Restorative Leadership: Restoring Your Intentions

To be a Restorative Leader, we must be intentional. The first step of doing intention work is awareness. This requires SLOWING DOWN and often STOPPING all together. We have to wake up to what we are thinking and feeling. Get out of our habit of rushing around and checking things mindlessly off the list. When I say this, I know many of you are starting to spin out. “I don’t have time to slow down, let alone stop.” Hold on. Back to baby steps. A great first step is to take 2-5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well. Reflection is one of our most powerful and underutilized tools to learn and grow. Think about which parts of your day (situations, interactions, things you were doing, places you went, people you encountered) felt good and which ones didn’t feel so good. 

For those of us who have never made this kind of space for ourselves, this can be enough. Describe the situations and look for patterns. Sometimes it’s a person who consistently brings us down that we become aware of, sometimes it’s a place that makes us feel not so good. As you get practice and are ready for a next step, consider the following: How are you feeling in your body? What are you thinking? Can you pinpoint what is causing a positive or negative reaction? 

As we explore situations and interactions, what we typically discover is that we override our intuition and our beliefs, and even compromise our values in order to appease or please others. We are too scared to say what we think or feel because we don’t want to upset someone or we are fearful of retaliation. We get frustrated by others because of unmet expectations, only to find in reflection, we never actually spoke our needs, desires or expectations out loud.  

This practice helps us separate ourselves from everything else. It depersonalizes our interactions and helps us calm our ego. It allows us to start to view things objectively. Almost as a third party observer of our life. Giving ourselves this space and this perspective allows us to respond intentionally vs. react in the moment out of our emotions. As we build this muscle, we can start to bring this practice into our life in real time vs. after these situations and interactions have happened. 

STOP: switch off autopilot and come to the present moment
NOTICE: look around at what’s happening – what are you thinking, feeling and doing
ASK: What am I telling myself right now? Is it true? What happens when I believe this thought? Who am I without this thought? What do I need? How do I want this person to feel?
PIVOT: Make an intentional choice 

This is an excellent practice to use live whenever you feel things that make you the opposite of your best self. If at any moment you are feeling out of alignment with these, use the SNAP process to help you get aligned. Now I want to be clear this doesn’t mean we are singing kumbaya and all getting along. In fact, using this practice will likely make waves where you haven’t had them before, in the spirit of positive change. The key is to speak and act with love and respect, even in disagreement. Let me give you a couple examples from my life. 

The first and possibly hardest relationship within which I’ve been challenged to lead from a place of wholeness and connection is with my dad. After all that we experienced in childhood, we have never reconciled so I had to take ownership of my own healing and forgive him without ever talking about it or receiving an apology. The thought of this seemed impossible.

At first, leading from a place of wholeness and connection in this relationship looked like distancing myself from him all together in physical form and honoring my feelings of anger and hurt. I wrote angry letters to him that I never sent, I blasted the music in my car and screamed and swore at him in ways that would scare any passerby, I backed him up to and pushed him off cliffs in my mind, I beat the crap out of pillows pretending it was his face, and on and on. Once I got through the anger (which is almost always a cover up emotion for something deeper), I let myself do something I almost never did growing up when it came to him and how he hurt me. I cried. And cried and cried. And cried some more. 

In letting all of my emotions out, a new narrative began to emerge. One that challenged me to consider that this wasn’t about me at all. It helped me see my dad as a human again. A young boy who got threatened and beat regularly. A man who was riddled with shame and guilt, who acted out of fear and control which covered up how sad, scared and lonely he likely was deep down. This realization helped me let go of what I had hoped I would ever get from him and accepted this as our reality. As we have seen each other in the last few years, everything has softened. No expectations, no pressure. Just accepting what is…and from time to time another letting go of what Little Lindsay had hoped to get from her dad. 

They say “don’t work with your friends…” 😉 For my teammates and I, we sure know why! I don’t think we’d necessarily talk you out of it, but we’d tell you to buckle up for an intense ride in which you’d better be ready to challenge and be challenged in ways that are incredibly refining and humbling! You better be ready to SLOW DOWN, STAY IN IT, SPEAK YOUR TRUTH and LET GO OF THE REST! 

These are the key practices we will explore and discover in the rest of our time together that can help us lead from a place of wholeness and connection.

My business partner and I went into this thing not really knowing what we were doing but trusting that we could figure it out. When it was just the two of us there were certain roles we played, expectations we had of each other and it was pretty easy to stay aligned. As we have added more individuals to our group, become busier with clients, and been invited into things we never dreamed of, things have evolved. This past year we have found ourselves in several situations where we were misaligned. There were moments of frustration and downright anger toward each other. She shut down, I armored up. Neither are healthy behaviors. 

One of us had to take the first vulnerable step of speaking up and asking for a timeout (slow down). We had to make a commitment to find time and a safe space for what we knew would be an uncomfortable conversation in which we were both expected to state our truths in a very raw and very real way. Perspectives were challenged. Feelings were hurt. But we stayed in it and worked through it. And when we were at peace with things, we let it go and moved forward. Wholeness and connection in this relationship look like me asking Brooke to tell me the truth (because she’s too scared to on her own sometimes) and her allowing me to say things very directly without taking offense (because I can come across as fierce and combative). 

I’m glad we are well-practiced early on because there will continue to be challenging situations between us and with our fellow team members. Our business is elevating and evolving constantly. We are growing. That requires external change and internal transformation…and those two things create discomfort. We are working to change our individual and collective perspectives to see that as the blessing that it is, and we continue to get more cautious only to invite in others who are willing to SLOW DOWN, STAY IN IT, SPEAK THEIR TRUTH and LET GO OF THE REST. 

Nelson is a former client who cared a lot about his numbers but he also cared about people, and specifically their development. Because I was working with the company on some leadership development and team effectiveness initiatives, I got to interact with Nelson regularly. You should know that Nelson was a very “down to business” kind of person and intimidated most of the people he worked with. When he didn’t share your opinion or like how something was going, he wasn’t afraid to raise his voice to be sure his opinion was heard. People didn’t always agree with the way he handled things, but his heart was usually in the right place. 

In one of our 1-on-1s (via Zoom because of the pandemic) I had to ask some particularly challenging questions of Nelson. I thought a lot about what I would say and how I would say it in order to keep the conversation productive and moving forward. The bummer is, no matter how much we prepare, we have no insight into how the other person is coming into the conversation or how they will hear what we have to say…and we have no control over their reaction. And boy did he react. After a couple of respectful and direct questions (I THOUGHT), he exploded and out of his mouth came a flurry of f-bombs, other choice words and what felt like threatening remarks directed at me. 

My trauma response immediately sent me into fight or flight mode. This is a situation I had been in before with a man of this age (my dad). And for those of you who don’t know, I am not one to back down from a fight…in fact, I love a good spar. Twisted, I know. So I had to work REALLY hard to take the first step in leading from a place of wholeness and connection. SLOW DOWN. 

My entire body and being wanted with all its might to engage. So I breathed through it. Amidst the swearing and the screaming I slowed my breath and calmed my nervous system. I disengaged from fight or flight and stayed fully present and “in it” with him until he was done. As I came out of “protection mode” I was able to picture him as a boy…it became clear to me he was acting out of fear and insecurity. 

When he had finished yelling, I waited. I allowed there to be silence. And then I asked, “Are you done?” He said yes, and with a stern but kind voice I said, “You will never speak to me that way again. There is clearly something here that we need to talk more about, but now is not the time. When you are ready, I will look forward to having a respectful and calm conversation about this.” Then I hung up. He emailed me to talk the next day. When we did, he apologized. I asked for what I needed from him going forward and asked him what he needed from me so this wouldn’t happen again. This is what wholeness and connection looked like for us. 

Then he asked me a question I still think about almost every day, “Why do you keep coming back?” You see, friends, through this work with individuals and leaders from all walks of life and at all levels and all sizes of an organization, one thing has become very clearly and sadly true, and this is what I would come to learn about Nelson too: Very few of us believe we will be loved unconditionally if we show our real selves. So we armor up or shut down or something in between to protect ourselves. We don’t do our part to stay in it and speak our truth so that we can even get to the letting go. We literally are not equipped to lead from a place of wholeness and connection. 

Sometimes STAYING IN IT looks like breathing ourselves through our emotions and back into our logical minds. Sometimes it looks like considering why the other person might be reacting the way they are. It might look like considering that you could be wrong, or that the situation is more complicated than what you know. Staying in it could be stating what you need. It could look like taking a temporary break so you don’t say or do anything you regret and then coming back into the situation or conversation later. Staying in it might just be reminding yourself of your commitment to the other person or to something greater because nothing else is working. 

The purpose is to push ourselves beyond our initial reaction of shutting down or armoring up and finding a way to open ourselves back up to the other person and work to find common ground. A great way to actively STAY IN IT is to get curious and ask questions instead of making statements. Work to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. 

If you can get this far, you are winning more than most people. In our current climate, few people are able to stay in a situation or conversation with someone they don’t see eye to eye with. Even fewer are willing to consider another side. If you’ve stayed in it, there are situations where it will be important that you speak your truth. Again, considering that your truth is not necessarily THE Truth. This could look like sharing your perspective. It could be asking for help. It could be admitting you don’t know or that you’re wrong. Or it could be offering a challenging perspective or opinion. Whatever it is, check your heart. Are you saying it with love and respect? Are you sharing in order to create positive change? 

As you employ the practices we’ve discussed, you will start to break free of old patterns and habits that hold you back and you will create an opportunity to refine your thoughts, words and actions.

As you consider SPEAKING YOUR TRUTH remember that when we really love someone, our responsibility is not only to encourage them but to challenge them too. We don’t reach our full potential on our own. We need others speaking into us and we should welcome it. Here are some questions to consider that will help you prepare for these conversations to go well. We have to think beyond just “what” we will say…

  • Who do you want to be in this moment? 
  • How do you want to be known? 
  • How do you want this person to feel? 
  • What impact do you want to make?
  • What matters most? (getting it right or being right) 

The last practice we will discuss in order to lead from a place of wholeness and connection is LETTING GO. Through the process of slowing down, staying in it and speaking your truth you will encounter many thoughts and feelings. There might be hurt, anger, frustration or even resentment. There may be insights you come to that are hard to face and in them you encounter fear, shame or guilt. You will likely come to realizations that leave you in grief or mourning because you hoped for and desired one thing and through the process realize that reality is something else entirely. 

Before we can let go, we have to become aware of and admit our feelings. These are things that we avoid or try to carry and bury. Once we are willing to be open we can use several practices to process our feelings: Writing or journaling, Punching a pillow, Breathing, Walking or exercising, Dancing, etc.

As you engage a physical practice, picture yourself energetically releasing those feelings. For me this looks like breathing out the dark matter (fear, anxiety, frustration, anger) and breathing in light (love, peace, self-control). If it’s someone I’m attached to, I see myself breaking that bond as I breathe in and out and send that person away in love. If it’s a situation or something I said or did, same thing, let it go with love. 

We have to remind ourselves that any energy we put into our past takes away from productive energy we could use to move forward. We think about what we learned, forgive ourselves and others, commit to doing better next time and move forward. In reality, we cannot change the past so this is the only choice that brings us back to wholeness and connection. Worrying, stewing, ruminating or regretting will keep us stuck in an unhealthy cycle and disconnected from an opportunity to move forward. 

The required practices we discussed are: SLOW DOWN, STAY IN IT, SPEAK YOUR TRUTH, LET GO OF THE REST. Practicing these move us closer to more consistently leading from a place of wholeness and connection. It takes courage and commitment. It is the road less traveled. Let’s choose it.

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