social impact

3 Worries That Can Sabotage Your Leadership

Photo on    Visualhunt

Photo on Visualhunt

There are times when I am laser-focused on my mission. And boy do I get things done. My collaborations move smoothly, without muss or fuss. When I get stuck, I reach out for help and find a way to keep moving.

And then, there are all those other times…

  • When I don't seem to eye-to-eye with anyone

  • When I get stuck and stay stuck, without telling anyone

  • When my motivation and productivity take a nose dive

And there really is a special magic that happens in organizations helmed by leaders and managers who model a commitment to purpose. The good news is that it’s not actually magic. 

Because what’s really going on is this: A compelling sense of purpose keeps us from focusing too much on ourselves, by locking us on to something larger than we are.

Here’s how Kat Calvin, founder of Spread the Vote -- which works to get eligible voters the IDs they need to vote -- put it in on our recent conversation on the Dialogue Lab podcast:

“I think it comes from, how much you actually care about your mission. I actually really do just want to get as many people IDs as possible, so I know I need help to do that. Because I can’t do it alone. So if I actually really care about the damn turtles or whatever else. Then I’m going to do whatever it takes to fulfill my goal. 

“Anyone who has been in this startup or nonprofit world knows plenty of people who only started something because it seemed glamorous, and they wanted to be on podcasts or in the press or whatever. And so they wanted to start things by themselves, and not have any partners or co-founders, because they wanted all of the credit, and never really actually cared about the product they were building or the mission or whatever. 

“And they inevitably fail.”

Spread the Vote is doing incredibly crucial work as we near the midterm elections in November. So please do check out our conversation, and consider supporting their work.

As Kat was saying, so often the thing standing between us and our goals is ourselves. Or rather, our worries about ourselves. And all of us get derailed sometimes. That’s just human. 

The question is, how quickly can we as managers get ourselves back on track? 

So here 3 of the biggest management derailers I know, and how to bounce back.  

They are all concerns about identity. In other words, concerns about “who I am” as a leader and a person -- that run straight to the core of how we see ourselves, and how we want others to see us. I came across a version of these 3 concerns in the book, Difficult Conversations (by Stone, Patton, and Heen), and I’ve expanded on them here.

They are concerns about:

  • Being competent

  • Being good

  • Being loveable

And when triggered, they have the power to knock us flat. But if we peel back the layers just a bit, they can also be a rich source of learning, and a chance to practice resilience. 

Here’s a deeper dive on how each concern shows up. After that, I’ll share steps you can take to rise above all of them. 

1. Being a competent person.

Any leader who has not run headlong into the limits of their competence has likely been playing things very safe. Or, they are a God. 

So the question is not whether a leader will ever encounter a sense of incompetence. The question is, “how do you respond when you DO experience a sense of incompetence?” 

You might reflect on these questions to get a sense of your concerns about competence:

  • Think of the last time you engaged in an activity you are not particularly good at. For instance: playing soccer, painting, writing, dancing, splitting the bill at a restaurant. 

  • How hard was it for you to fully engage with the activity? Were there certain emotions -- like embarrassment or frustration -- that made it difficult to engage? 

  • Did you try and hide those feelings, or your lack of competence? Was it hard to ask for help? 

  • Do you usually avoid doing things that trigger those feelings in you? To the extent that it was hard to answer the first question?

  • How do you judge yourself when you feel incompetent? 

  • How do you judge others when it seems they are out of their zone of competence? 

2. Being a good person.

It was probably your values that drew you in to social impact work. What’s hard is that there are times when our values seem to come into conflict with each other in a way that may trigger this concern.

Here are a few ways it can come up:

  • When bad things happen to good people. You have a volunteer who is a lovely human being, but she keeps showing up late, and she has made a number of costly mistakes. You know it’s time to let her go, but the idea of having that conversation makes you feel like some kind of monster. 

  • When saying yes is terrible for you, but saying no seems terrible for someone else. You have a colleague who has been struggling with some pretty serious personal stuff, and he's been leaning heavily on you for help. You have been stressed out for months about the extra work, and you don’t think you can go on. But you can’t bring yourself to say anything because you feel too guilty at the idea of not helping a friend in need. 

  • When you meant well, but they got upset anyway. A member of your staff is mad at you over an offhand remark you made about them in a meeting. And while looking back, you can see what they mean, but you didn’t intend to offend them, and are pretty upset because you feel your character is under attack. 

Does anything here sound familiar to you?  

3. Being a loveable person. 

We all want to be liked, respected, and to feel we belong. And this can be an especially tricky concern to manage when you are the boss. 

Because being the boss means doing all kinds of things that might make you unpopular: like holding people accountable, or making a controversial decision. 

Being the boss also means you have the authority to make decisions that affect people’s lives: like hiring, promoting, and firing. And that power can feel particularly uncomfortable to exercise -- or even hint at -- in many progressive organizations with an anti-authoritarian streak. 

This concern is particularly likely to surface for new supervisors, but often I see it come up for experienced bosses as well. 

What to do when one of these concerns is triggered:

1. Practice mindful self-awareness. If you are feeling off in some way, ask yourself if one of these concerns is triggered. Quite often, bringing some kind and caring attention to what’s really up will clear a lot of the fog, and help you take the next step forward. Remember to be kind to yourself. You can't help what triggers you, but you can help how you respond. 

2. Reframe. Get out of black and white thinking, which boxes us into rigid beliefs about ourselves.

For instance, instead of looking through the lens of competence, which values only what you know and don’t know, adopt a growth mindset, which values your ability to learn and adapt to what’s needed in the moment. 

3. Empathy for others. I have often found that the best way to stop worrying about what others think of me is to put my focus on them. What are they feeling? What are they worried about? What are they trying to achieve? And how might I be able to support and help them achieve their goals? 

4. Get back to your purpose. What action would you take, if you were not concerned about being or appearing competent, good, or likeable? And how would it feel to take that action? 

So that's this week's Antidote to Burnout.

I’d love to hear from you: Have you ever been sabotaged by one of these concerns?   

If you found this helpful, please feel free to share this email with a friend.

And If you want more one-on-one support in becoming an awesome social impact boss, click here to schedule a no pressure, free consult. 

(P.S. Check out this post, "Can you change the system while being part of it?" It's from Equality Hive, and it breaks down my conversation with Melanie Dewberry in episode 11.)

How to Lead When You Are An Outlier

I have an amazing conversation with Lousiana prosecutor Daphne Robinson on the podcast this week. We talked about how her concern for kids caught up in the criminal justice system led her to pursue alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.

Keep reading for 4 tips to move from outlier to influencer, inspired by that conversation. You can also hear the episode for yourself here

About Daphne Robinson

In her 20 years of working as an assistant DA within Louisiana’s juvenile justice system, Daphne saw the system failing to protect kids -- kids who were committing crimes, and kids who were victims of crime. She got her masters in public health, founded a nonprofit called, “The Center for Public Health and Justice,” and started her work to bring a concern for every child to the criminal justice system.

3 Lessons from the Lab

Have you ever felt like an outlier?

It’s being the only person who seems ready to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The only person who sees that something isn’t right. Or who sees that something more is possible.

And sometimes, when the stars align, our unexpected insights are welcomed. And at times they are met with skepticism or even hostility. Sometimes that kind of pushback means we’re off track, and we need to course-correct.

But what is often far more difficult is leaning into those times when pushback is a sign that we’ve hit on something that's true.

So being an outlier can be a hard and lonely place to be. But it can also be full of potential. Because change often begins by simply naming the reality that is in front of us, and insisting that something more is possible.

Take Daphne’s experience of being an outlier, which began when she kept seeing that the people walking into courtrooms in her parish, in handcuffs and orange jumpsuits, were African-American men.

And though everyone else sees the same thing, it takes courage to be the one to ask, “what is really going on here?”

In her words:

“You have to recognize that I am an outlier in the system. And I'm an outlier because, number one, I have this desire to be empathetic and to see the side of those who are charged with crime, as well as those who are the victims of crime.

“And an outlier in the sense of, I have had the privilege of gaining all of this knowledge as it relates to public health and the connection between public health and safe communities....Sometimes I think people around me are looking at me like, ‘there she goes with that public health talk again.’

“...And I've made it my mission now, in starting the Center for Public Health and Justice, and becoming a voice for great programs that I've seen… to do the work that needs to be done.”

Here are a few tips -- inspired by Daphne’s story -- on how to navigate the journey from outlier to influencer.

>> LESSON 1: Find and connect with like-minded people <<

One of the first things Daphne began to do was look for allies. This included connecting with people within the legal system, as well as going beyond it to connect with people in public health. And in her search, she found those who were asking the same kinds of questions she was asking.

By doing this, you do two things:

  • You give yourself a way to build confidence, to know that you are not alone, you are not making things up, that there are others that believe something more is possible.

  • You move into conversation with like-minded people, and discover and practice a language that helps you describe what you are seeing, and the path you see forward, in new ways.

And that leads to lesson 2.

>> LESSON 2: Learn and introduce new language that helps you describe the possibilities you pointing to <<

Inside the world of lawyers, trials, and prison sentences, public safety is viewed through the lens of crime and punishment. In that world, there are good people (victims), and there are bad people (criminals). This is the language of the legal system -- not to mention the language of the news media, Hollywood, and our general political discourse. 

The public health sector has a different way of talking about public safety. There, violence can be seen as a disease. Violence is passed down through families and spread through communities. We can have an "outbreak" of violence, which, like a virus, can lead to more violence.

And violence can be treated by building the immune system and resilience of a community. Violence can be prevented. Viewed through this lens, it's not about good people vs bad people.

By finding allies in the public health sector, Daphne is learning new ways to talk about public safety.

And by maintaining strong and mutually respectful relationships within the legal system, she is able to build a bridge between public health and the law. She is patiently and persistently introducing new language to the legal system, building support for programs that address the root causes of violence.

Make no mistake: the public health frame can be a hard sell in the black and white world of crime and punishment.

But Daphne is motivated by what she saw in the juvenile justice system. Over and over she saw kids who were charged with crimes, who were also victims of crime. And her empathy for those kids would not allow her to ignore the gray areas.

>> LESSON 3: Break down silos to build the conversation <<

A wonderful advantage of being an outlier is the ability to step back and look for patterns. Take this quote from Daphne:

“I would love to just sit down to convene a meeting between prosecutors and ER doctors. Think about it, ER doctors are seeing people who experience trauma because of violence, that are either shot or stabbed, or are having some sort of substance abuse crisis.... I mean those people can give you so much insight into what is going on in communities.”

And there are questions underneath all this that can be broadly applied:

  • What groups of people are working on this issue from different angles, and are they talking to each other?  

  • Where are the silos within the issue of public safety, and what conversations and possibilities might arise if we broke them down?

>> LESSON 4: Just start somewhere <<

I asked Daphne to share what advice she would give to someone who is in a place similar to where she was at a few years ago. Her answer:

“Just start. I mean, just start somewhere. I recall a conversation that I had with a woman years ago who was director at the time of juvenile services in Miami. ...I remember meeting with her because they had, of course, this great program that was well-funded. And I said in a meeting, 'how can I do this? I don't have any money.'

And she responded to me, 'you do it and the money will come.' And that's just the way that I've tried to approach things. That I'm going to do what I can. What I think is best and what I think is right... and then hopefully I'm going to do something good ...and it'll get funding. And sometimes stuff that I worked on didn't get funding. But sometimes it did.”

When Daphne began, she didn’t have funding. What she had was a sense that these kids she was seeing needed something that they weren’t getting.

And she didn't wait for permission to start. She started gathering data, asking questions, and having conversations. And she keeps taking that next step, building a path to change as she goes.

Could you use more influence in your work for social impact? 

I've worked with some incredible advocates. And I often run into this irony: 

People who are great at advocating for others often struggle to advocate for themselves, their ideas, and their own needs.

And over time, it affects their ability to show up fully for the cause they want to serve. 

>> If that sounds familiar to you, and you’d like some quick one on one support, click to set up a free consult + strategy session here.