Do you remember Kate?
Regular readers who have decent short-term memory may remember my friend Kate. She’s popped up in a number of stories I’ve told. Not only is she an important person in my life, but she’s also been my boss (admittedly with mixed results) and was the catalyst for Great Work when she shared a page with me from this Milton Glaser book that inspired the Bad Work – Good Work – Great Work model.
At the start of the year she sent me a gift: a blank journal with a single word printed on the cover:
Laying down the challenge
Kate and I jumped on the phone and after the usual “I’m Australian, you’re English” banter, we got down to brass tacks. This was the bottom line: we both wanted to show up a little more courageously in our everyday lives.
What did that actually mean?
My attempts to define this intellectually failed. But viscerally? I knew exactly what this meant.
An action that, as I thought about doing it, made be either hold my breath or take a big breath.
An action that, as I thought about doing it, my hands got the slightly oily sweaty thing going on.
An action that, as I thought about doing it, I immediately thought about how I could rationalize not doing it.
An action that, as I thought about doing it, I could see myself “bottlenecking on” and procrastinating over.
(Out of curiosity – how would you know when you were being courageous?)
After five months of making notes about courageous actions I’ve taken, of daring-do I’ve dared to do, I’m coming to the overall conclusion that I’m not nearly as brave as I like to think I am. For someone who bangs the drum about Great Work, I spend less time out on that edge of sweaty-palmed uncertainty than I’d have hoped.
(By the way, I’m going to use that as an encouragement for more, rather than just feeling a bit discouraged.)
I’ve learned two other big lessons too:
Lesson 1: It’s not the action, it’s the relationship
Kate and I check in every month or so to shoot the breeze and also to see how we’re rating on the courage-o-meter. We both work in the corporate world, although she has a focus on leadership and is an executive coach who works in some fairly “alpha male” type environments. I mention that, because we both found that we both had an easier time of it being brave with our clients. We found it more difficult to do that in our personal lives.
So what’s going on here?
It could be that, in some ways, both Kate and I are paid by our clients to be bold. Part of our promise is that we’ll take the lead, we’ll find the boundaries, we’ll put the unsayable on the table. You want people you hire to take you further than you might go yourself.
However, I think there’s more to it than that for me. I’ve come to realize that where I back down is often where I’ve got more at stake. In other words, in the relationships that matter I scale back my courage.
(Can you guess how irritating it is to discover that this might be the truth?)
In the spirt of my friend Jessica Hagy of Indexed, I even prepared a diagram to figure out what was going on.
It’s a shift of focus. Rather than start with the action – “what’s the crazy/bold/dangerous thing to do?” – I’m starting with the relationship – “who matters most to me?” – and only then asking what’s the courageous thing to do.
(Does that one-two combo work for you too?)
Lesson 2: A core behavior, a hundred manifestations
On a related note, the second key lesson I discovered was that my courageous act, when it did actually show up, tended to be the same act every time: speaking up when I’d much prefer to keep quiet.
Those of you who know me at all, know that for most topics most of the time, I’m happy to have an opinion. But what I’ve come to notice is that, in the difficult conversations or when I get push-back on an idea I might have, I accede to the other person a little too quickly.
Now, sometimes that’s the right thing to do. It has recently come to my attention that I am, in fact, not omniscient. On the odd occasion other people have what might be termed “the more correct, less incorrect answer”.
But sometimes, the thing that needs to happen is for two points of view to go a few rounds in the ring with each other to see which one is the most vigorous. And if we’re going to carry the boxing metaphor a little further, it would seem that I have a weak chin at times. (Not quite as bad as this but still…)
What’s useful here?
Here’s what I’m taking away.
First, what’s the one single new habit that’s courageous, bold, and stretches and challenges me across a range of circumstances? (It’s to not back down as quickly as I do when I’m faced with an opposing argument. What’s yours?)
And second, be courageous enough to build that habit in my key relationships. (Who matters to you?)