Anyone that serves as a leader, on in the role of a consultant, coach, or trusted advisor, is vulnerable to personalizing or internalizing other people's challenges. It's often our job to help others carry their burdens, and support them through difficulty until they emerge on the other side.
While this work is very rewarding, it can also be draining. We must train ourselves to simultaneously be emotionally available and present, while maintaining a healthy distance for both perspective and self-preservation.
Throughout my 25 years of leading employees and working with CEO clients to help them move through both personal and professional struggles, I've identified 5 mindsets to ensure I continuously provide maximum value and support, while maintaining a heathy distance so I don't experience burnout.
1: Nothing Anyone Says or Does Is Personal Against Me.
My life's most impactful book is "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. The second agreement is "don't take anything personally." The way people show up in life is a reflection of them, not you. Their behaviors reflect their own experiences, perceptions, and biases.
Especially in contentious arguments, or in times when it may appear that someone is striking out at us, we must remember that their behavior reflects how they are experiencing the world at this moment in time.
2: The Best Empathy is Empathy with Boundaries.
Best-selling author Dr. Brene Brown has taught millions of readers the importance of setting boundaries when helping others. "The most compassionate people I know also have the most well-defined boundaries," she observes
Brown shares that in order to best help others, we have to protect ourselves so that we don't get consumed in the grief or difficulty of another. We can't help if we are embroiled with them.
- Make a mantra that you repeat to yourself every time your boundary is tested.
- Keep a resentment journal to track your triggers.
- Rehearse and practice saying No.
3: Remember That Everything is Impermanent.
As difficult as a situation may seem for you or the person you are helping, it is still impermanent. Every moment of every day is impermanent. The only certainty we have in life is change. Even if you can't see the precise resolution or conclusion, and even when it feels as if time is standing still, everyday you are moving further towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
4: Within Crisis Lies Opportunity.
I have trained myself to believe and perceive that all challenging situations are a means to a positive end, and that there is a much bigger purpose and opportunity ahead of me that I can't possibly see.
Further, when we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, and when it seems that we are out of options, we somehow find a way to turn the wall into a doorway that leads to opportunities for growth we didn't anticipate.
Finally, I have removed the word "failure" from my language. Often, our plans detour. They take us down a path we didn't plan. This pay may not be what we initially wanted, but there is still opportunity for growth, prosperity, achievement, success, learning, and happiness. It just may look different than what we planned.
5: Raw Emotions and Vulnerability Equals Deep Trust.
Finally, when an employee or client has become emotional, and they are letting me in on their deepest secrets and most closely held fears, I remember that this is the greatest representation of trust a person can demonstrate.
I honor and appreciate every ounce of vulnerability another person shows me because there is no greater proof of trust than vulnerability. Even when the conversation becomes heated, I stay in the moment of transparency and vulnerability. I never make the conversation about me, or what I may need from the exchange. I keep the conversation completely focused on their needs.
One of the most important things to remember when helping others is that ultimately, we are all responsible for our own decisions, and our own outcomes. We have all been in a place where we know we must make a change, or choose a fork in the road, and for whatever reason, we can't.
As coaches, mentors, and trusted advisors, we must accept that there will be many times when those we are helping will reject our help. We must remember that in the end, as invested as we are in someone else's happiness and success, it's not our journey.
The Highest Calling of Leadership
Choosing to be there for another person, and carrying their challenges with us, is one of the greatest gifts of leadership. The way we best serve others is to educate them on these mindsets so that they can create the strength to move through their challenges, and protect ourselves so that we can stay strong, compassionate, and accessible throughout the process.
And when your confidante has emerged in a better place, you will both be grateful and stronger because of the journey.