In coaching and advising leaders from all walks of life, I meet a lot of hard-working, responsible leaders of all ages who are successful by all outward appearances. In truth, however, many of them are exhausted, burning out in every direction.
Their relationships with significant others are strained. They’ve lost connection with children, neighbors, family members, and friends. They lack interests or hobbies outside of work. They no longer seem to really know themselves. They’ve often been in a rhythm of living and working so fast for so long that they’ve forgotten why. A frenetic pace has become their norm, and the sense of purpose that used to help them rise above the fray has withered. One of these leaders told me, “I feel spiritually dry.” That said it all.
These leaders usually have access to many external resources—material, financial, knowledge, and otherwise—for achieving results. Yet, when it comes to their sense of being resourced internally, they’re depleted.
ARE YOU FEELING THE BIG SQUEEZE?
Over the course of my life, I’ve been one of these leaders. I have been identified so deeply by my job that I’ve let it override decisions about my wellbeing. A major personal crisis in my late 30s was a definite wakeup call, and it prompted me to reprioritize how I focused my life energy, as well as how I defined what it meant to be a leader.
A big teacher for me was Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön. Her wisdom was the exact medicine I needed. She wrote about what she calls, the big squeeze, those times when our ideals for the world don’t match our lived reality. In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, she said that if…
…“we have a strong aspiration to help others—in terms of engaging in social action, helping our family or community, or just being there for other people when they need us—then sooner or later we’re going to experience the big squeeze. Our ideals and the reality of what’s happening don’t match. We feel as if we’re between the fingers of a big giant who is squeezing us. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.”
In that simple paragraph, she described every well-intentioned person I know who wants to live and lead wellbeing.
Let’s face it: It IS stressful to stand in the gap between our ambitions for a healthier, more just world and the wellbeing inequalities people experience in workplaces and societies around the globe. Yet, Chödrön also reminds me, “It’s the rub between those two things—the squeeze between reality and vision—that causes you to grow up, to wake up to be 100% decent, alive, and compassionate.”
Being 100% decent, alive, and compassionate in life and in leadership. THAT feels like a worthy aim.
STANDING IN THE GAP IS NECESSARY FOR LEADING WELLBEING
In a time of escalating changes and uncertainties that we cannot now or ever fully control, I’m interested in how we can positively transform stress in our organizations, teams, family systems, communities, and our own lives. This is about using the energy of every big squeeze we face to bring more awareness, connection, synergy, and wholeness into the experience of being fully human wherever we live and work.
As far as my own leadership goes, I believe it’s possible to be aspirational about fostering healthy, equitable, and effective teams and organizations and thrive personally. We do not have to compromise one for the other. In fact, early results from our latest research at Wisdom Works (to be released next month) is showing that leaders who report higher psychological wellbeing also report greater ability to energize others, maximize the effectiveness, growth, and potential of others, and cultivate a work environment of collaboration and care.
Simply put, our well being leads to our well doing—and it amplifies wellbeing in the lives of others.
TURNING INWARD TO MOVE FORWARD
Navigating the big squeezes in our lives and work requires an internal look at ourselves so that we consciously act based on what really matters to us rather than merely reacting to our pressures. Turning inward can be a path for moving forward. This is a journey of wellbeing leadership, and if it speaks to you, here are a few questions to reflect on:
How would I live and lead if I …
… was aligned with my deepest values?
…was thriving in mind, body, and spirit?
…believed that I could amplify thriving in the lives of others?
(An idea: Rewrite these questions with “we” and inspire powerful conversations in your team.)
Ironically, the faster the world gets, the more vital it becomes to explore what kind of leader you choose to be. Why? Because it is too easy to get sucked into the latest crisis or robotically follow in the footsteps of others. The real work of leadership is to lead from an inner definition of success and thriving so that you can bring your best energies, creativity, vitality, and wisdom into the world and be an active invitation and support for others to do the same.
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