Compassionate People Have the Best Boundaries

In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown shares a profound insight.  She states, “very early on in my work I had discovered that the most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries. It surprised me at the time, but now I get it. They assume that other people are doing the best they can, but they also ask for what they need and they don’t put up with a lot of crap. Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
In my work as a coach, I have frequently heard people describe their frustrations with doing things they didn’t want to do, shouldn’t have to do and downright resented.  And most of the time, they did not share their feelings or experience with the person who they saw as the source of that frustration.
Situations included having to pick up other people’s shifts, finish their unfinished work, do assignments, meetings and trips that others did not want to do. And my coachees gritted their teeth, smiled on the surface, and did it.  When they shared their stories with me they were angry, hurt, resentful, enraged…and as Brené Brown describes, self-righteous. And it was eating at them. They were indignant.
So how do people get into these binds?  Brown talks about mindset differences.  She discusses the difference in belief that “people are doing the best they can,” versus “people aren’t doing their best.” She claims that it is not the situation, but our beliefs and thoughts about what is happening that drives our response.
I have a colleague who frequently cancels meetings, postponing our ability to get work done. She always has great reasons for the cancellations and I do believe they are true.  However, I am unbelievably frustrated because I am gridlocked on a project without her. Have I told her?  How could I? Her explanations each time are real, meaningful and serious…but, our relationship is crumbling right along with the project.  I am starting to see her as flaky, not-to-be-trusted.  I am looking for work-arounds to remove her from the project to get it done.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? But what is the point of confronting her when her reasons are so justified?
The most critical part of a relationship, whether work or personal, is trust.  I can self-righteously proclaim that she is violating my trust by not following through with her commitments.  But on the other side, I am violating her trust by not telling her what I need.
My self-righteousness suggests that “she should know, shouldn’t she? She just doesn’t care, so why bother?”  What is really happening here?  I am assuming she is not doing the best she can. I have lowered my opinion of her.
I am an equal co-partner in destroying the relationship and not getting the best for our project. What would happen if I assume good intent? What would happen if I share how I am feeling about the project and her involvement? What would happen if I tell her what I need? Perhaps a beginning could sound something like this. . .
“I know you have had a lot of things come up that have interfered with getting this work done. I respect that you have had different priorities. However, I am really frustrated because I cannot continue my work without your input.  I need to know if you are in or if I should develop a different plan to get this done. If you are in, I need to have a meeting with you this week. I will work with your schedule, but if you cancel again, I am going to have to work on it independently.”
Is the language too harsh? Will I lose our relationship? Well, I ask, do we have one now?  What might she say? How might this impact my sense of self if I regain a way forward?
Generally, we avoid conversations like the one above because we are uncomfortable with being so direct.  We hint, make side comments, vent with other people and luxuriate in our own self-righteous indignation…or we wait until they really cross the line and blow up!  All to avoid having an honest, uncomfortable conversation.
Patrick Lencioni believes that trust is fundamental to high functioning teams. He talks about trust as being deeper than just doing what we say we will do, he talks about vulnerability (and so does Brown, a lot!) – a willingness to be open, honest and mistaken.  Owning how I am impacted by other people is a very vulnerable place to be…owning resentment, frustration, discomfort.  But it is the way forward to being more effective as an individual and as a leader.
We have to take the risk.  So how do we do it? It takes courage and SCILLSS. When we are trying something new or different, having a structure can help us succeed.  Here is a quick summary of some steps that can guide us until these conversations become second nature.
1.  S: Self-assessment
How am I feeling? Can you identify what you are feeling…can you get past mad – mad is often a default that covers more uncomfortable feelings like hurt, disrespected, left out.
What am I telling myself? Remember mindset differences? This is the most critical part of the process because our feelings are generated from our thoughts. If I think they should know better, I react one way. If I think they are doing the best they can, I open up possibilities to different reactions.
What else could be going on? Explore other possibilities – why else might they be acting/doing what they are doing?
2. C: Cue to invite conversation
If we are taking the risk of having an uncomfortable conversation, let the other person know what is going on.  “I’d like to discuss something with you if you have a minute… Is this a good time?”Is this a good place?
3. I: Use I-messages
How we describe our concern will impact their response.  Be careful of judgmental or accusatory words that come out of what we are telling ourselves. As much as possible be objective and descriptive.  You might want to write down a few notes for this step.
When you … (objective, behavioral – watch for judgments)
I feel… (use a feeling word – avoid saying “that you…” after “feel”) This is where you get really vulnerable – how are you experiencing what is happening…
Because… (how does this impact me, the work environment or product, our customers/clients?)
4. L: Listen to response and paraphrase what you have heard
Remember, this is about relationship and building trust. Take time for the other person to respond and share how they see the situation. Then explain more of your point of view if needed.
5. L: Listen some more to response and paraphrase until both perspectives are understood.
6. S: Seek a solution that works for both/all parties involved.
Now you get to figure out how to change from a frustrating situation to a productive solution.  Can you see how this can build trust?
Ask, “how can we solve this?”
Brainstorm possible strategies
Write down possibilities
All possibilities – no commentary
Then identify those that would help and both can agree to
7. S: See if it works
We frequently forget this step.  It is possible that the solution or agreement you came up with will not work or only partially address the situation. You might need to revisit things to get it right.  Additionally, change takes conscious and mindful effort. Think of times you tried to change a personal behavior (think diet, exercise or flossing…). How often do we say we’ll do it, and then forget about it?  Setting a time to check back holds us all accountable. It will make a difference in your results. Really!!!
Agree to try a solution for a certain amount of time
Set a time to check back to see if it is working or what needs to be fine tuned
What do you think?  I would love to know if you have taken the risk and tried to have this kind of conversation.  How did it go?  Being a leader means stepping up, being honest, building trust and holding ourselves and others accountable; in essence, being compassionate with strong boundaries. Good luck!
Brown, B. (2015-08-25). Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution (Kindle Locations 1700-1707). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Lencioni, Patrick M. (2012-03-14). The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (J-B Lencioni Series) (p. 27). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Preparing Next Generation Leaders

Preparing Next Generation Leaders – can we change or just get out of the way?

by Rory Gilbert, M.Ed., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

In my work, I have often heard people complain about millennials…even millennials complain about each other! Millennials (MLs) are described as needy, slackers, demanding instant gratification and constant feedback. They don’t want to pay their dues and want to be able to speak up and contribute right now! They don’t know their place and they are not loyal to the company. They keep talking about work-life balance – where is their dedication?i

We also know that as boomers retire, especially in leadership positions, there are not enough folks to replace them without an infusion of millennial talent and energy. People worry because they believe MLs are not prepared, not ready for leadership.

I would challenge those of us who see this dilemma to revisit three things.

  • What do we know are best practices to create successful organizations?
  • How do MLs fit into these recommended best practices?
  • What do we need to do to prepare MLs for the leadership demands of the future?

So, what makes an organization successful in the current environment?

Alex and David Bennetii tell us that organizations must be able to adapt quickly to change. This means hiring people, not positions. Organizations need capable, competent people who can be assigned projects that use their skills and develop their skills. People need content knowledge and the ability to collaborate well with others to respond effectively and creatively.

People need to be clear about the organization’s mission and empowered to make timely decisions within their field of influence to respond to changes in the environment. People need to be willing to take risks. Hierarchies and overly controlled environments do not allow for this type of activity.iii

Patrick Lencioni emphasizes that taking needed risks requires a deep level of trust in the organization from leaders to employees – that they will act in the best interest of the company, and that they have the knowledge and ability to make good decisions. And for employees, when (not if) they make mistakes, it is essential that leaders back them up and support them in learning from and correcting those mistakes. To do so, leaders need to provide quick and clear feedback, advice and counsel. iv

When there is an environment of deep trust like this, an organization can have true accountability – where people own their actions and decisions, speak up about concerns, work together to take the best actions and make the best decisions. In a truly accountable organization, people can easily review, learn from and rapidly respond to mistakes, so there is as little negative impact as possible. v

Harvard Business Review identified the leadership competencies that were most important for all management positions. Among the top competencies were inspiring and motivating others, displaying high integrity and honesty, communicating powerfully and prolifically, collaborating and promoting teamwork and building relationships. Displaying technical or professional expertise finally emerged eighth on the list. vi This list indicates the importance of interpersonal skills for effective leadership.

How do millennials fit into these best practices? I would suggest they fit perfectly if we reframe the attributes so often used to describe them.

They are ready for a challenge, want to learn and try new things and want honest, supportive feedback. They recognize people for their skills and contributions not their titles, and they want to be recognized for what they can contribute as well. They seek resources that will help them solve problems, rather than relying on stifling chains of command.vii

They want strong, genuine and honest relationships with their leaders. They count on rapid feedback that allows for quick course-corrections so they can be successful. viii

When they feel valued by their organizations and see opportunities to advance, MLs prefer to remain with their organizations. They are loyal when the organization’s values and goals are aligned with their own. ix

They commit to giving 100% when they are on the job and are wise enough to believe what we say (but not what we do), that we perform better when we take time to refresh and rejuvenate. While they are wired in 24/7, that doesn’t mean they want to work 24/7. x

What do we need to do to prepare Millennials for the leadership demands of the future?

I believe we need to follow the lead of MLs in creating the organization of the future. We need to support environments that are flexible, non-hierarchical and capitalize on their greatest asset, people.

That means letting go of some archaic notions. Things like:

  • what it means to pay one’s dues
  • the number of hours at the office demonstrates commitment or ability
  • setting boundaries on work time means slacking or disloyalty
  • speaking up too soon is a sign of disrespect
  • trying something new and failing is dangerous

We need to look at what people are capable of doing rather than being limited by job titles, and then let them have a chance to try something new! And we need to build genuine relationships that allow for risk-taking, creativity, innovation and adaptability. For millennials, this is the standard they are seeking.

This means providing information, context and mentorship for our emerging leaders and providing them with growth opportunities to test their abilities and learn from failure.

This means demonstrating how to give and take constructive feedback, manage conflict respectfully, admit our mistakes and learn from others. These are critical skills for the next generation of leaders. No one knows it all, but in strong and collaborative environments, a leader can facilitate making the most of what everyone knows.

None of these skills is new. Leadership books have been espousing them for years…but most of us have not mastered them…or in many cases even tried. xi Millennials come to us ready to embrace a supportive, collaborative, adaptive environment. Now is the time to shape that future. Organizations cannot afford to make MLs conform to leadership styles that are destined to fail. We need to model the new way of being (even if imperfectly) or it may well be time to get out of the way.

Updated 4-3-17:  Just read this article. It reinforces my main points. Check it out.


iMillennials have been labeled as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic, with an innate distrust of bureaucracy and authority. This generation is also known for being difficult to manage in the workplace and prone to job-hopping. For better or worse, Millennials now make up the largest generation in the U.S. labor force which means it’s time for employers to start adapting to an ever-changing workforce.”

ii Bennet, Alex and David (2011). Organizational Survival in the New World. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group: New York.
iii Bennett, Alex and David (2011).

iv Lencioni, Patrick. (2012) The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business. Jossey-Bass:San Fransisco.

v Lencioni, Patrick (2012).


Top skills ranked in order: inspires and motivates others, high integrity and honesty, solves problems and analyzes issues, drives for results, communicate powerfully and prolifically, builds relationships, displays technical or professional expertise…

vii Shaw, Haydn (2013-07-22). Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

viii Shaw, Haydn (2013-07-22).

x Shaw, Haydn (2013-07-22).
xi Consider the body of work of Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Kouzes and Posner, Jim Collins, Margaret Wheately and many others.

Embracing Diversity in the Workplace

Why do I as a leader need to pay attention to diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace? There are so many other factors I need to take into account already. Isn’t inclusiveness just one more thing? I ask all my employees to do the best job they can and I evaluate them on their performance. Isn’t that what equality is all about? Isn’t that just good business?
The strategy of setting clear expectations and providing fair evaluations would probably be enough if you had everyone on an assembly line and they were all doing the same job. But even then, you might have to consider if one person was taller than another, had longer arms, greater or lesser muscle strength or different levels of coordination. The more you think about it, the assembly line is a great example of why, even there, knowing about diversity and inclusiveness would be really important…because in fact, no two people are the same. And, your challenge as a leader or manager is to optimize your most valuable resource, your people.
So you would have to think through who is best suited for what task on the assembly line, how long they could work without a break and maintain quality performance, how you could keep them motivated, focused and retained so you would not have to train new people. You’d have to make sure that people were close enough, tall enough, nimble enough…to do the task…and you might want to have some additional resources like footstools, arm rests, etc. so you could increase your hiring pool and still be sure that they were able to do their best work.
Now consider that most of today’s employees are not on an assembly line. We ask them to bring their whole selves to work, to provide excellent customer service, to use critical thinking skills, to solve problems, and to represent our organizations well.
These requirements ask us as leaders and managers to consider what our employees need to be their most effective…and what our customers want in order to be satisfied with our products. Inclusiveness is the tool to address these considerations.
Inclusiveness is the organizational practice that recognizes and values the knowledge, skills, experience and perspectives that employees (and customers) bring to the workplace. It is created through effective relationships and communication. It requires leaders to be learners; to recognize that they need the perspectives of other people to have the full picture of what is possible.
In fact, current research indicates that the most effective, successful businesses are those that are also the most inclusive. Optimizing the diverse perspectives, skills and experiences of their people allows for the greatest innovation, productivity and risk-control. Yes, leaders NEED to pay attention to diversity and inclusiveness.
A culture change takes intentional and strategic action. Contact Rory Gilbert for more information on how your organization could benefit from a partnering relationship to make such a change work for you.

Pushing the Wild Frontier

When I was a youngster my parents would often tell me “Don’t get too big for your britches.” Indeed, my entire tiny village on the prairie would announce it regularly, accompanied by clicks of the tongue and a practiced scoff.

Employee Wellbeing and the Bottom Line

While it’s clear that happy, healthy employees are more effective and productive at work, it’s not always clear to employers what they can do to help set the stage for employee happiness and wellbeing. However, because people spend so much of their time at work, employers are in the ideal position to invest in their employees’ wellbeing.