While processing a difficult conversation with a colleague, we found this insight. As leaders, we bring power dynamics into our interactions. Whether I want it or not, my title has sway, and that itself can close or open my opportunity space. How I show up in a conversation has an impact, despite our desire to keep things rational. In my job, having authentic, rich conversations is essential and the trap of leading while sleepwalking is ever-present. A 1:1 of pleasantries and avoiding difficult topics is not just a waste of time, it’s a reinforcement of a habit that makes getting back to the thick of it more challenging.
To me, this means that I need to be able to sense the tension during an interaction, even if it is a carefully concealed one — and be able to tolerate the discomfort of that tension. This capacity of sitting with discomfort has been a quest that developed into a practice for me. There’s something very significant about being able to sense a rising emotion, and instead of our habitual ricocheting it outward (“that guy is a jerk!”) or inward (“omg, I am so bad at this!”), to be able to turn toward it, face it — and befriend it.
It’s really weird, but I am learning that for a leader, that feeling of discomfort is good. It’s a signal that there’s something really interesting happening that they aren’t yet able to see or turn into a conscious thought. It’s an invitation to learn and to explore, an adventure that awaits. And the more we’re able to sit with our discomfort, the better we can answer the call of this adventure.