“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” Bob Seger sang in “Against the Wind.”  Reflecting on lessons learned can be painful.  It can also be productive.

You Can’t Go Back

When my clients get tough feedback it’s my job to help them process their new awareness of what isn’t working.  They can’t go back to not knowing that their overly direct communication style is perceived as uncaring or their lack of timely follow-up is considered disrespectful.

You Do Have a Choice

Accepting feedback without defensiveness is the first step.  That isn’t always easy but it’s critical to moving forward.  The next step is choosing to change behavior as a powerful way to turn awareness into action.  Specific elements of a different approach might include tone, word choice, body language or time management tools.

I invite you to make time for reflection and the awareness that comes with it.

In 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India to celebrate His Holiness’s 80th birthday and share perspectives on finding joy in the midst of suffering.  The Book of Joy chronicles their conversations and their agreement that our greatest joy comes from doing good for others.

Taking the Focus Off Ourselves

The Dalai Lama pointed out that we cannot survive without other people so we must build trust by showing genuine concern for their well-being.  Research suggests that cultivating joy by taking the focus off our own suffering helps us to be available to others.  In a wonderful circle, the more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we can bring to others.

Meaningful Ways to Do Good

We are individually and collectively experiencing suffering beyond what most of us could ever have imagined.  I am challenging myself and you to find more meaningful ways to do good, consider the other person’s perspective when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, and spread joy.  That might be speaking up as an ally for someone who is treated unfairly or listening without judgement to understand opinions different from our own.

As Archbishop Tutu said, “We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.”

So many people have lost more than their jobs in this pandemic – they have lost their identities.  They don’t know how to answer the question, “What do you do?”

Safety in Numbers

Since humans are wired for connection and belonging, it makes sense that we gravitate toward people with similar interests and perspectives.  As we share experiences, our relationships deepen and the safety we feel as part of a group reinforces our identity.  When you lose a job that severs your connection to a work group or professional association, you may struggle with how to define yourself and your value.

Who Do You Want to Be?

If you consider who you want to be and how you measure your professional and personal value, your answer might be, “I want to be a partner, parent, friend and team leader.”  Bruce Shaffer, whose position as Director of Human Resources and Internal Communication for Schlumberger’s subsea business was eliminated recently, explained that he was able to move from bitterness to acceptance by getting clear about who he wants to be.

Bruce recognized his value to family members and former colleagues who needed his support.  As he reflected on what success means, Bruce said Ralph Waldo Emerson described it best:  “To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children … to leave the world a bit better … to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”

What would it mean for you to believe that you are more than the job you do?

Three weeks ago I lost my dear friend and mentor Cecilia Rose to cancer.  The world isn’t the same without Cecilia but it is a better place because she was here. As a person of deep faith, I have no doubt that she was ready for her new life.

Gifts that Last

I’m remembering many, many generous gifts of Cecilia’s time, her wisdom, her wit and her joy.  She helped me expand my thinking and feeling through Systems Dynamics work, her insightful questions and her ability to listen with empathy.  Cecilia was always in my corner and willing to lovingly challenge me to see other perspectives.

Follow Their Example

Cecilia fought until the end to beat cancer with the same determination she applied to everything in her life. As I considered how best to honor her, I decided that trying to follow her example would be most meaningful.  I will continue to practice what Cecilia taught me and share her gifts with others.

Do you know anyone who is confused about how to address inequality on their team, in their organization and in their personal life? Who feels defensive when asked to check their privilege? Who doesn’t understand the cry that silence is violence? These people are likely reacting to shame.

Shame vs. Accountability

As Brené Brown explained in a recent Shame and Accountability podcast, shame is not a tool for social justice; it is a tool of suppression. Rather than motivating us to change, shame triggers a fear of disconnection from our tribe that we inherited from our ancestors. Our brains react to that fear and we fight, flee or freeze.
Accountability is a more effective tool for motivating change. To explain the difference between being shamed and being held accountable, Brené shared this example: when you tell a child he is a liar, he feels ashamed and alone. If you tell a child that he is a good person who told a lie and that’s not OK in your family, you’re holding him accountable for his behavior. That helps him accept responsibility and change his behavior so he can stay in the tribe.

Empathy and Action

When we feel shamed for saying the wrong thing or not speaking up to challenge the status quo, relying on empathy enables us to be curious about the other person’s perspective. Then we must manage our own reactions by recognizing our triggers, breathing deeply and pausing before we respond. Listening first, then considering what to think, say or do differently is a way to avoid getting defensive, rationalizing our behavior or demanding absolution from the person holding us accountable. I recommend Brene’s mantra – I’m here to get it right, not to be right.

Change requires courage, curiosity and commitment. I invite you to check out The Role of Senior Leaders in Building a Race Equity Culture and So, You Want to Talk About Race and consider joining a Brave Conversation about racial inequality. Contact cheryl@csbryan.com today to find out more about small discussion group opportunities or inquire about a custom-designed corporate program.

One of the many terms highlighted by the pandemic has been “asynchronous” – referring to learning and/or working at different times and places.  We haven’t had much choice while working from home but my clients are realizing that there can be real challenges to this approach.

Paint the Big Picture

Think about a jigsaw puzzle of an elephant.  If you haven’t seen the picture on the box you wouldn’t know that your piece is the knee.   It is too easy for each person to focus on his or her part of a project and overlook how the pieces fit together.  When the leader paints the big picture of success and everyone’s role in achieving it, the team can work in synch with clear priorities and refresh the picture as the project evolves.

Make the Connection

To nurture connection between team members in an asynchronous environment, I recommend inviting each person to talk about how others are contributing.  Regular live interaction and gratitude are essential to reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Staying connected to the big picture and to each other are two ways to make the best of our asynchronous world.  If you are feeling disconnected, I encourage you to reach out to someone.  They are likely feeling the same way.