In this 2 minute video, Angela describes how courage relates to values and how values lead to courage. If you are struggling with the Courage to Take a Stand, this video might be especially valuable for you.
It’s January 31, 2017, only 11 days after Donald J. Trump took office and boy has it been a whirlwind of activity. He has already:
- Blocked refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days and stated preference for “religious minorities.”
- Blocked federal funding for any global health organization that provide or support abortion
- Abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
- Froze government hires and regulations.
- Blocked immigrants and visa holders from Iraq, Ran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.
- Required all immigrants crossing the border to be detained .
- Directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin construction on a wall.*
Whew! That’s a lot in 11 days and most of all which President Trump campaigned to do. What a novel concept; a leader who does what he says and does it with a sense of urgency! I can certainly respect that. But the question I want to pose is does that make President Trump a Courageous Leader?
Let’s start with the definition of Courageous. In my book, “The Courageous Leader” (Wiley, 2017), I define courage as what moves us to action in the face of tough times. I define tough times as situations or people that cause us some level of discomfort or pain. In other words, Courageous leaders move to action despite discomfort and pain. With this definition of Courageous leadership in mind, let’s evaluate what we are seeing with Trump’s leadership thus far.
It is certainly true that our nation is facing tough times and Trump is certainly taking steps to deal with those tough times. But is his forward movement action or reaction? An important distinction when determining a courageous leader. Reaction is based on our primitive response to discomfort or pain. It is the part of us that responses to threat, or perceived threat, and reacts. Reaction is rooted in fear and answers the question, “Do I eat it or does it eat me?” Action, on the other hand, is based on engaging the neo-cortex which is curious, open and seeks to understand before acting. A leader who moves to action does so in an informed way so that they understand the impact of their actions on those they lead. Reaction is a coping strategy. Action is Courageous.
Is Trump informed? Has he done his due diligence first to seek to understand before acting? It would be difficult to image that a President in office less than a month, who has not met with all foreign leaders relative to his decisions, who has not consulted with all parts of his administration on his goals, and who has not actually been in the job before, be informed. Without this missing insight, how could a President truly understand the impact of their actions?
But for us to truly evaluate if Trump is Courageous we need not only consider if Trump is taking action that is fully informed but also if the threat he is responding to is a legitimate threat or if he is reacting to a perceived threat. Let’s take one of the most recent action, banning seven countries from entering the United States of America. There is, of course, evidence everywhere that ISIS is carrying out hate crimes against the world. That we know for sure. What we also know for sure is that Muslims coming into America from the countries banned killed zero Americans on American soil. Zero. This number is based on a research study conducted by the Cato Institute and lead by Alex Nowresteh, an immigration policy analyst. That means Muslims traveling from the seven identified countries are not a threat to our safety. As a matter of fact, Nowresteh’s research also points out that the chances of an American being killed by a foreigner on American soil is 1 in 3.6 million per year. It would be easier to understand this action if the action was connected to President Trump’s stated desired outcome. In the absence of that, President Trump’s reaction is to a perceived threat, not a real threat.
This raises serious questions as to whether President Trump’s response is Courageous.
I want a safer world. I certainly want a safer home for my children here in my country. And in these times we need a Courageous Leader running our nation to keep us safe. So far, as much as I understand the intent of President Trump, his reaction does not meet my definition of Courageous. What about you?
One recent winter, I brought my kids with me on a business trip. My daughter Cate, who was 3 at the time, was enjoying the warmth and comfort of her bath when room service rang to deliver dinner. She told me she wanted to eat; I explained she’d need to hop out of the tub and get dressed first. She began to sob uncontrollably and said “Mom, I’m too cold and the water is what is keeping me warm.”
I reiterated that as soon as she got out of the tub, I would dry her off and put her in warm clothes, and she would be warm and able to eat. She sobbed some more and said, “But Mom, I’m so hungry!” Once again, I pointed out how easy it would be to get out and get her food. She said, “Yeah, but if I get out of the tub, I’ll be really, really cold.”
Later, replaying that moment, it struck me: Cate’s behavior demonstrated an important phenomenon of both life and leadership:
The pain and discomfort of getting unstuck.
Change is inevitable. As individuals, we grow. Our goals and perspective evolve, our skills develop and the world around us transforms. To keep pace without stagnating, we have to allow our routines and roles to change, too.
But change involves a transition phase that can be uncomfortable or even quite painful. The temptation to avoid that phase by avoiding change altogether is powerful. Avoiding that phase is exactly how we get and stay stuck.
Cate’s bath, I realized, represented this conundrum perfectly.
In the tub her state was “warm and hungry.” Her desired state was “warm and full.” The only way she could get from her current state to her desired state was to temporarily be cold and hungry, a seemingly worse-off scenario.
As so many of us do, she was sitting in the comfort her present situation hungering for something more yet fearing the transition this required.
I talk more about this bath “aha” moment and what it represents more in my new book THE COURAGEOUS LEADER .
The gist is: suspended between our current situation and the situation we desire, we experience the pain of the transition like a trapeze artist swinging from one bar to the next. William Bridges, a best-selling author and expert in the field of change management, refers to this transition as the move from the ending of one thing through the neutral zone to the beginning of something new.
But for the transition to happen it all, we must find the courage to move past our fear and embrace it rather than fight it – which will only make our situation worse.
As Bridges has said, anticipating pain and discomfort as part of the transitional process is key.
Ultimately, with the help of a fluffy towel and a good dose of coaxing, Kate mustered the courage transition from cold and hungry to warm and full. Which was of course, the only viable option.
What about you? Have you found yourself stuck avoiding change? How have you coped with uncomfortable transitions when faced with them?
I learned something about myself today that I didn’t know before. To explain my stroke of insight, I need to explain my morning exercise ritual and how today was different. First, most of you reading this know I’m an avid runner. I find distance running a beautiful thing. I started running in my twenties because as an uncoordinated and weak athlete, running was a way for me to participate in a sport without letting anyone else down. But after two decades dedicated to the sport, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. As I’ve gotten older, my doctor recommended strength training to keep my body strong for distance running as I age.
Anything to grow old running.
So, in addition to strength training on weights, today I decided to join a couple of friends for a core conditioning class. It was my first class so I made a huge assumption that my lack of knowledge would not be an issue and the expectation of my performance would be relatively low. That was not the case. The instructor introduced himself then quickly introduced me to the equipment. He asked me if I liked a good workout and I said, yes. He said “good let’s get going”. Before I knew it the class was following a series of his commends. There were springs to pull, foot placements to consider, form, bands to leverage and all this while making the necessary move on que. I would barely get a move down before we were onto the next sequence. Twice the instructor yelled out “Newbie, this way.” A few more times, he laughed at me and finally in the end when I had flat out gave up on trying to keep up with it all, he lowered his head and shook it back and forth.
After the class ended, I felt like I had run 20 miles with no water break. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. He said, “What did you think?” Disappointed and frankly angry that he had been so impatient with me, I told him I thought I wasn’t the right student for him. He responded, “Why? You did a great job. I asked you if you wanted a good workout.”
I told him, “I need a teacher with a little more patience.” Instead of signing up for another class I put on my running shoes and left for my go-to work out; a long run.
As I ran, I reflected. First, I was disappointed in myself for reacting to the instructor in the way I did. I wished I had been less expressive with my frustrations. He meant well and frankly I was embarrassed and acting out. But what I learned about myself was worth the embarrassment. I realized that as a runner, I love competitions. I love races, I love it when my friends on my running team and I compete for highest mileage or best pace because I’m good at running. It pushes me to a whole new level when I’m challenged. But with strength building, I’m a wimp. And when it comes to using a platform and all kinds of equipment I’m not familiar with, I’m insecure and ill-equipped. What I really needed to thrive was a little hand holding and positive reinforcement. I didn’t get that from this instructor and I left feeling bad about myself and unmotivated to return.
I wonder how often as leaders we push people when what they need is a little hand holding to thrive. Or how often do we hand hold people when what they need to thrive is to be challenged and pushed. It made me realize that if we are not asking our people then we won’t know. And even if we ask them, they may not know themselves well enough to have an informed response. Like I’ve shared with my insight, I always thought I responded well to being challenged but as it turns out that only works when it’s something I’m already good at. When I’m unskilled and feeling vulnerable, I need someone whose patient and walks me through things step by step.
Do you know yourself well? Do you know what works for you? Do you know what works for your people? More importantly, how will you find out?
Angela Sebaly, CEO of Personify Leadership and author of the new book “The Courageous Leader: How to Face Any Challenge and Lead Your Team to Success.”
I wonder how Martin Luther King would feel as the first ever African American President leaves office after two consecutive terms. I think he would feel proud.
I wonder how Martin Luther King would feel as the “Black Lives Matter” movement spreads throughout our nation because of the needless killing of black men. I think he would feel grave disappointment.
I wonder how Martin Luther King would feel about a recent study that showed African American women-owned businesses grew by 258% from 1997-2013. I think he would feel grateful.
I wonder how Martin Luther King would feel about a divide in our country so deep, it’s hard to hold a conversation around race no matter who is at the table. I think he would feel sadness.
I wonder how Martin Luther King would feel that my six year old daughter and seven year old son are confused when they learn about him because in their school black skinned kids, white skinned kids, yellow skinned kids and brown skinned kids all hold hands and sing regularly together. They start their days by reaching out their hands to each other saying “Today I will look after you.” And they do. They really do.
I think Martin Luther King would feel joy. As a mom who did not experience this growing up, I know I feel joy knowing my children question Martin Luther King’s dream because it is their reality, not a dream. I know what my kids are experiencing is not everyone’s reality nor does it mean it will remain their reality as they get older- but I have hope. I have hope in their generation to change this ugly place we have been in as a human race far.. to.. long. I think Martin Luther King would assess that we still have a lot of work to do and that is why today, more than ever, I think he would be hopeful too. That is what made him the brilliant leader he was and still is in memory. Martin Luther King lived in hope.
Thank you Martin Luther King for your hope. Thank you for your dream. Thank you for your great voice in our world. Always.
Angela Sebaly, CEO Personify Leadership
During this time of transition, much can be learned about leadership effectiveness regardless of the color of your state, the side of the aisle you identify with or your brand of politics. If we can set aside these ideologies and look simply at the practice of leadership, there is much to be learned about what to do and what not to do from our President-Elect.
Right now, we are facing an unprecedented act of cyber war from the Russians, confirmed by our intelligence community, with the intent to undermine our great democracy. Like many threats facing our nation, there is controversy about what comes next and how to handle the information provided in the briefing. But ultimately, the power resides with President Elect-Trump. How he handles this situation begins to shape how “we the people” and the world around us view his leadership.
As leaders, there are two paths available to us: one that is self-seeking, and one that is about seeking a bigger purpose. Our choice of path is driven by who we are. It is not a question with answers we can fake; the answers come from the way we live our life. I discuss this in my new book, The Courageous Leader.
The first path is the path of least resistance and is well-worn. Travelers on this path seek to serve their own needs and their own purpose. The self-seeking path fills a void for the ego and is rooted in fear. I once worked with a team whose exceptional turn-around leader eventually became caught up in trying to build his own visibility and position within the organization instead of leading his business. Over time this impacted results, and he was let go. This is a common outcome for self-seekers; success at the beginning met with a fateful lasting failure.
The second path is one of seeking a bigger purpose. Some leaders are lucky and are born with a disposition for the second path, but for most of us this path is harder to find and takes work to cultivate. Usually we stumble upon it after many humbling experiences. Travelers on this path seek to serve the needs of something bigger than themselves. The bigger purpose seeker serves to create opportunity and possibility, and unlike the self-seeker fixated on winning or demolishing the competition, the bigger purpose leader sheds herself of the need to compare themselves to anyone at any time.
Both self-seekers and bigger-purpose seekers are capable of moving people from one destination to another. The difference is their intention in doing so. The intent of the bigger purpose leader is to reach a goal that serves others. They believe they have a gift that is intended to bring themselves and others preservation, growth, promotion and harmony. The intent of the self-seeker is to obtain these same things for herself, but at the cost of others, if necessary.
From my vantage point, it appears Trump may be able to teach us about confidence. He may be able to teach us about making deals. Even further, he may even be able to teach us a little about bucking the status-quo. But he will not teach us about being a bigger purpose seeker. Trump chooses to put his interest above the best interest of our country. For example, his desire to appear the confident winner of the election without intervention of the Russian government hijacked his sensibility and reasoning. After many briefings from the NSA, FBI and CIA he continued to deflect their findings for a prolonged period of time for what appears to be the purpose of saving face. Even though in his first press conference he reversed course, saying that Russia was indeed responsible for pre-election hacking, this turnabout itself demonstrates his concern with saving face. Trump has a long record of arrogant and emotional retorts to anyone who challenges his way of thinking, most recently taking to twitter to smear Meryl Streep after she tried to smear him. Unfortunately, he does not like criticism and instead when he receives it he will attack, even his own people. But he loves praise and when offered up from Putin, whose interest are not aligned with the U.S., Trump chooses to receive personal praise even if it’s not in the best interest of the country.
There are others who feel Trump’s rejection of national security intelligence, his brash rhetoric and his desire to disrupt government protocol are a good thing. And if this approach produces more accountability in government then this in fact would be a good thing. However, the question remains: is Trump’s overall intention in doing so self-seeking? And more importantly for the American people: will it matter? Like no other time in history, this is an opportunity to test our perspective on leadership. Is it acceptable to be a self-seeker? Or does our world need a bigger purpose seeker, someone who seeks to do what’s best for the people he serves regardless of the personal impact or ramifications it might have for him personally?
Let us watch and see…
Angela Sebaly, CEO of Personify Leadership and Author of “The Courageous Leader: How to Face Any Challenge and Lead Your Team to Success (Wiley March, 2017)”
As leaders, we face tough situations every day.
We’re asked to make tough decisions, have tough conversations, take on tough workloads, inspire tough people and achieve tough goals. There are emotionally-charged conversations to hold. Deadlines are tight and the pressure is on.
In each and every one of these situations, taking action involves discomfort — and pain. Giving a coworker feedback that she’d rather not hear? This will be painful. So will receiving feedback that brings to light areas where you, too, need to make improvements. Or taking a stand on an unpopular position because you believe, fundamentally, that it’s the right thing to do.
But not all leaders are capable of doing the tough stuff. What separates a good manager from an exceptional leader is the willingness to move to action by facing any challenge rather than avoid it, delegate it or run from it.
This is why pain — and the courage required to accept pain as part of the process of fully engaging — is crucial to leadership.
The best leaders can:
● Recognize when they are feeling pain, or anticipate times when they might.
● Navigate and overcome the fear of pain.
● Resist the temptation to avoid pain by either avoiding the situations that provoke it, or reacting in a way that’s defensive or insecure.
● Move thoughtfully to action rather than reacting when faced with tough situations or people.
The good news — as I lay out in my new book THE COURAGEOUS LEADER — is that we all have the the power to tap into the courage this requires.
What about you? What particular situations, conversations or challenges do you tend to avoid as a leader in order to shield yourself from pain?
Yesterday morning as I sipped coffee and scanned my inbox before digging into the myriad of things on my to do list, I saw an article written by Sandy Anastasi that captured my attention. It started like this…
GOD HELP US All!
Well, it’s happening again. In exactly 72 hours, the madness will begin! Our homes will be in shambles, we’ll be nearly catatonic from gluttony and our children will be so hopped up on sugar their teeth will be chattering. The one weird uncle will drink too much and stay just a little past his welcome, and the scale in the bathroom will read, “You’ve got a great personality” when it’s all over.
Of course, Sandy is referring to our upcoming tradition in the states, Thanksgiving. The holidays are a time we come together with those in our life we love and those who challenge us deeply. Sometimes one relationship provides the paradox of both. Family dynamics are as fascinating to me as organizational dynamics and often have much in common. Our challenges with our parents, siblings, in-laws and others give us the opportunity to learn much about ourselves. This additional insight can be a huge gift if we choose to see it that way. Let me share an example with you from my own interesting family dynamics.
My husband comes from a big family, six children in total. He is the baby of the family and apple of his mother’s eye. Marrying the baby of the family with an adoring mother was not easy for me. During one of my first family Thanksgiving’s as the new daughter-in-law, I was stupefied when my mother-in-law arranged two big tables with assigned seating, sitting husbands separate from their wives. My husband was seated next to my mother-in-law and I was seated at the other table.
My stupefaction quickly grew into deep frustration. Now, as a mother of my own boy whom I adore, I can empathize with my mother-in-law’s choice, but at the time I was a volcano exploding in anger. However, while I was busy boiling over, the other two daughters-in-law were busy drinking wine and laughing. They seemed not to be bothered in the least by my mother-in-law’s decision. As a matter of fact, they seemed to be having a wonderful time. It occurred to me then that my response was more about me than my mother-in-law. When presented with the same stimulus, being separated from our husbands for dinner, I was choosing to feel something different than the joy my sisters-in-law were feeling. When this occurred to me I realized joy was also available to me and I alone separated myself from it. Often people are hard for us because they mirror something in us we don’t like about ourselves. This may not be an easy insight to swallow, but it is in fact valid even if we are not conscious of it.
After some reflection, I came to understand that my response to my mother-in-law’s decision was about my disdain for behaviors that make me feel “controlled”. And yet, anyone who knows me knows I really like to control things. I like to be the one making the decisions. My mother-in-law mirrored back to me my own behaviors and in doing so gave me the gift of personal insight. If I don’t like being controlled, then I’m sure others don’t like it when I try to do it them. Now, given this new information, it’s kind of hard to hold my mother-in-law responsible when I’m the one choosing to feel a certain way given a certain set of circumstances, especially when I’m down right hypocritical in my approach. It’s in this new awareness that change and leadership growth is possible during the holidays!
So, no matter what this holiday season throws at you, consider the opportunity your challenge brings you. Every interaction with your family will be an opportunity to develop your personal leadership skills.
Angela Sebaly, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Last week I had the opportunity to be mystery reader for my daughter’s kindergarten class. I brought a book I knew my daughter loved, knocked on the door and waited while listening to the teacher hype up the anticipated mystery reader. When she opened the door and I came in, my daughter’s face lite up and the other kids wiggled in their seats with excitement.
The role of mystery reader is pretty important, if you haven’t gathered already. Once a week an unknown mom or dad arrives to read to the class. Afterwards the kids draw a picture of their favorite part of the story. It’s very heart warming. But I didn’t leave feeling gooey. Instead, I left feeling humbled.
The name of the book I picked is called “The Day the Crayons Came Home.” It’s a story about crayons who get left behind, eaten, washed in with the laundry or some other sorted mess.
As I read the story, I noticed the kids were staring at me oddly. They didn’t seem to be laughing at all the right places as I assumed they would as my children had when I read it to them before. A couple of pages in, the teacher stopped me and said “Mrs. Sebaly, I think the kids are confused because we call them crayons not crowns.” It occurred to me at that point that my daughter’s kindergarten teacher was correcting my grammar and this group of five years olds didn’t understand me because they knew the proper pronunciation of the word crayon. That would have only been slightly humiliating if in a matter of seconds the teacher didn’t have to correct me again and then I had to correct myself two additional times after that.
Finally, I was done reading the book and instead of feeling up lifted by the experience I felt slightly embarrassed. Here I am an educated and accomplished women who can’t even pronounce the word crayon appropriately… and English is my first language!
Humbling experiences are such a great reminder that we are all human, no matter our title or position. We are all susceptible to mistakes, blunders, mishaps and failures. And yes, sometimes, even a kindergartener knows more than we do.