to shoes? Yes, you can, when leaders are making the same short-term sacrifices and not thinking about sustainable, long-term value.

For example, professional development. Training.

To some, it makes total sense to cut out these investments because, really, how will they help us make our numbers this quarter? We need everyone out Selling! Making! Shipping!

Especially after a hard layoff, such programs can feel especially overindulgent. How can we justify cutting those jobs when we are investing in programs like communication, collaboration, empathy, critical thinking, or emotional intelligence, leaders think?

Here are 3 reasons why cutting professional development will cost you:

  1. You won’t be able to expand your leadership capacity to solve problems effectively and get work done.

Investing in leadership capacity will be the smartest long-term investment you can make to ensure everything else you do runs at full power. It’s the lever you can’t overinvest in! When your leaders are strong, they can make magic happen with whatever they are given. Resilient in the face of change. Able to pivot and adapt quickly to whatever the market throws at them. They will inspire and motivate in the tough times. They will be more innovative and resourceful. They will get the job done.

  1. You won’t be able to retain and attract the best talent who is looking for an organization to invest in their development.

You feel like you’ve kept your best people after a round of cost-cutting. Great. What do you think they want? They want to know they are still with a company that is investing in them. Research shows that up-and-coming talent desires flexibility and professional development far above other perks. If they don’t get either, they are gone. Plus, your organization won’t look very attractive to anyone you want to hire to replace them when they leave. You’ll constantly be playing catch up – not to mention the added cost and expense of churn and recruitment, plus the lost learning curve. Do you really want to go there right now?

  1. You won’t maximize the people you have left to give them an edge. To help them innovate, problem-solve, stay motivated.

After a tough layoff, you will have less people left. Doing the same amount, if not more work. If you want to be really analytical about it, you have limited resources left, So don’t you want those resources working at optimal capacity? If you have three cars and you sell two off, don’t you want to invest in the care and maintenance of the one car you have left so it performs at its best?

If you are looking at training and professional development as a “nice to have” you may want to re-evaluate. Is all that extra headache and cost in turnover, low productivity, and lost market opportunities really worth what you think you “saved” in cutting these programs?

Photo credit: Unsplash

Why is Self-Care Important to Empathetic Leadership?

Self-care is more than just manis, pedis, and massages. It is vital to helping leaders embrace both empathy while also making tough business decisions, holding people accountable, and setting high performance standards.

Self-care is the second of the five pillars in my upcoming book, The Empathy Dilemma: How Success Leaders Balance Performance, People, and Personal Boundaries, coming September 10 (pre-sale offers down below!). 

What are the Five Pillars of Effective Empathetic Leadership?

These are common traits and behaviors seen over and over again in the successful empathetic leaders I interview, speak to, and advise. Even those who truly are empathetic, but don’t label themselves as such! The 5 pillars are a result of hundreds of podcast interviews, research, and data and are common threads across all those who are empathetic and high performing.

Let’s dig into the second one: Self-Care

What is self-care exactly? Taking care of yourself means enforcing strong boundaries, taking time to recharge, delegating, resting, and stewarding one’s own mental health as a leader.

It matters because depleted leaders are ineffective leaders.

 It can be tempting to shoulder additional burdens in the name of empathy, but in the end you are doing yourself and your team a disservice. True empathy means treating yourself as well as you should your employees.

It means getting your own house in order so you have the capacity to meet other perspectives with curiosity, not defensiveness or fear.

When you are running with little in your tank, you know how you get: Short-tempered. Frustrated. Impatient. Maybe hangry. 

None of that provides fertile soil for empathy to take root. You’re too stuck in self-preservation mode to see anyone else’s point of view or actively listen and support them. Everyone’s opinion is annoying. Everyone needs to just leave you alone and do their work. Not the best environment for making sound and collaborative decisions that move the business forward.

Decades ago, I had a manager who was constantly stressed to the point that she isolated herself in her office. Every time I tried to talk about work we needed to do or strategic decisions we had to make, she would sigh with a pained expression on her face. Like I was interrupting her. Even when I had to report progress, needed direction, had ideas to make our work better or  offered to take something off her plate. She didn’t seem to know how to collaborate or delegate. I know she was very skilled at the work, but who knows what was going on in her personal life. I mean, it’s very likely I just rubbed her the wrong way, but she did this with everyone. 

She ended up burning out at that job and abruptly leaving, with all of us holding the bag. It was clear she put everything else before her own needs, but she also didn’t take a break, create connections (part of taking care of yourself) or set boundaries with our unreasonably demanding CEO  (all of which are part of self care) and it showed up in making her whole team miserable.

Based on the first pillar, Self-Awareness, you now know what you best need to operate at full capacity. Use that information to start taking better care of yourself so you have the capacity to look outward and be there for your team.

So how do you get better at self-care? 

  • Honor who you are
  • Seek support and advice
  • Recharge and renew

To better understand these deceptively simple strategies in detail, please check out The Empathy Dilemma for stories from leaders, and tactics to put these strategies into practice. 

These 5 pillars will transform how your team engages, performs, innovates, delivers for you and your customers.  

Enjoy special pre-sale and launch bonuses – click here now to check them out!

Check out more about the book here:

Photo Credit: Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash

How Does Self-Awareness Lead to Empathy?

The book is coming! September 10 is the day that The Empathy Dilemma: How Successful Leaders Balance Performance, People, and Personal Boundaries hits shelves to help leaders dedicated to people-centered practices to get the best performance possible balance the demands of the business with the needs of their people.

For the next 5 months, I’ll be devoting a monthly blog post and podcast episode on one of the 5 core pillars of EFFECTIVE empathetic leaders, outlined in the book. See, I emphasize EFFECTIVE because it’s not just about being empathetic – you have to actually perform, deliver, and get results, too. You as a leader can and must balance empathy with accountability. And today we’re going to talk about the first step to accomplish that..

This is the hurdle that gets in many a leader’s way. They think they have to CHOOSE between empathy and high performance. Compassion and ambition. Both/And, not Either/Or. Never realizing that empathy is the catalyst – when it’s actually being shown – that leads to engagement, innovation, and results.

How can leaders balance performance, people, and personal boundaries? It’s sometimes a delicate question. My new empathy book offers guidance on the healthy and productive ways leaders can deal with the unique challenges they’re facing in trying to balance it all.

What are the Five Pillars of Effective Empathetic Leadership?

These are common traits and behaviors seen over and over again in the successful empathetic leaders I interview, speak to, and advise. Even those who truly are empathetic, but don’t label themselves as such! The 5 pillars are a result of hundreds of podcast interviews, research, and data and are common threads across all those who are empathetic and high performing.

Let’s dig into the very first one: Self-Awareness.

What do I mean by self-awareness? Understanding your own strengths, blind spots, emotions, leadership style, and triggers. And helping your team members understand theirs. 

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Hang on, Maria. Isn’t it more important for me to understand my team members? Do I really have to do a bunch of woo-woo self-reflection?”

My answer: both are crucial. And self-reflection is not woo-woo; it’s a smart strategy. You need to cultivate a deep and ever-evolving understanding of your people, as well as of yourself.I t’s not about navel gazing or ego-trips, but having a very honest, clear picture of where you shine and where you fall short. 

Humility goes hand and hand with empathy so you can recognize that someone else may have a different or better perspective. And that means being real about how you show up as well so you can better connect with others. In fact, letting go of your ego and being curious enough to learn and grow is a sure sign that you are truly tapping into your empathy.

Self awareness is an important success skill for leaders because no one leads in a vacuum. 

Your style, preferences, pet peeves, needs, and strengths as a leader will influence every single interaction you have at work. And yet many leaders don’t take the time to understand themselves fully and completely. Self-awareness helps you to understand complaints and constructive feedback, know when you might need help navigating a situation, and take accountability for your actions.

So how do you become more self-aware? 

  • Request input from teammates and colleagues
  • Leverage self-assessment tools, such as the Enneagram, DISC, or Myers Briggs
  • Learn to listen deeply, 

Simple, right? Not! To better understand these strategies and become more self-aware, please check out The Empathy Dilemma for stories from leaders, and tactics to put these strategies into practice. 

These 5 pillars will transform how your team engages, performs, innovates, delivers for you and your customers.  

Enjoy special pre-sale and launch bonuses – click here now to check them out!

Check out more about the book here:

Photo Credit: Thom Holmes, Unsplash

3 Ways You Can Make Empathy a Habit

As science has proven to us, empathy is innate to human beings. It’s just that sometimes, barring specific psychological disorders, that muscle atrophies. Whether it’s because of how you were raised, or your current workplace, or who you surround yourself with, the muscle can lose its tone when empathy is not celebrated, rewarded, or modeled.

And like starting a new fitness routine, we need to tweak our surroundings in order to support this new habit we want to develop. It’s like stocking the fridge with healthy food so you can easily make better choices about your nutrition!

I’ve been listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear, which is amazing. In it, he talks about needing to change your environment and context in order to create habits that stick.

So how does this apply to building a habit of empathy?

Well, we can’t always easily replace our colleagues, managers, family, or friends! But we can develop an awareness of how they may or may not be showing up with empathy that supports our own desire for transformation. And we can make our own small changes to increase our chances for success.

If you’re falling back on negative, old, outdated leadership models, what can you do to physically, psychologically, and emotionally change your context to cultivate more empathy?

Try these ideas:

  1. Make a commitment to bring empathy to all your interactions as best you can: You can only control yourself. Be the model in the conversation so you “train “people you work with that this is how you want the interactions to go. For example, ask more questions. Reflect back what someone says before you launch into your perspective to make sure you’re on the same page and you heard them right. Ask about how people are doing and really listen before diving into business right away. These subtle cues will get noticed and people will start to recognize that when they interact with you, they need to take a pause, see the other person, and engage in active listening.
  1. Share your empathy-building goals – out loud:  Clarity is one of the five pillars to being an effective empathic leader that I talk about in my forthcoming book, The Empathy Dilemma: How Successful Leaders Balance Performance, People, and Personal Boundaries. Don’t make assumptions. If you have a goal to be more empathetic, share it with your team and colleagues  Something like, “To help this team feel more engaged and be more successful, I’m setting a new habit for myself and I would so appreciate your support. I’m working on strengthening my empathy so that I can be a more connected leader for you. So if you feel that I’m not seeing or hearing you in our interactions, please call me out on it. Maybe you’ll all join me in this effort to bring more empathy into our team dynamic.”
  1. Change your routine, context, or environment: You can get creative on this one. It could be something as simple as a sticky note on your laptop that reminds you to “Ask 3 questions before starting anything in a one-to-one meeting.” Or revamping meetings to make space for not just on-the-fly brainstorming that benefits extroverts, but journaling time before offering ideas to support introverts. Or creating a rule that no meeting can take place without an agenda and any materials to review sent ahead of time. Implement a way for all team members to give feedback that feels safe and encouraged. Take a poll of your team and find out the best times to hold weekly meetings so you are supporting all lifestyle needs of parents, disabled team members, or those who handle elder care. Recognize someone each week who has exhibited empathy with a colleague or customer so that it becomes a public celebration.

Building an empathy habit does not require massive disruption. It’s in the small steps that we make progress. Find those small and easy opportunities to change your environment and context so your empathy habit can better stick.

Photo credit: Unsplash

Seeking Emotional Intelligence? Embrace Stoicism

This article stopped me in my tracks.

It’s an article from Jeff Haden, a contributing editor for Inc.  It so perfectly and succinctly lays out the entire premise of my forthcoming book, The Empathy Dilemma: How Successful Leaders Balance Performance, People, and Personal Boundaries. (psst, you can pre-order now!)

Too often, we conflate emotional intelligence with weakness, softness, submission and don’t even consider it to be in the same realm as ambition, steadiness, high performance, or courage.

And this view is SO WRONG. Because emotional intelligence unlocks a part of ourselves that enables us to be intentional and effective so we can succeed.

The article spells out some tenets of Stoicism, practiced by many of the famous Romans we know and love, including Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism is not the cold, emotionless, robotic approach we often equate with it. While the definition of a Stoic is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining, Stoicism as a philosophy is something else – something much more applicable to leadership and performance success in today’s world. From the article:

In simple terms, Stoicism has nothing to do with being stone-faced and emotionless. Stoicism is a practical philosophy that says while you will never control everything that happens, you can always control how you respond. If you’re a Stoic, you can still experience and fully embrace your emotions; you just try not to let your emotions control your actions, especially in a harmful way.

Being a Stoic means deciding the kind of person you wish to be, and then, when things happen around or to you, trying to be that kind of person.

Damn, I love that last line: …deciding the kind of person you wish to be, and then, when things happen around or to you, trying to be that person.”

Too often, leaders bring their own emotional baggage to their roles, and it comes out in all sorts of negative ways: inability to create trust, screaming at people when they make mistakes, fearing that if they are not the ones who come up with the good ideas themselves, they will be “found out” and many more I’m sure you can name.

But empathy requires you be intentional. To make choices rather than blindly react. To know your values and stay true to them, even when under pressure.

This is the fundamental reason why I preach that empathy AND high performance can co-exist. That it is Both/And, not Either/Or. If you have a healthy foundation, as presented through the five pillars of my forthcoming book, you can practice empathy and be very effective, not in spite of empathy but because of it.

According to the article, the four basic virtues of Stoicism are: 

  • Wisdom
  • Moderation
  • Courage
  • Justice.  

All of those require us to know ourselves well, our triggers, blind spots, and strengths, and adapt judiciously within a team environment so the ultimate goal can be met. 

This is why self-awareness is my very first pillar of being an effective and empathetic leader. If your own foundation is shaky, you have no room left to see other points of view, adapt and flex to different needs without losing yourself, or listen to ideas without defensiveness and fear.

A strong leader can effectively list and respond to another person’s experience, point of view, or idea without defensiveness and fear. They can see it as additive to the ultimate mission. 

It doesn’t mean they cave in.

It doesn’t mean they people please.

It doesn’t mean they even agree.

Empathy is about making the space to synthesize diverse ideas and, taking a note from the Stoicism playbook, tempering our own biases about them, weighing all options, having the courage to bet on someone else, and being fair to hearing the best ideas, no matter where they come from.


Which is why it is laughable when people say they don’t want to be empathetic for fear of being perceived as weak, or treated like a doormat. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If that is your view of empathetic leadership, then you don’t know what empathy means or what it requires. The best leaders can inspire, motivate, and perform because they are empathetic. They drive diverse teams to a common goal, thought understanding, listening, curiosity, and fairness. 
Photo Credit: Dario Veronesi, Unsplash

Can you Forgive a Brand for Lack of Empathy?

Years ago, I wrote a few posts about horrific customer experiences, especially one with a certain hot Internet retail brand. As I put on the one item I bought from them today, I reflected on whether I would actually forgive them for showing such a lack of empathy. I mean, it’s been years, right?

It got me thinking: 

When is it time to forgive a brand for a bad customer experience?

Is there ever a time for a second chance, when you have felt disrespected or unseen?

And how does this apply to us personally? Can we ever give a second chance to someone who has been unempathetic, whether they realized it or not? A friend, a colleague, a boss. And if so, how do we know when it’s time?

I do believe companies (and people) can learn from their mistakes and try to do better. See: Uber.

But I also know that, when it comes to customer loyalty,  in this day and age, we have options. Especially if the company in question saw nothing wrong with their behavior and never tried to make things right. There is a difference between how classy brands own up to their mistakes (well done, Alaska Airlines) and how others simply blame and complain.

Interestingly, I found this study that shows that when businesses humanize their leaders, like when you don’t see your local catering company as Acme Catering, but as Sue, Bob, and Joe who OWN Acme Catering, customers are more apt to forgive them for missteps.

Companies pay a very high price when customers feel disrespected, unseen, or even blamed. One negative customer experience can be a brand’s undoing. 

And if you want a masterclass in what a string of negative user and employee experiences can do to a company, see Twitter (now X). That platform seems to be a ghost town these days, with most people fleeing to Threads.

How can a brand bounce back from bad customer experiences? Well a few things need to happen

Accountability: Did the person involved or the brand itself own up to their mistakes, apologize, and transparently explain how things went wrong? Note: Simply throwing a discount code at someone is not the same as accountability!

Genuine Contrition: Does the person or brand genuinely sound like they are sorry for your experience? Are they taking steps to make things right or secure your loyalty? If they say “Sorry…”in the same tone my kid does when he is asked to apologize, you’ll know it’s not sincere!

Systemic Change: Did the brand or person look deeper and get to the root cause of the lack of empathy? Have they gone back to the status quo, believing this to be a one-off, or has something changed in their communication, hiring, processes, or interactions? If so, this may be a sign they are learning from mistakes and we should reward that with a second chance.

Humility and a Growth Mindset: Do they see your experiences as an inconvenience they have to deal with or as a learning opportunity to improve customer (and interpersonal) experience from now on? 

I still don’t know if I can forgive the brand that treated me so badly a few years ago. How they blamed ME for the shipping mistake without proof, for not getting back to me as promised,, and then arrogantly proceeded to justify their poor customer service with “We’re just getting so much business right now, we can’t answer every email.”Wow. Just….wow.

But maybe over time, if I think their processes (and staff) have improved, I may just give them a second look.

With people at work or in your personal life…..well, these same rules can apply. I’m no psychologist, but I think the most important thing with people in your life is to give them the opportunity to know there is a problem first, assess their motives, and give them a second chance if you can. Especially if they’re willing to learn from it because maybe they just didn’t even realize their behavior – and this experience is a great lesson for them.

But after communicating to them that this was an issue and working through it together,  if they continue to disrespect you by not seeing your point of view or actively listening (please know, this does not mean they just “do what you want”all the time!), you may have to reassess the arrangement. 

Photo credit: Brett Jordan, Unsplash

How Marty Maraschino Taught Me Resilience

Resilience might be eligible for word of the year. You hear it everywhere you go. We talked a lot about resilience during the Pandemic. How do we bounce back and adapt?

One definition of resilience is: The capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Clearly, we need to embrace resilience as human beings. In a chaotic, unpredictable world where the only constant is change, you might drive yourself mad if you cannot adapt.

But more importantly, how is the skill of resilience strengthened, taught, or learned? Can it only be built when you face change or disappointment? Is it kind of like skydiving? You only learn how to really do it by jumping out of a plane?!

And how can I teach it to my son before he actually needs to draw on it?

Thinking back, I got lessons in resilience and rejection early. From professional acting as a child – where I never held on to any one opportunity too tightly and was on to the next if I was not cast – to participating in plays at school, I learned that rejection was not about me, per se, but about whether I was the right fit for a role. And that was nothing personal.

While I got many juicy roles in school plays, I remember the ones that stung. Particularly one. A school theater director organized a joint 7th, 8th, and 9th-grade production of the musical grease. And I wanted to be Marty Maraschino sooooooo badly. She was the sophisticated red-haired Pink Lady, brilliantly portrayed by Dinah Manoff in the movie version. My favorite line of hers was “I’m Marty Maraschino. As in cherry.”

Before the audition, I studied the lines. I watched the movie. I perfected my sexpot pout (even though I had no idea what I was doing at 13). The director somehow knew I wanted the role ao it was mine to lose.

And lose I did. While I have been a choir singer for a very long time, I was (and still am) very insecure about singing solo.  So I bombed the signing portion of the audition, singing Freddy My Love offkey and likely too softly.

The director even (sharply) asked me later, “What happened?!”I don’t know, but the role went to a much more deserving classmate who did a fabulous job. 

And I got the part of Dorothy the Cheerleader.

I loved that my school plays would often give names to the extras, so we didn’t have to simply be known as Cheerleader #5. But I could play Dorothy, and give her a whole backstory! I got to be in every dance number, sported a very fun 50s cheerleading outfit, and even got to do the hand jive with a cute boy during the big dance scene.

I learned from moments like that to process my grief over what I’d lost, but embrace what was in front of me – and make it my own. Play Dorothy to the  hilt and perhaps, maybe even steal the show (I mean, I was voted “Best Pickpocket” in the 7th-grade production of Oliver)

Another unexpected resilience lesson came when I was in middle school. I desperately wanted to be on the Drill Team, which was the middle school’s and high school’s dance squad. 

I loved to dance. Channeling Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson with my bestie to their iconic 80’s hits on her living room couch, I even gained some brief notoriety with an unforeseen gift and rhythm for dirty dancing

But my Achilles Heel was not being able to do the splits. Despite taking ballet and gymnastics as a little girl, this flexibility eluded me. I even remember following random remedies like stretching after a hot bath, doing 5 minutes a day, or splits against a wall. If you were on the Drill Team, you knew how to do the splits. High kicks and all of that.

That didn’t stop me from trying out….THREE YEARS IN A ROW. I tried out in 7th, 8th, and then 9th grade for the high school team. 

The feedback? I nailed the routines, my smile was magnetic, but I couldn’t do the kicks or splits. And the competition was fierce, so…others made the team when I did not.

With each disappointment, I still got up and tried out the following year. What could I do better? How could I finally limber up enough to do the splits? Could I make up for this inability with precision moves and bringing the energy? They now call this a growth mindset, but it just came naturally to me.It wasn’t about being praised, it was about my own innate desire to practice and improve. What could I tweak to change the outcome next time?

A popular girl’s mom was on the selection committee, and even told her to tell me how amazing I was at tryouts, that I had such a great smile, but that the splits stopped me. 

But here was what I consider the truest test of resilience.  Back then, there was no email so you had to go to the school on the designated day and check the list posted on the door. Once again, my name was not on it. But two of my good friends were. 

And I remember being on the phone in my kitchen with one of them, as we compared notes. Weeping in silence as we talked, I found a way to share in her excitement. Through tears, I said, Ï’m so happy for you! You deserve this.”She said all the right things – that she was sorry, and it wasn’t fair -, but in the end, she made it and I didn’t. On that phone call, at the tender age of 13, I learned how to hold my own disappointment in check while still being happy for my girlfriend. 

Talk about #hypewomen  – thank you, Erin Gallagher, for naming this needed ability, starting this movement in 2023, and showing how it only lifts all of us up.

None of this answers my initial question about how you can “teach” resilience without any real fire actually testing your strength.  There are some great science-backed ways presented in this article by Greater Good on ways to build resilience,  – change the narrative, face your fears, practice self-compassion, meditate, and cultivate forgiveness, but I submit that these are more like things you can do to shore up your foundation so when you need to practice resilience, you are ready. 

I don’t know if these tips actually build resilience, because I’m still not sure it can be built until you are actually tested. I believe they make your internal landscape more amenable and open to resilience, they “seed the soil”, so to speak. Happy to hear other opinions about this!

I’m curious how you have learned resilience in your own life, as a child or an adult. Do you intentionally do things to set up a better environment for yourself to be resilient?  Did you have good role models, or was this something you had to teach yourself? Please let me know!

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You Are a Hot Mess AND a Masterpiece

“You can be a hot mess and a masterpiece at the same time.”  Hannah Corbin, Peloton.

A few months ago, Hannah Corbin uttered these words on a Peloton ride, and they stopped me in my tracks. Metaphorically, of course. I kept pedaling.

I can’t recall the context but I think it was about letting yourself “get ugly” in order to grow. No one looks their best when they are red-faced, dripping with sweat, and struggling to cycle up a steep hill. And yet – doing so, helps you chip away at the work of art that lies beneath. 

That when you try, fail, get up again, strain, get uncomfortable, get scared, yet keep moving forward, you are working toward becoming your own masterpiece. 

AND not just working toward it. You already are a masterpiece.

It felt like she saw me. I feel like a hot mess most days, while I’m striving to be a masterpiece, a better person. It sometimes feels like everyone else has it together but me.

But we’re never just one thing or the other, are we? We can be two opposing things at the very same time. We can be striving and struggling while still being the best version of ourselves. 

That’s the journey we’re all on, whether you’re hopping on a Peloton bike, or trying to be a better parent, or seeking to coach and inspire your team with empathy. It’s a process. And just because you’re not at your ideal goal (which is fictitious anyway), doesn’t mean you are not both a hot mess in progress and closer to your destination.

And it also doesn’t mean you don’t have impact along the way, either. 

Even if you don’t believe you have perfected being an empathetic leader, human, or parent, it doesn’t mean you are not impacting lives yet. YOU ARE.  You are making incremental differences and changes. People notice when you see, hear, and value them. They are affected by your grace and compassion. They are moved to perform, deliver, innovate, and start their own journey to being more empathetic.

Don’t give up or assume it’s perfection or nothing. Just making the attempt day after day means you are a masterpiece. And if you are stumbling along while you do it, that’s okay, too. Both/And.

Photo credit: Ave Calvar, Unsplash

How Either/Or Thinking is Killing Us

Leaders, listen up: Have you ever heard the improv maxim, “Yes, and….?”

In my work researching, writing, and speaking to audiences about the power of empathy, a magnet has pulled me to one notion that gets in the way in almost every dysfunctional workplace or societal conversation.

Let me explain…

Our brains seem to defend us – yet often hold us back – due to cognitive dissonance.

From the article cited above:

The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people are averse to inconsistencies within their own minds. It offers one explanation for why people sometimes make an effort to adjust their thinking when their own thoughts, words, or behaviors seem to clash with each other.

Put simply, it is less distressing to us to hold one single view in our thinking. We want this one thing to be true OR this one other thing, but we refuse to believe they can possibly be both.  We crave simplicity.

But life is not always that simple. Others see things differently based on their own experiences, worldviews, philosophies, and personalities. 

Call it either/or thinking or binary thinking. Any way you slice it, this approach can lead to division, stress, mental health crises, families being ripped apart, and the destruction of our planet. Not to mention how it stifles creativity, innovation, and collaboration at work.

The either/or approach to leadership and relationships is broken. It got us into our current mess. It’s not working for us.

As leadership paradigms shift in the new era of work and as society demands more collaboration for its own survival, we are called to embrace dialectics

To simplify, dialectics is understanding that we can hold two seemingly contradictory things to be true at the SAME TIME.

We can be empathetic and high-performing.

We can be compassionate and competitive.

We can be kind and ambitious.

We can be empathetic leaders and still make tough business decisions.

We can care about our people and still hold our personal boundaries.

We can be stewards of the environment and still reap financial rewards.

We can turn to alternative energy and reskill our people.

We can marry purpose with profit.

We can deliver great results and do right by our teams.

And when we extrapolate this out to our lives outside of work….

We can disagree and love each other.

We can care deeply and have to let go.

We can care about the collective and also prosper individually.

We can enjoy nice things and still be good to the environment.

We can be gentle but still get our point across.

We can guide behavior without abuse or shame.

We can both be right. Now, the question is, how will we move forward?

In our world and workplaces today, it no longer serves us to focus on either/or thinking. We must embrace BOTH/AND.

Think about all the innovations your organization is missing out on because your leaders are clinging to command and control leadership. Never leave the door open to new perspectives, insights, information, or possibilities.

We have the capacity to hold two things to be true at the same time. It just may take practice.

For your organization, and for our world, it’s time we embrace the power of BOTH/AND. Abundant, inclusive, both/and thinking will get us out of our current dysfunction.  Are you ready to see what’s possible?!

Photo Credit: Fly D on Unsplash