Bridging Lives Notes: February 2016

Take Heart - Pain at the Precipice
Where do you turn when your best efforts to move or improve a situation lead you to a dead end? What gives you heart – the stamina, direction and internal wherewithal – to get perspective, renew your resources and try again?

February is heart health month. For high-performance leadership and sustainable growth, you need staying power and heart for the long haul. So, let's consider what "gives you heart" and what "breaks your heart" in leadership.
What would you say is the number one reason leaders stop leading and thriving where they are?
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The answer that dedicated, capable leaders give me most consistently to that question centers on meaningful growth and contribution.
It sounds something like this:
I cannot make the contribution here that I came for.”

That can have a heartbreaking ring to it and feel like standing at a precipice. No matter what you choose, change is at hand.

Have you been there? You’d be in the best of company.

Related to this are trends in employee "engagement" in organizations. For example, a 2013 Gallup poll shows 87% of workers worldwide and 70% of employees in the U.S. are either not engaged or actively disengaged. Does meaningful growth and contribution have something to do with it?

What happens when you find yourself at a precipice of "what now?!”
Finding a viable way forward can force your hand. What power do you have there?

Is there something for you in these two client stories? ...


When "Ann" (false name) came to me she was a lead scientist on a high-profile research project of international scope. Objectively, she had “arrived.” Her entire career had been dedicated to getting this far to lead research in this domain with this organization. We first met when she was preparing her successful research results for publication. So why hire a coach?

Ann’s request was: “Help me get out of here alive.” The last straw in the story behind “my boss is a bully and I can’t stand it anymore” was this. Her boss was insisting that he be the sole named author on the paper publishing her research. He would get sole credit for work he helped fund but neither designed nor performed. There was no room for negotiation. Ann found no support within her organization for a fair result. His power move forced her to a precipice.


Senior leaders in an esteemed organization were tasked with a “reset” to improve morale and productivity in their department. As we began our work together, I incidentally learned that 30% of this team “secretly” had one foot out the door. Indeed, that 30% had been advised on no uncertain terms by their respective physicians to leave; staying was taking too high a toll on their health and wellbeing.

The whole team was dutifully showing up for a change they yearned for but did not believe could happen. Each leader's commitment to the “cause” kept them there, but they were out of ideas for how to deal effectively with abusive patterns of behavior from the leaders above them. The message they heard from above was “it’s your problem: suck it up and get on with it.” They had been fighting for survival – individually - to the edge of their capacity. As a team, they could commiserate but shifting up how they work as a team lacked a necessary foundation. Their focus on the abuse of power over them forced them to a precipice.
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Phenomenal, potentially life-changing projects derail because people stop seeing a way to work together creatively anymore. Talented, well-intentioned people give up on being able to contribute what matters because of interactions with people whose conduct they can no longer stomach.

Real leaders feel this pain even in situations that look “fine” from the outside. Metaphorically, the apple stays polished, red and shiny from the outside. Inside is another story.

This place can be quite painful. At the precipice, there is no easy solution. If there were an easy solution, you’d have already done it. One client said it like this: “I’d rather poke a stick in my eye than do this one more day.” The stress takes a toll.

It’s the pain of power grabs and of dishonest, self-serving behavior. It’s the pain of misunderstandings that devolve into resentment and sabotage – self-sabotage and sabotage of once-cherished alliances. It’s the pain of feeling powerless in the face of “realities” you can’t change and now maneuver around so you cut your losses. It's the pain of amazing businesses crashing because executive in-fighting wasn't checked in time. It’s the pain of people expecting to be betrayed in their professional relationships, based on experience of ruthless, unconscious or abusive behavior that is publicly condemned but systemically perpetuated. It’s the pain of some poison pill corroding something essential inside. Does this ring a bell?


At the precipice, you have to source something essential to make a new kind of move. I'll call it "power with" self, other and the situation. Research in "conversational intelligence" shows that fear and conflict "not only change the chemistry of the brain, they also change how we feel, how we behave, and how others perceive us." (See Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, by Judith E. Glaser)

"Power with" requires engagement with heart. Did you know that electromagnetic signals from your heart especially affect the brain centers involved in strategic thinking, reaction times and self-regulation? The first choice you have to make at the precipice is to realign and gain positive coherence with yourself, with your own center and heart. You find freedom to move with courage and by conscious choice, instead of by conditioned, unconscious habit.

At the precipice, “power with” takes on new dimensions. One dimension is facing into fear and restoring trust. I mean the kind of trust that radically alters your reality - gets you unstuck, inclined to be honest and open again, moving effectively from your authentic core and coordinating with others to create what matters. It’s congruent “talk” and “walk.” It’s a pragmatic inquiry that faces into the muck, faces off with the shadow and builds on what’s true. There’s real power here.

Where would that kind of trust matter to you now?

At the precipice, we re-assess our options, our capacity to take action aligned with our vision and values. This is where leaders choose to move beyond protection and grow.
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Here’s what happened for Ann and the leadership team. In both cases, we started at the foundation: trust.

Ann stayed.
Her paper was published with her name on it as lead author. She broke through an inner barrier that was keeping her silent and “ok” about sacrificing herself. She skillfully invoked the power of collaborative standards and allowed colleagues to take a stand with her, for the benefit of all.

The leadership team stayed.
They shifted their focus from what they were fighting against to what they were fighting for. They explored tangible options for staying aligned and stronger as a team. They became more curious about underlying needs and creatively redirecting defensive behaviors.

Take heart so your best work can happen. Your unique contribution matters.
A “Special” and Speaker Event
Fresh Start coaching. Can you change your unconscious mind? An apparent obstacle to "conscious leadership" - and to conscious anything - is the extent to which we operate from the unconscious. ...

Changing Our Minds About Conflict: The Power of Story to Empower Transformation.
KEYNOTE ADDRESS for ADRNC 2016 Annual Conference, San Francisco, CA
You Are the Bridge to “better”
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For the work that's yours to do, you are the bridge to "better." Thank you for the important work you do and the leader you're becoming while you do it. I'm here as your ally, partnering with you to thrive.

Be in touch...and stay tuned!
Lead. Collaborate. Grow. ... to Thrive!
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