“The most insightful conversations about leadership are not coming from leadership conferences,” I tweeted after reading some uninspiring Tweets about the leadership presentations at the Global Drucker Forum in Vienna.
The irony wasn’t lost on me that I had just wrapped up facilitating a leadership retreat for women executives. Not a conference. No experts. No thought leaders. (Geez, I hate that term; it’s so 1990s. Just like a lot of assumptions about leadership.)
Instead, it was a time for these CEOs, CFOs, and COOs to reflect, have honest conversations with one another, quietly consider what they might want to let go of, and frankly and often boisterously wonder what they might want to do very differently.
I suspect that perspectives shifted because these women had the courage to go deep into themselves and not simply assess their “performance” from the safe context of titles, labels, board assumptions and financial measures. (Another aside: performance seems like another outdated work word. How about contributions instead?)
I’ve led this type of retreat many times this year, in many parts of the world, for people in many kinds of professional fields and industries. Every individual comes away with different priorities. But three practices especially resonated this year.
The first is the need for greater self-compassion.
“I am so, so tough on myself” is a recurring theme. (Especially among women.) Our drive and ambition often become internal demons. These nasty demons hold our brains hostage, blinding our ability to see clearly and sucking away our positive energy. We become too self-critical and judgmental.
When we practice self-compassion the demons go away — or at least get quieter — leaving us with more positive energy and a clearer view of our work, according to Professor Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
Self-compassion is not self-absorption, self-pity or being selfish. It is simply treating ourselves kindly, as we would treat a good friend. An interesting research finding I like to share with skeptics: self-critics are less likely to achieve their goals.
Hunting the good
The second theme is appreciating what IS working well.
In Positive Psychology there is a practice called “hunting the good stuff,” where you write down three things — however small — that went well in the day, rather than defaulting to what went wrong. This daily practice of noticing positive experiences builds gratitude and optimism. We begin noticing the good more than all the problems that need to be solved. (Side note: The U.S. Army uses this practice as part of its Army Resilience Training.)
In addition to doing this as a personal practice, I suggest teams do this at the end of the week. Everyone simply shares the three good things about her/his work week in your online community or via email. As the week wraps, you see what you collectively have accomplished, which is always more than you realize.
Find your wild pack
The third practice most leaders commit to is their wild packs. (Thanks to branding consultant Jeffrey Davis for introducing this phrase to me.)
While most of us have supportive friends in our lives, it’s harder to find those who challenge our thinking and assumptions, inspire us to take risks, urge us to take creative leaps outside our comfort zones. These are the people who stretch us because they care about us. We don’t necessarily get “atta girls” from them, but we get intellectually and creatively challenged. They stir us up in good ways.
Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that disagreeable givers are some of our most valuable colleagues at work. And, I would suggest, as friends.
“Disagreeable givers are the people who, on the surface, are rough and tough, but ultimately have others’ best interests at heart,” Grant says. “They are the people who are willing to give you the critical feedback that you don’t want to hear — but you need to hear. They play devil’s advocate. They challenge the status quo. They ask tough questions.”
The 2018 big commitments: self-compassion, looking for the good every day, and finding more time for people who bring out our wild and wondrous selves.
Wiser, wilder, more joyful
As for me, I’m committing to practices — and people — to help me become wiser, wilder, and more joyful.
The more joyful part seems especially rebellious for me because it sounds almost too pat or superficial. But then I remember the research that says positivity and joy open up our pre-frontal cortex to better see possibilities.
I’m also committing to helping people break the cycle of old-boy, alpha leadership so that more people can work in togetherness cultures. Where every voice is heard and valued, and where we respect intent and contribution more than titles and status.
Wishing you a season of joy — and the courage to commit to one practice that will make you a more brave-hearted, compassionate leader.