Select Page

leadership light and shadowIt took me over 20 years of working in corporate America to realize my soul was ebbing away a wee bit every year. Finally, l leapt and left before it was all gone.

The relentless focus on the bottom line and the you’re-only-as-good-as-your-last-set-of-numbers mentality extracted a toll, only part of which was visible.

I was surprised by the length of my “corporate detox” period and, in fact, that it was even necessary. 

I expected a transition—moving from a Fortune 100 vice president position to being a first-time entrepreneur is a hefty leap—but I didn’t expect that leap to be as momentus as it turned out to be.

I knew I had changed over the years. A Midwest gal raised on trust and your-word-is-your-bond had a lot to learn in corporate America; and I needed to learn it fast, being the only woman on several leadership teams.

Over the years, I prided myself on resisting drinking the go-along-to-get-along Kool-Aid. A few bosses were delighted by my well-mannered maverick approach; others not so much.

During my “corporate detox” period, I discovered that I had indeed sipped some of that kool-aid over the years, despite how I tried to convince myself I hadn’t.

It was fascinating to discover how I had “inoculated” myself to some realities that didn’t become clear until I no longer sat in the corner office.  Goodness, how we let ourselves be blind…

An executive coach friend introduced me to the work of David Whyte, poet and author.  One of his books, The Heart Aroused, Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, became a favorite.

5 courageous conversations leaders should be having

I was particularly intrigued by David’s concept of the five “courageous conversations” a good leader (one interested in the art and discipline of leadership as David phrased it) should be having.

1. The first leadership conversation is with the unknown future.  Frequently ask yourself: Am I prepared, both personally and professionally, for what is coming?

2. The second leadership conversation is with customers, vendors, employees, etc., who represent the organization’s future. Ask these people:  What can we do for you? How can we serve?

3.The third leadership conversation occurs with different parts of the organization.  You should be asking these groups: How can we collaborate to create positive outcomes for our customers and shareholders while fostering employee engagement?

4.The fourth leadership conversation is held with your work group and colleagues.  Be asking these people: How can I best communicate and team up with you to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes?

5. And the last leadership conversation—the one on which all others are predicated—is the conversation with that “tricky moveable frontier called yourself.”  Ask yourself:  Am I living my purpose and passion every day?

Powerful stuff, isn’t it? It’s both liberating and a tad frightening to answer those question.

I wonder:  had I been having these five conversations on a regular basis across my career, would my stay in corporate America have been shorter, or would it still be ongoing because I was more attuned? 

Hmmm….that’s a lovely personal puzzle to unravel some day over a mug of strong coffee, a bite of two of some really rich chocolate, and some good, reflective conversation with a fellow corporate refugee.

As you look back over your career in light of Whyte’s five conversations, what say you about you?

Image source before quote: