Being with what is — your leadership superpower

A week or so ago, I wrote about The vulnerability of the business owner, and that post generated a lot of responses! There are a couple that I’d like to lean into over the next few emails. 

One business owner replied to that email by saying:

Thank you for acknowledging that feeling vulnerable is inherent to entrepreneurship. It’s risky, and risk means you’re vulnerable.

It feels more powerful to start from that point and figure out how to manage that experience than to avoid it.

This response struck me because it highlights one of the critical emotional intelligence skills that I see in successful business owners.

The ability to be with what is. 

When we face risk, uncertainty, and fear we have a choice — we can either:

  • Face those feelings head-on or
  • Avoid the feelings and deny we’re feeling exposed and uncertain

When we avoid or deny those feelings, we take a step back from the world that everyone else is experiencing. We create a reality that’s easier for us to deal with, one that has less power to stir up our feelings.  We protect ourselves, but we abandon our team, or client, or our family. The only way we can stay with others is to stay with the feelings.

Easier said than done. You know how it is…

Almost every day I end up in a situation that is not the way I would want it to be: a key employee quits, a big deal goes south at the last minute, a client calls disappointed in our services.

In these situations there are temptations to deflect, “It wasn’t my fault,” or reframe, “Losing that person is going to turn out to be a good thing,” or deny, “She’s going to come back to us.” 

These are all techniques we’re using to keep feeling OK — methods that are pushing that bad news away so that it doesn’t stick to us so that we can go on unaffected.

But we’re not unaffected, we’re sad, we’re disappointed, we’re angry or ashamed.

It feels risky to entertain those feelings, though. As soon as I start to feel those feelings the stories start — “That prospect was our best lead this quarter if I couldn’t close them I don’t know if we’ll close anything this quarter.” Now we’re feeling worse, and there’s a dark spiral coming!

The super-ninja skill is to catch those reactions before I start to tell stories about the news and to put those stories to the side so that I can listen fully to what the other person is saying before that spiral starts, and before I start to react. Once I’ve heard what they have to say and listened to what it means to them, then I can respond to the situation with a clear head — fully engaged emotionally.

This is a perfect example of something that is “simple, but not easy.” The idea is a simple one, but it takes a lot of practice to learn to reliability be present to what is. It means that we’ve taken the time, with a therapist or loved one, to come to grips with the judgments we’ve internalized that drive those stories and emotions so that they don’t drive us. It means being brave, and staying vulnerable, when what someone is about to say might hurt us. 

Today, see if you can find a way to be with what is.

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