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In the not too distant past, I had a strong belief that when I made a mistake, I was being “only human” as if being human were something to rise above rather than honor. I’ve come a long way since then but still am on a journey of understanding how to live out the belief that we are all perfectly human and that being human is a very good thing. This approach to fully living into and honoring our shared humanity feels particularly pertinent right now, not only at this point in my life and career, but also in this time of pandemic and protest.
Honor then Instruct
I’ve been imperfectly practicing the idea of “honor then instruct” which starts with honoring the human before delving into coaching or criticism. In order to be a loving human and effective leader, I have to apply this philosophy to myself first. One of the truths about this current time is that it brings out both the best and the worst in me.
Early on in this crisis, our team talked about the likelihood of our stress behaviors coming out as we dealt with the difficulties in front of us. We agreed to be ok with naming our own less-than-perfect behaviors and have grace for each other’s as well. As a 3 on the Enneagram, one of my stress responses can be a fragile ego. Recently when I had my ego twinged, I became very aware of my own behavior, observing an unhealthy reaction I was having. I could tell I was transmitting my pain to others and needed to stop in a hurry before someone got hurt.
Lead from the Heart
To pull myself out of this unhealthy behavior, I use some practices I’ve learned from coaches, mentors, friends, support groups, and mental health professionals. First, I take a deep breath to calm my body and observe my physical reaction. My mind follows my body. If I don’t notice that my heartbeat has increased or that I’m tensing my shoulders, I can’t get to the next step of calming my mind. In this case, after I took my deep breath, I quickly jotted down my feelings: I was actively seeking out other’s mistakes. I wanted to make them wrong. What was that about? Was I trying to prove I was right? Trying to prove my own competence? Punish others for my insufficiencies? Was I feeling ineffective and wanting it to be someone else’s fault? What could I do to pull myself out of this behavior? This brief self-reflection in the middle of a meeting calmed me. When I calm my mind I can remind myself that my body has been following my heart.
What are some things that heal my heart? Gratitude is one. When I start by articulating gratitude for an idea someone is sharing or even just for their hard work, collaboration, team approach – whatever I am truly grateful for – I am less likely to jump in to point out what is “wrong.” To make matters even better, when I follow gratitude with an authentic compliment my egoic response lessens and I’m better able to let an idea breathe. In this case, I found a way to speak my appreciation. My own stress reaction dissipated. Now the real humans in the virtual space could be honored. This is the intentional response I strive for as a leader.
The irony here is that when I’m having a stress response, I have to start with honoring myself as a human, be grateful for my humanity, and then be kind to myself. As a friend reminded me the other day, I have to be kind to myself first. I’ve had the words “Be Kind” on the whiteboard in my home office since about week 2 of stay-at home. Initially, I meant it as a reminder to myself to be kind to others when I felt critical or impatient. Now I have to stop myself to check if I’m being kind to me first before I try to be kind to others.
Being Human is a good thing. Very good. In these times when I want use all that is good in me to force the world to acknowledge our common humanity and all that is good in each other, I have no choice but to start with me.
Originally, this post was going to be about some tactical, practical ways I’m trying to honor the human in myself. It turned into something else entirely. Here’s that in brief:
- Ground myself in a routine to put boundaries around work and home
- I try to start and stop work at the same time every day
- Get out of my routine to get a new perspective.
- I’m going to places outdoors near my home I’ve never been before to broaden my view of my little part of the world.
- Learn new things
- I’ve taken up yoga to stretch my body, mind, and spirit.
- Rediscover past pleasures
- I’ve started riding my bike again.
- Clean out clutter
- I hired an organizer to help me clean out my basement and garage. Spoiler alert – I had to do it with her.
- Be generous
- I’m seeking out and acting on acts of generosity either monetary or of my time.
- Post something beautiful
- I’ve started taking pictures of pretty things I find on my walks and posting them. I usually don’t take photos, so this practice is training me to actively seek and share natural beauty.
- Seek out new voices
- I’m being more intentional about choosing content to consume that is by people with a different life experience than I, particularly when it comes to race.
- Lower my expectations
- Of myself and other humans.
The Last Black Unicorn, Tiffany Haddish, 2017.
And I thought I had a tough childhood.
No holds barred on anti-racism. Regan is an excellent teacher.
A Black Lady Sketch Show. On HBO.
Made me smile. Made me laugh. Made me think.
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Donna R Walker