My heart has been tugged these last couple weeks. It is an intense time out there, especially for leaders, pretty much all of whom are navigating a shitload of change right now. Reduction in force, redesigning org charts, unexpected market shifts, a funding desert, more reduction in force, new-born kids or other crises at home, and, somehow keeping their teams motivated through it all. It’s a lot for most people!

If a leader or a friend comes to you close to breaking point, what can you offer?


“I want you to know I understand it’s a lot right now to carry.” Words like this are easy to say, harder to land. If the recipient is stressed close to breaking point, they are listening to much more than your words. Body language and feeling current are the main currency.

You want to connect with soft eyes and open posture. That will happen as you allow everything else to disappear. Your solutions that will fix it for them–disappear. Your assessments of their effectiveness–disappear. Your own worries–disappear. This is a quality of listening where the only thing that matters is being in this together.    


Whenever someone is sharing their overwhelm with you, they are way more open than usual to pick up what you are feeling. They will only truly feel your connection as empathic if they sense you feeling something like the stress they feel. You cannot fake such a communication. It comes out of your own life experience and self awareness. 

To be an effective coach–either professionally or as a caring colleague, friend or partner–involves the practice of exploring your own overwhelm. Take some time to reflect on moments in your life when you have been at stress close to breaking point. Even those who have lived relatively charmed or protected lives have experienced some such moments. Not necessarily similar circumstances but similar feeling energies. When you know your own pain, you have those feelings available when other people need to share theirs.          


Time and time again, I have seen how people’s lives are changed for the better after an encounter with intense stress. Almost always this is an increase in the depth of support the person creates in their lives. When the stress gets too much, that means too much to carry alone.

We can help each other ask for support. We can help each other become shameless and genuinely vulnerable in saying what is actually going on. We can help each other share a responsibility that previously felt like something only we could carry.


David Lesser