The voice of the gut

I shared a recent quote about the conscience that resonated – “The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.”

The more I reflected on it in the days that went by, the more I realized that the quote works just as well if we substitute “conscience” with “gut.”

It is easy to drown our gut with data and thought. But it is also impossible to mistake it’s clarity – if we pay attention.

Bare necessities

I was listening to the “Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book recently. These lines made me pause and replay the song.

And don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you

It resonated.

Grace periods

When we experience a significant change in our lives (new place, new job, new people), the existing systems in our life often break. A learning that has been immensely valuable in such periods is to use grace periods.

Instead of attempting to get all our systems in order as soon as possible, setting a simple grace period – e.g., 6 weeks – while we settle and figure things out tends to be more effective. The grace period does 3 things –

(1) It sets a clear boundary for us to take stock. For example, in some cases, we’ll realize that we’re settled by the time our grace period ends and ready to resume normal service. In other cases, we may have to extend it again by a few weeks. Regardless, setting a clear grace period ensures we’re paying careful attention to our systems as we navigate the change. They help us ensure we don’t run with broken systems for any longer than we have to.

(2) The presence of a clear boundary removes any mental pressure we’d normally put on ourselves.

(3) That absence of pressure frees up space for us to pay attention and observe. Sometimes, these kinds of changes give us the opportunity change things for the better by helping us find that our existing systems are inadequate.

What got us here won’t get us there.

Short term messy

An idea I’ve found myself referencing a lot of late as we navigate change is “short term messy, long term good.”

My belief is that we can all handle a bit of messy as long as our expectations are set right. And navigating that mess as a team – with emergent direction and eyes wide open – typically results in good outcomes in the long run.

It is always challenging navigating the messy part.

But, on the flip side, these experiences often tend to be learning-rich and transformational.

No pain, no gain.

Babysitter or parent

There’s a concept Nest’s founder Tony Faddell calls out in his book, “Build,” differentiating Babysitter CEOs and Parent CEOs.

Babysitter CEOs focus on keeping the status quo and changing little. Rocking the boat is not on their agenda and, while many drive incremental growth, many drive companies to the ground as well by not making the changes organizations need to survive.

Parent CEOs, on the other hand, are all about doing whatever it takes. That often comes with a recognition of the risk of sticking with the status quo and the associated (large) upside/downside. It also speaks to the toil these leaders go through – it isn’t easy being a parent.

I think the concept applies to all kinds of leadership. Sometimes, even as parents, it can be tempting to just play the role of babysitter – especially on a bad day if we just decide to turn on the TV and the kids run wild. It takes a lot of effort to be present, to push for the change we seek thoughtfully and tactfully, and to ensure we’re leading from places of wholeness vs. our wounds.

Leadership in every organization or team works like that too. We face babysitter vs. parent choices all the time –

  • Do we make the calls we’d make assuming we’d still be around for 5 years or are we going for the quick win?
  • Do we have the hard conversation or look to keep the peace?
  • Do we try to land that point and risk looking like a fool?
  • How much accountability do we take for what’s happening?

And so on.

Babysitter or parent is a lovely metaphor for the choice that we make. Renter or owner could be another.

Either way, it takes a combination of thoughtfulness, emotional labor, and guts to consistently make good long term choices.

And we are presented with the option not to every time we go to play. It’s just a question of what we habitually default to.

As someone shared in response to my note about standards the other day – First, we make our habits. Then our habits make us.

The sideways day

We recently experienced a day when little went our way. So many things went sideways – it went from “what is going on” to amusing very quickly.

The one nice thing that happened, though, was that none of us lost perspective. So we kept exploring options at every obstacle and attempted to make the most of the circumstances. The mood was upbeat throughout.

In the final analysis, it wasn’t the kind of day we’d call “great.” It couldn’t be. Far too many things had gone wrong.

But, despite the problems, we made something of it.

It reminded us that there are so many circumstances that are out of our control. It also reminded us that we can control our response to them. And that we can make that response constructive – if we choose to do so.

Maybe it was a great day after all.

Gratitude and the circle of influence

Gratitude and the circle of influence have a snowball effect in common.

If you’re focused on what you control/influence and on the things in life you’re grateful for, you’ll find that there’s a lot more of both. There’s so much to be grateful for. And we have more agency than we often assume.

Do the opposite, however, and you’ll find yourself feeling powerless and never having enough.

Landing a message on-the-fly

A key to learning to communicate with large groups is accepting that it is near impossible to perfectly land a message on-the-fly to any group greater than 5 people.

There’s always someone who is going to misunderstand your message or doubt your intent.

The benefit of this realization is that we give up on perfection, accept that mistakes are part of the process, and just focus on reflection and response.

That’s way more constructive than the alternative and results in us gradually improving the chances of landing a message the next time we try.