Every leader inevitably has some tough conversations as a part of their job. Some of us are absolutely fine with them, while others may stay awake at night dreading those conversations, or plainly avoid them at all. What makes a difference in our attitude to giving constructive feedback, sharing the bad news, or confronting someone’s unsatisfactory performance? Those difficult conversations become tough when leaders make it about themselves.
The key to having a healthy attitude towards tough conversations is taking your emotions out of the equation. From the experience of the first guest of my Genius Leadership podcast Mia Törnblom, 60-70% of successful leadership is self-leadership – knowing your needs, understanding your emotions, and taking action based on those. When you can successfully lead yourself, leading others stops being about you and becomes about your people. You have already fulfilled your needs, you’ve done your homework, and you can show up, be fully present for your people, and truly focused on creating the environment for them to thrive in.
So how can you be that strong leader of yourself? Mia recommends doing little but often. Spend 5-10 minutes every evening to reflect on your day. What has been not so good and what’s your learning from that? What has been good? What are you grateful for? And what do you need help with (from yourself, the others, or the Universe/ God/ Higher Power – whatever you believe in)? These four questions answered continuously show you:
- your strengths
- your space for improvement,
- your progress,
- your needs.
Taking time to answer these questions rewires your brain. By reflecting on the learning from what you’ve done less well, you are suggesting alternative scenarios for your brain to tap into next time a similar situation occurs, and your reaction to it can be a healthier one.
Writing down what you have done well strengthens your self-esteem. Have a rule of writing at least three things every day, and with practice, you will learn that you are a worthy human being, that no matter how hard or bad your day has been. You are doing good in this world, and that is enough. And yes, there is something good to journal about every day. Sometimes, it can be “not kicked my boss in the face” or “let myself stay in bed and grieve the loss”, or “got out of bed and brushed teeth” (that would even be two good things!) In this question, it is important to really tap into your needs and not write the things that are generally good. For example, it’s generally good to train your body. But maybe you’ve had a very tough week and are exhausted. Then your “done well” thing can be “skipped the training and went to bed early”. Take this question as an opportunity to pat yourself on the shoulder every day because you are worth it!
Journaling on gratitude is proven to have many benefits for our mind and body. People who are grateful daily are reported to have fewer complaints about their physical health. So take a moment and write down at least one thing that you feel blessed about. It can be big like “living in a peaceful country” and “being healthy”, or small like “watching a beautiful sunset” or “having a delicious morning coffee”. It can be the generic “being healthy”, or you can get more specific – “grateful for my strong legs that carry me around every day”. And if you absolutely can’t come up with anything you are grateful for (which will never happen after you’ve consistently practiced for 2-3 months), write down something you are grateful for someone else having in their life, e.g. “grateful for Olga having found the love of her life”. Gratitude is a mental muscle, if you want, and to get strong, you need to put in the work and get those reps.
Lastly, asking for help… This one is tough for many high achievers because needing help is a sign of weakness to them. In reality, being able to identify what you are not able to pull out yourself yet and acknowledging that you need help with that is a sign of your mental and spiritual strength. When you write down something you need help with in the evening, your brain keeps working in the night, creating ways for you to act upon what you have written. So the next day, your actions are more aligned with your goals and needs, and this process is magically beautiful.
Remember, your journal is for you – no one will come into the room, read it, grade your entries, and comment on whether what you have written is right or wrong. This is your time for yourself – to get that precious time and space to listen inwards, hear what your body, mind and soul are asking for, and taking inspired action to give them what they need. In our time of constantly rushing somewhere, always serving others, etc, these couple of minutes per day will make you a more grounded person, a better partner, a more present parent, and a more successful leader.
So, next time you have a tough conversation ahead, make it a theme for the daily reflection. Think about what have you done not so well in such situations before and what can you learn from them. List the conversations you have taken well in your life and tap into the power of “Been there, done that”. Find things to be grateful for in the coming conversation. Maybe it’s “Thank you for being able to help my employee to do a better job” or “Grateful for taking control of the situation before it escalates”. And ask for help! You don’t have to always be strong and know all the answers! Maybe your Help will be “Help me be fully present for Peter during our conversation tomorrow, and stay in the space of serving him as his leader”, or “I need help with being brave to take that discussion tomorrow”, or “I’ll ask Therese help me prepare for that meeting tomorrow morning”. This way you will prepare yourself to be emotionally present for your people but not emotionally attached to the situations ahead.