In one of the experiential trainings I lead on Emotional Intelligence, I show a video narrated by Dr Brene Brown on the topic of empathy.
In it, a bear crawls down into a hole where a sullen and disillusioned fox has recently found himself. Dr Brown explains that empathy requires us to do this. To sit alongside someone and their emotions. In the video, the bear calls out to the fox and says “Hey, you’re stuck. It’s cold. And I know what its like down there.” And then he plops himself down right next to the fox and gives him a hug.
Empathy is feeling with people. And it demands that we crawl down into the uneasiness of someone else’s pain and simply be there with them. All while refraining from judgement and not (immediately) giving solutions.
This image of crawling down the hole and simply being with someone reminds me of a saying my business partner, Patti Jo, often tells her teenage daughter whenever she wants to retreat from some of the hard parts of high school (of which there are a lot!).
“No one ever died from being awkward.”
What I love about this phrase is that, like the bear, there exist the sentiment that it’s in the discomfort, in the pain, in the muck, that both growth and connection happen.
In her book, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown defines a leader as anyone who sees the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential. The key word in this is courage — how willing each of us are to go down into the hole and sit in the discomfort of situations, circumstances, relationships and even our own selves so that potential can be brought forth.
Dr Brown calls these “embracing the suck” moments as “the arena”, taken from a speech Teddy Roosevelt gave in Paris in 1910.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Arenas and awkwardness. Embracing suck and crawling down holes. I’m learning that leadership is about being in the muck of our own (and others) unease yet choosing — choosing — to stay. With marred faces from dust and sweat and blood. Even fear and shame.
On June 8th and 9th, Six and a Half Consulting will be hosting a two day leadership retreat in Vancouver. In it, we will dive deeply into the courage building skills needed to enter the arena and stay there.
We hope to see you in the arena with us. Get your tickets here.