Last week one of my clients was feeling very annoyed and irritated, and couldn’t seem to shake it off. She had received some feedback from a client that triggered feelings of resentment and frustration, which then bled into her life. She woke up stewing on it, composing responses in her head. She felt the tension when driving her kids around. She was short with colleagues.

When we spoke, she outlined why the feedback was SO UNFAIR. She felt it would put a question mark next to her name for her boss, which might impact her career. She was bullish, and on the defensive. She was not able short circuit her reactivity in a way that could allow her to respond from choice.

In our session, I listened to what was not being said, and something was revealed. Sitting right underneath her upset and feelings of unfairness was a deeper, more painful feeling she was not conscious of. Shame. She felt shamed by being judged (in her mind) as not good enough. She felt exposed. Vulnerable. And as soon as she got present to this deeper feeling, the defensiveness and outrage dropped.

“You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Brene Brown

My client was then able to access choice – choosing how she responded to the situation; choosing how she might show up with her kids; choosing how she wanted to feel and lead. Everything changed when she got present to what was really going on for her.

And that, to me, is real leadership.

When you’re next stuck in a reactive state, try this to move into responsiveness.

Observe where you’re at. Notice your thoughts, mood, stories and actions. Bring them into focus. If it’s unease you are feeling, or worry, or berating yourself, stop and distinguish it. Notice it. Move beyond the story and experience what’s really going on.

Be ok with whatever is happening under the conscious mind. Welcome it. Acknowledge it. Now choose how you want to respond. Guide yourself back to how you are when you lead as your best self.

Bringing your attention to it is often enough. The energy we use to obfuscate, or distract, or to blame just drops. It goes. And what is left is tenderness and courage. What’s left is love.

The more authentically we can get to the heart of this, the more ability we have to choose our leadership and our impact.

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