One of the practices I often have leadership trainees do at the beginning of a session is to check in with how they’re feeling.  I use a wheel of feelings that has 70-80 different emotions listed.

And you may be wondering why – what would be the point of taking up valuable time to talk about feelings, especially when there is so much content to cover?  Just get on with it!

We often ignore emotion

The problem is just that.  We often ignore what we’re feeling, push it down, disregard it and just get on with it.  But the feeling still comes with us.  And what we don’t acknowledge often comes out sideways.  Let’s say the crap hits the fan because of a recurring problem with a customer.  A problem that you told them was fixed.  Now you’re in a bad mood because you’re going to have to eat crow with your stakeholder and then you find yourself in a difficult conversation with a direct report to address the issue. You get triggered and can’t maintain your cool.  Now you’ve alienated your direct report, and the customer is mad, and the problem still isn’t fixed.  Doh!

Or perhaps the feeling isn’t anger but stress and pressure.  I’ll use myself as an example for this one.  Over the past few months, I’ve been sicker than I’ve been in ages.  It’s been extremely stressful coping with that while trying to keep all the plates in the air spinning, and I’ve been worried about my body’s ability to bounce back – something that has never troubled me in the past.  I’ve been carrying so much heaviness in my chest and feeling utterly exhausted.  I’ve found myself sighing out loud multiple times a day.  And I kept ignoring it because I had too many things to do.  Foolishly, I was ignoring my own advice.  I looked at the feelings wheel the other day and decided to finally lean into it, rather than push the stress and overwhelm to the side.

We push stress aside at our peril

I’ve often been told that I’m very good at maintaining a façade.  That I appear to have everything under control, I appear super calm on the surface, and I never need to ask for help.  But looks can be deceiving.  I started writing down a list of all the things that have been stressing me out over the last year – and it ended up being a very long list.  A lot of it related to work, some to family, some to friends.  And a lot of the work-related things were positive.  More clients than I could handle, different types of work, expanded scopes, more interdependencies, expanded projects.  But even the good stuff can bring stress.  And yet I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge it, because the mindset of a coach should be that this is all so wonderful, and I should be positive all the time.  I should see everything as an opportunity and never have a fear-based reaction to anything, right?  Somehow, I had missed the fact that I was shoulding all over myself.  I had forgotten I am a human and not a perfect coach like being that sees every challenge as and never experiences even a drop of stress.  Damn.

Growth = expansion, and that can bring new stress

That’s the interesting thing about growth.  Your world expands.  And when it does, you might find yourself in new and exciting situations doing things you’ve never done before and yes that can be exciting, but it can also be stressful.  The stress can bring uncertainty and confusion, especially if we think we have dealt with our problems.  Demands from clients grow.  Projects get more and more complex.  We start thinking thoughts like – the stakes are even higher now, what if I mess up? Why am I feeling this way, I thought I had moved past this?  And for someone like me who has not always had the best boundaries and has had to learn to manage expectations and say no, this can be super tricky. 

When I looked at the list and really leaned into the feeling of stress and overwhelm, the interesting thing was the stress started to melt, and I was overcome with an intense feeling of compassion for myself.  I held myself in that feeling and marinated in it.  I let the tears flow as I looked at the list and realized the intense burden that I’d been putting on myself by disallowing myself to be human.  As I cried, I left more and more present, more grounded in my body, more alive than I’ve felt in ages. 

Everything made perfect sense.  The heaviness in my chest, the 3 episodes of sickness, one right after the other.  All because I’d told myself I didn’t have the right to experience stress, I should be above this by now.  I should be more evolved and be able to handle these things seamlessly. That’s what a good coach would do. 

No, that’s what a misguided coach would do.  When I remember to ask myself what the compassionate coach in me would do, I get a very different answer indeed. 

Coaching questions for thought:

  • What do you tend to do with strong emotions and stress?  Explode?  Bury it?  Lock it away?
  • What are you not allowing yourself to feel currently?  (Hint:  look for the shoulds and the ought tos)  How might it be coming out sideways instead and affecting your personal life and your leadership?
  • Where in your life can you offer yourself more compassion at the moment?

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

  1. Marsha Steffej October 6, 2023 at 7:50 pm