Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

SXSW: Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall?

Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall? Did I get faster to a place I didn’t want to go? Am I being a manager instead of an effective leader?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” (Peter Drucker in: Covey, S. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013, p. 108)

20160312_122328As I wind down from all my excitement and focus on SXSW and reap the fruits of my investments, I wonder if I lost some of my mindfulness and compassion along the way. Was I so rushed to finish all my chores (print business cards, update website, register for Square, install online scheduling tool, post Tweets and FB messages), that I forgot it’s not about what we do? That it’s about who we are and the intention behind our action? About the values we are serving, more than about the actions we complete or not complete?

I realize that in the hassle to get things done, I neglected my spiritual nourishment. I haven’t been to my mindfulness Sangha in more than two months. I haven’t read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings in more than four weeks, I hardly sat on my meditation cushion since I came back from the Netherlands in February.

Reviewing all I did and didn’t do, AND all I was and wasn’t, I realize that at the end of my life I probably won’t care about the success of my business, the money I made, the fame I built. At the end of my life I hope that others will appreciate me for how caring I was, how I focused on connection, how I walked towards conflict and misunderstanding to resolve it, and how dedicated I was towards empathy and compassion.

And I make a new pledge to myself: “I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion, and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair” (Second Mindfulness Training, transmitted to me by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011 with my Dharma name “Joyful Harmony of the Heart”).

That’s all I am asking of myself: To master the art of friendship in the context of mindfulness.

You want help to be a leader in your own life? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!

SXSW and sympathetic triggers

My friend is excited about his piano recital. He is anxious too. He expects around 80 attendants.



I have much more to be excited about. And anxious. Speaking at SXSW. Potentially 575 attendees. Probably national exposure. YouTube video. The same festival that has President Obama as the keynote speaker. Thàt, my friend, is something to be excited about. And anxious.


Whàt am I thinking?! (Thank God, not saying!). How did I get into this comparison game?

Nonviolent Communication calls this a sympathetic trigger. It happens when someone talks about something that reminds us of our own experience, especially when we have unfinished business with that experience or unmet needs around it. Instead of keeping our focus on our friend’s experience, our attention is drawn to our own sympathetic world. The trigger turns our attention inward with potentially obnoxious consequences: consequences that don’t include our friend’s needs, and maybe not even our own.

There is nothing wrong with sympathetic triggers per se. They are one of the many ways we can connect to others. Sometimes it brings it’s sibling one-upping, giving advice, or reassuring. Things that are not empathy. They can be a way of connecting, if our friend wants to support our style of listening and reacting.

If we’re sympathetically triggered and our friend wants empathy instead, it won’t work. There is a mismatch between what he is asking and what we are offering.

If that’s the case (which for me happens frequently enough), we have choice: We can self-express: “Hey, I hear you’re excited and anxious about your piano recital. As I listen to you, I notice that I am distracted by my excitement around my  panel participation at SXSW. Would you be willing to listen to me for a bit, and then I focus back to you?” Or: “I don’t think I can listen to you with as much presence as I wish, is there someone else you could reach out for to give you empathic support?” Or: “Are you willing to give me a minute for self-connection to support myself first, and then I come back to listen to you?”

Those are strategies that both support our trigger and honors our friend’s need to be heard. We try to compassionately recognize all needs, what’s alive in our friend and what’s up for us listening to our friend.

You want help to work with your sympathetic triggers? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!