Leadership – The Fruits of Internal Work Part 2

“Awareness does not bring comfort, more often it brings disturbance.” –Greenleaf

I hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend. We used the time to invite friends and family over. We also took a moment to pause and give thanks for the men and women who have given their lives to preserve our freedom. It is the ultimate sacrifice, and one that gives me pause not just on Memorial Day.

Last month we explored the ‘inner work’ that we do ‘before’ we lead. This month we will explore what that looks like ‘during’ our leading. This is where we blend the ‘how’ of leadership with our unique ‘who’ to deal with a myriad of different circumstances.

One point of clarification from last month. I spoke about being a good leader was not dependent on your ‘personality.’ The ‘personality’ used here was a reference to your ‘behavioral style,’ and not a reference to a person’s ethics or morality. This distinction is important.

Thanks to those who sent me comments. I always appreciate when you ask questions or share your thoughts. I am honored that you read my work and hope it has value for you.

Let the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer begin!

Be well and do your best work,


Leaders and Their Inner Work Part 2

I was 25 when my job included leading others. They were 40 – 63 in age and were a great help ‘leading’ me! I was 27 when I had my next leadership role. While they didn’t all report directly to me, I had 50 people that I interacted with regularly. This was the beginning of my ‘leadership education.’

The first lesson was that being a good listener was an important quality, but there are times when you need to listen without taking any action. I had to learn that although Mary may bring me a complaint about Susie, that not all complaints are created equal. I learned that the majority of complaints that I received were rooted in the fact the Mary didn’t like Susie and was hoping I would talk to her. A lot of those complaints went away when I learned to tell Mary that she needed to work it out with Susie.

This is just one example of learning on the job. There are countless other stories. I’m sure you have many of your own.

I have always found the ‘people’ side of the job more challenging because it was often unpredictable. Learning the tactical side of the job – the processes, the procedures, the policies, and the technology could be difficult, but easier than trying to predict what the issues might be with any given individual.

One of the important early lessons was to build a ‘pause’ into my actions right after whatever ‘event’ occurred. That pause might be filled with trying to understand all of what occurred and the possible consequences. The pause might be filled with getting my emotions under control. Sometimes, that included withdrawing from the situation. If I couldn’t leave, I’d say “I need a moment.”

The ‘pause’ allowed me time to bridge the moment and ‘respond’ versus react. For anyone who has ‘reacted,’ they often wish they had taken more time. Learning to ‘pause’ has saved me from making many mistakes.

I spent most of my business career working in high transaction environments (call centers, student loan processing companies). This meant that if you were a line supervisor or manager working in that type of environment things came at you quickly. “How do I handle this?” “I have an angry customer on the line.” “The system is down, now what?” And these are some of the mild examples.

These environments have a lot of pace to them. As a new supervisor part of the struggle is how to slow down the pace while getting your work done. Professional football players often talk about the ‘speed’ of the game when they are rookies. As they get used to that speed, some will describe the game as ‘slowing’ down. This is much the same challenge for the new supervisor – learning all the tactical, while learning their people and customers.

Our most rapid growth often comes when we are under the ‘fire’ of leading people in the moment. It is this experience that teaches us, sometimes harshly, that we need to build our capacity – we need to get better at our emotional and social skills; better at the tactical.

This is where I have found the ability to reflect on the events of the day and ask myself what went well and what do I need to do differently were critical to me becoming more ‘awake’ and ‘aware’ as a leader and as a person. All leaders go through periods, or events, where they behave in the moment not the way they had hoped they would. It may have been related to a tactical matter, and it may have had more to do with their reactions to people. It reinforced the need to get better.

The ‘inner work’ of us and the ‘outer work’ of the job initially appear as separate things. Over time, to be good at our job of leading, we must learn how to integrate them. The ability to observe and provide timely, meaningful performance feedback requires us to not only know what the job should look like, but to know the person well enough to communicate the ‘facts’ of what needs improved, but also express the encouragement and confidence that they can do it. You express your care about their success at the same time as you are giving them information about how to be more successful.

For most leaders, in the early part of their career, including me, much of leadership can feel like chaos. The solitude of the ‘inner work’ gives way to a cacophony of items and people requiring our attention. While this time period is not comfortable, it is the nature of learning and growth. My experience is that if you are willing to do the work, the game will ‘slow down’ in important ways.

To your journey and living out the best version of you…



Of InterestFollowership is a key component to leadership.