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Embracing the Vulnerability of Leadership

092817_PoppiesBy Elaine Jones, Market Intelligence lead at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions

Since I was little I’ve never really found a way to accept praise well. Every time someone gives me a compliment or expresses praise or admiration the resulting swelling of emotion is not one of pride and happiness but of awkwardness and discomfort. This particular feeling is so ubiquitous there is a name for it – the fear of being the “tall poppy.”

Brené Brown recently addressed this in a speech she gave while talking about her new book, “Braving the Wilderness.” This fear is born out of a basic human need for belonging and connection. It drives us to communicate and work together, but also hurls us into loneliness and that fear of sticking out when we are singled out for praise, admiration or leadership. Through her interviews with students about fitting in and belonging, Brené described the experience of compromising oneself to pursue a false sense of belonging: “You start to engineer smallness in order to fit in.” She told stories of kids with sport all-stars for parents who just wanted to play video games all day, of employees staying silent about a critical business flaw to avoid the risk of public shaming. They were tales of a paradox between being true to oneself and the risk and vulnerability of loneliness.

Brené defined vulnerability as “being uncertain, taking risk and having emotional exposure.” As the audience laughed to her stories, my mind flashed back to a day in high school when one of my best friends said to me, “You know you’re not fooling anybody by pretending to be stupid. Why don’t you just get over yourself and help out with this science problem?” In that moment it struck me: every moment of praise, every promotion, every request for leadership was an opportunity to lean into the vulnerability that makes me not only stronger, but closer to my true self. And I had missed almost every one of them.

I am certain that I am not alone. I work with several incredibly passionate, talented and intelligent individuals, and often see that downward glance when I commend a job well done, a sudden shyness when I praise great behavior, I hear the ubiquitous question, “But what can I do better?” In the past, I’ve often brushed aside the tension that arose, focused on my intent to earnestly send a positive message and expected a “logical” outcome of delight instead of discomfort. Brené speaks to leaders when she acknowledges that we were raised to be brave but not courageous. We reward the greatness in others, yet concurrently ignore the vulnerability of leadership that comes with that greatness.

Yet, there are so many ways to embrace the vulnerability of leadership, to lean into that space and to invoke a genuine connection with others.

  • By acknowledging the vulnerability of putting the work out there, “Thank you for seeing this idea through when the team decided to look elsewhere”
  • By extending praise, “Thank you for the great feedback, what can I do to help others benefit from this?”
  • By celebrating the unique talents that every member brings to the team and refusing to encourage emulation of another’s success, or associating any single working or leadership style as a model for success
  • By standing with team members who “brave the wilderness,” speak out and take a stand on what they feel is right, and modeling that same courage, taking that same risk ourselves
  • By giving feedback on the work, positive or negative, without references to personhood

The human need for connection is real. The fear of being the “tall poppy,” the shame of being different is real. But I am so encouraged that it is not necessarily accompanied by loneliness. Paradoxically, leaning into the fear liberates me from it, embracing the vulnerability evokes support and security from others, my team and community. The choice is mine to stand alone, or instead, lead with a band of like-minded souls with whom I share a connection, each of us blazing a path uniquely our own, following our wild hearts. In reflection, I would have it no other way.



robert-wiedemann-273670By Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions  

The town where I live has a loud fountain and beautiful landscaping at the freeway exit. There is a prominent sign that says “Life in Abundance” greeting guests and neighbors as they cross the threshold into suburban living. Ever since the sign was erected I’ve been uncomfortable with this term “abundance.” How is life here abundant if there are families who still need the food bank or can’t pay their mortgage this month? Some days the word “abundance” feels presumptuous because even in a country as rich as the U.S., there are still people in need. So many people. In so much need. Shouldn’t we be satisfied with just enough? Is it just me?  

Lately I am coming across this word “abundance” more and more often. And I continue to wrestle with the meaning. The lesson here is not to focus on the lack (of time, of money, of support) but rather to see that there is enough. We need to really notice, welcome and even expect our needs to be abundantly met. It’s a difficult shift for some (read me) who were raised to focus on hard work with an emphasis on hard. When we expect a job to be stressful and difficult, guess what? It is. But the shift in perspective is possible with some practice. 

By flipping my inner dialog to focus first on the positive, and the “haves” over the “have nots” I am noticing the abundance more and more. There is a print that hangs over my desk from Brian Andreas that says “Everything changed the day he figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in his life.” I bought this almost 20 years ago but I think only recently began to truly believe it. There is enough time. I do have an abundance of support from friends and family. And my team at work will always have my back when I reach out and ask for help.  

Here is a light bulb moment. Having abundance means I can share. I have more than enough to meet the needs of my family. I can use the surplus to seek out ways to help people who are struggling. The collective community has an abundance of what we need. I just need to focus on the “we.” When I come across a client or neighbor with unmet needs, it’s easy to lend an ear, a hand or an idea when I have already recognized my own abundance. We are not meant to simply survive. We are meant to thrive. And when we get to that place of thriving – that place of realizing true abundance – it is incumbent on us to reach out and share. Share the knowledge, share the inspiration, share the wealth and the many opportunities.  


Balance in Service

083117_tightropeBy Chelsea Elkins, Peace Corps Volunteer and Friend of Simple Intentions

My time working at Simple Intentions began almost 2 years ago and the bittersweet feeling that comes with a last day of work was just a few weeks ago. The significance of working for a company committed to disrupting workplace patterns of imbalance and burnout was not lost on me – as my own experience with burnout in the nonprofit sector still lingered when I started.

I was fresh out of college when I got my first job in the public health field, working as a Housing Specialist at a HIV/AIDS Center in Los Angeles. There were some issues with the role that are common with a career in non-profits: high workload, lack of resources, understaffing issues, a pay that was not quite comparable to my peers, and the mildly chaotic feeling that comes when an org with positive intentions simply can’t offer the funding and support needed to its employees. Those are all challenges that can be tricky to navigate but, with the right tools, are manageable.

After all, the reason why I took that job was I cared. I cared about the issue and about the population I was serving. I thought because I cared, because I was passionate, I’d be able to jump over any professional hurdles with ease. However, I soon learned that something as positive as passion can also be a driver of imbalance if you don’t set boundaries.

And that was my real issue: boundaries. Boundaries with my co-workers, with my clients, but mostly with myself. I fully admit to having a tumultuous relationship with ‘No’ and I was filled with remorse each time I used the word with a client seeking housing assistance.

“No, there’s nothing available.”

“No, your rental application was denied.”

“No, I’m sorry but I can’t help you.”

Though I wasn’t allowed to work overtime, I clocked in extra mental hours each night preoccupied with my clients sleeping on the streets and wondering who I wouldn’t be able to help the following day. As one might imagine, I began to develop a very unhealthy relationship with work.

I would dread Monday morning almost as soon as I’d step out the door Friday evening. I started to eat lunch anywhere besides the office, seeking temporary refuge at coffee shops or parking garages – until one co-worker pointed out while walking by one day, “Your car is not a lunchroom.” I had become Cady Heron on the first day of school, eating lunch in a bathroom stall.

My lunch habits did evolve and I eventually stopped taking lunch breaks altogether, instead scarfing down food in front of my computer in an attempt to manage my growing caseload. I was constantly anxious, adrenalin and stress hormones flooding – and I lacked the awareness to realize that I was spiraling out of control.

The road bumps that come with working at a non-profit suddenly seemed impossible feats as I had never been taught, never been equipped with the tools to protect myself from burnout. It wasn’t until a client stopped in the middle of yelling at me to ask if I was alright (my eyes had done the unthinkable and were shedding tears against my will), did I realize I had pushed myself too far. I had reached my

limit, a form of emotional exhaustion that years later would be described to me as a brutal climax of “compassion fatigue.” I gave my notice a few weeks later.

I learned a lot from that experience, although it remains one of my most painful failures. That was never the perfect job for me – and part of me knew that going into the role. But if I had some of the perspective I have now, I could have walked away with a better experience and less strain on my mental health. My story is not unique – a continual fight against stress and burnout can often feel like the norm in the nonprofit sector, or in any service oriented role regardless of field or title.

I find myself now with an incredible new challenge in front of me as I prepare to depart as a Peace Corps Volunteer to promote health and HIV Prevention in vulnerable youth in Lesotho. I know I will face many of the same challenges I came up against as a Housing Specialist. One of the differences this time is that I have the awareness to recognize when I start to spiral – and some knowhow to get my balance back before the spinning begins. A peer who works at United Way beautifully compared working in service to walking a tightrope. Below the rope is the knowledge that this work will always be needed. Most problems in our world will not be completely solved in our lifetimes. You can look down on this from two angles. From one angle, this knowledge can overwhelm you, depress you, discourage you. It can be debilitating and infuse a sense of futility in your work. You might be tempted to walk backwards off the tightrope.

But from the other angle? It can empower you. It’s a constant reminder that this work (whatever it is) will always matter – and it will always be important. You are empowered to continue your journey, whatever may come on the other side.

I looked from one side a few years ago and I think I’ll choose to look from the other side during this next chapter. My favorite thing I learned at Simple Intentions is that we always can choose and re-choose whenever we wish.



Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions081717_Motivation

I’m the type of girl who has on occasion actually added a job I just completed to my to do list – just to check it off. This is because I’m motivated by accomplishment. I don’t have to get recognition for doing the thing, although sometimes that’s nice. The satisfaction of completing an assignment is extremely gratifying for me. On the flip side, having unfinished items on my plate at work for days or weeks can zap my energy and motivation. Turning a sense of accomplishment into a motivator doesn’t always translate.

Some people are motivated by fear, some by pain (or the aversion to it), some by money. But those motivations don’t always live within our conscious mind. More likely they are background noise, causing us to take action without awareness. I’ve been turning over this idea recently of listening as a motivational tool. It goes like this: I can better motivate my workmates and myself if I first listen to their feedback, their objections and their needs.

This active listening falls into two categories. First, the actual data is valuable. Think like a reporter and fact-gather. Secondly, try to actually hear the words themselves, coupled with body language and tone to really understand what is being communicated. If a committee member says “challenge” or “issue” or “problem” in their report, they’re giving us a peek into their judgment of the situation. Listen to understand and then pause before giving motivation.

I worked with a magazine publisher a few years ago who was extremely gifted at making people feel heard. It was beautiful to watch her conduct an interview because the subject would open up in authentic and surprising ways – making for compelling storytelling. This tool of listening also served her incredibly well when it came to motivating a team of writers and designers. And it gave her a unique talent at selling ad space. By listening to clients and potential clients she was able to deliver exactly what would meet their needs in a way that hardly felt like sales at all. The key to her management style was listening, and it was incredibly motivating to each person in her circle of influence.

The same method can be used when being self-reflective. Listen to the inner dialogue when the “to do” item rises to the top of the heap. Is this a have-to-do or a want-to-do? And am I resisting the work? Am I looking forward to it? And perhaps most importantly, why? By first listening to the inner dialogue, I am able to motivate myself in the most effective way.

Here’s a real-life example. Breaking bad news is always a chore and can easily be bumped lower and lower on the to do list in procrastination. But when I pause and think about why I’m dreading it, I can best prepare to move ahead. Am I avoiding conflict with the receiver? Am I afraid the relationship will be changed or severed? Am I personally disappointed and I need time to process that first before sharing the news? Whatever the answers, by giving my inner voice a beat to process the situation, I can then muster the motivation I need to push ahead.

My favorite motivators are passion and reward. One passionate team member can have a contagious effect on the group — with big results. But if we are not listening to the tone or the word choice, we could miss out on a person’s passion, and consequently miss a key opportunity to motivate.



Doing Skills + Being Skills = Career Success

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

072517_NonCognitiveWhere did you learn how to adapt or how to be present? If you are like most people, you probably didn’t answer “at work”. The elements of creating a successful career are just as much about knowing how to DO the job as they are about your quality of BEING on the job.

Most of us know the steps needed to learn how to do a job. First you need basic skills; reading, writing, and math. Then you identify a career path and develop specialized skills, these skills are technical and/or occupational in nature and industry specific. Basic and specialized skills, (doing skills) are considered cognitive skills and they rely on conscious intellectual effort for success.

Next, you seek the job. This includes connecting to the right people, interviewing, and showing positive attitude. These are soft skills and they include your ability to communicate, solve problems, motivate yourself and others and build rapport. Soft skills are considered noncognitive skills as they are subconsciously expressed via your behavior through your temperament or attitude.

Ready for career success? Not quite yet. Enter being skills. Being skills include things like presence, awareness, resiliency, patience, discernment, vulnerability and authenticity. Being skills are a deeper layer of noncognitive or soft skills. As important as being skills are, they are not likely to fit into traditional training curriculum at schools or companies. Yet they are skills that are necessary for a successful career, as reported by Business Insider; and according to a recent LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends report, they are a top hiring trend in 2017.

Programs like Daniel Goleman’s that develop emotional and social intelligence, or Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication are help build noncognitive skills that support the development of being skills. Company sponsored programs like Google’s Search Inside Yourself and Intel’s Awake@Intel program also teach these skills as well as consultancies like Potential Project, The Energy Project and my company Simple Intentions.

Being skills are the glue that bind specialized, basic and soft skills. To learn them you don’t need a formal training program, though the structure can be helpful for many. What is needed is the desire to enhance how you show up at work and a commitment to practice each day. There are 3 simple actions you can take to develop your being skills.

Pay attention to when you’re not paying attention

An easy and free place to start is to just notice when you are not present. At work, pay attention to when and how often your mind wanders. That’s it. Just notice and come back to the moment. A meditation practice can be helpful in building this skill, however it is not required to learn to pay attention to when you are not paying attention.

Consider your words carefully

Begin to pay attention to your words, BEFORE they leave your mouth. By considering your thoughts and word selection, if even briefly, before sharing them with others, you will begin to build the skills of discernment (‘Do I need to say this right now?’) and authenticity (‘Is this really what I want to say?’).

Be real

Practice saying, “I don’t know” when you don’t know, and “I need help” when you need help. Notice when you feel the need to know everything and do everything on your own and explore what happens when you ask for support. This will help you build the skill of vulnerability, a foundational soft skill from which trust is constructed. When you are vulnerable you invite others to do the same, thus strengthening team trust.

Career success includes both conscious intellectual effort and awareness of your temperament or attitude — the right mix of doing and being skills can not only make you more employable but also make the experience of work more enjoyable for all.

[Note: This post originally appeared in HuffPost]


Make It Happen

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

What if I don´t succeed? What if I cannot make a living out of what I want to do? What if I am not cut out for this? What if this is just the way things are? What if…?

Any of those questions could have prevented me from making one of the necessary life changes I’ve made so far. But the choice was mine, and mine alone, to consciously decide to take a different path in life – one that could bring me purpose and leave me more aware, more awake, and more connected with the joy of being alive. A path in which not every single thing I did was a struggle, but instead could be an enormous joy.

So often we find ourselves feeling like we have no options. We feel stuck, thinking that we have no alternative other than to bear with the relationship we’re dissatisfied with, bear with the job we dislike, settle for less than what we want, and the list goes on. It´s like hitting a wall: we don´t see what can be done to turn things around, and it is then that we fall into resignation. We turn to justification, and create a story to tell ourselves why we are not living the life we want, not in the relationship we hope for, or not going after our dreams. And there lies the risk.

When we live in resignation and say things like “this is just the way things ARE”, “this is the way I AM”, “this is the way my partner IS”, we block the tremendous potential for growth and transformation that we all have. We are the ones that can make things HAPPEN, and the main ingredients are simply: intention, willingness and action. With intention and willingness, we are able to start to create a future that is different from the past. To make that a reality, we need to take a different set of actions than the ones that led us to feeling stuck in the first place.

It is only then that a new horizon of possibilities opens up to us. All of a sudden, we see a ray of light where there used to be darkness, we see abundance where there used to be depletion. Finally, we can move into action. We leave our comfort zone. Maybe we leave a situation that brought us security but no satisfaction at all. Or maybe we hit the road (either literally or figuratively) with an intent on living the life we want for ourselves. From that moment on, everything falls into place. It is like finding a piece that gets us closer to completing the puzzle. We connect deeper with ourselves and start being more aware of the choices we have, and the consequences of such choices. We start living a life that is in alignment with our values.

Deep down, everybody knows what it is they need to create positive change. The distance between reality and our dreams lies with intention, willingness, and action. And the choice is ours to start anywhere, at any point in our life, and to create more awareness around the choices we make each day that either support or sabotage our desired outcomes.

What if I had not made the choice? What a life I would be missing!


What Burning Out Taught Me About Prioritizing My Work

By Carson Tate, Founder of Working Simply and Friend of Simple Intentions

0831_Burning Out

It was December 26. The day after Christmas; 10 days after my daughter’s first birthday. I was sitting on the floor coiling Christmas lights when I began to try to stand up. Almost immediately, I sunk back down to the floor.

I was tired: physically tired; emotionally tired. Even my soul felt tired.

How did I get here?

Six weeks after the birth of my daughter, I chose to jump back into the whirlwind of busyness—airplanes, travel and meetings—striving to build my consulting business. I spent the entire first year of her life haunted by my ego as I frantically tried to grow my business, serve my clients all over the world, and prove to myself that I was needed and valuable.

This was all part of something bigger for me personally. I wanted to live up to my image of the successful woman—smart, driven, professionally accomplished; a Mary Poppins mom; a loving wife; a leader in the community. That superwoman was my gold standard, and I had spent years, and especially the last year, trying to live up to it.

But now, on December 26, I’d awakened only to realize that as much as I was chasing the dream of the superwoman, I wasn’t living my life.

And the words of Socrates—”beware the bareness of a busy life”—were suddenly eerily real. It was time for me to face my fears and make bold choices about my life and the way that I worked.

I started to make these bold choices for my life with three key strategies that not only anchored me as I picked myself up that December 26, but also continue to support me today as I work to overcome my fears and build a life where I live fully.


For many years, I prized my ability to produce significant amounts of work—my output. It became something I was known for, however, it came at a tremendous personal cost. There is work and then there is the real work, work that has an impact on the bottom line, your clients, and your organization. Where are you focusing on output instead of impact? What would shift for you personally and professionally if you appreciated impact more than output?


I cannot sit still. I prefer to stand when writing. My brain shuts down after 9:00 pm. I do not pull all-nighters well. I am grumpy and unfocused if I do not exercise. And, if I am hungry, there is nothing that can keep me focused. It took me a long time to admit these things to myself. Then it took even longer for me to actually honor that as the way that I worked.

Honor the way you work. When do you do your best work—in the morning, afternoon, or late at night? Under what conditions do you produce your best work—when you exercise, have adequate sleep, or are listening to great music? Resist giving into work cultures that undermine your productivity. Let the quality of your work and the impact you are making speak for themselves. If you do, no one will question how you work.


It is difficult for me to say no because I get seduced and derailed by something I call the “shoulds.” The shoulds are those voices in your head—you know the ones—saying “You should be doing this,” “You should like that,” “You should spend time on this,” “You should stop doing that,” and so on and so forth—endlessly. The problem with the shoulds is they lead you to over-commit—and when you over-commit, the quality and impact of your work suffers. To combat the shoulds I use the “POWER No.”

It’s based on the acrostic POWER—Priorities, Opportunities, Who, Expectations, and Real. Here’s how it works:

Priorities: When that voice in your head tells you that should complete this task, lead another project, attend another meeting, or make cupcakes from scratch, evaluate the priority of that message. How does this should align to your priorities, the organization’s strategic priorities, and/or your families’ priorities?

Opportunities: Explore the opportunities. What opportunities does this should create for you? Is there something that does actually need additional attention in your life? This should could be shining a light on something that you need to address.

Who: Who or what triggered this should? Was it an old script from childhood? Was it an ad in a magazine? Was it your colleague?

Expectations: Whose expectations are these really? Your manager? Your mother? Your spouse? Your child? Society’s?

Real: Get real. What is this should really about? Are there real priorities that are driving this should? Or are you taking on societal expectations that are not in alignment with your priorities?

Say no to the many things that threaten to distract you and derail you, so you can focus your energies on the handful of things that will lead you to your success. The POWER puts you back in the driver’s seat, empowering you to respond rather than merely react. Stop shoulding all over yourself and take back control.

Facing my fears was hard. I am not sure I would have done it if I had not been sitting on my family room floor that December 26. My advice to you is this—don’t wait until you reach your breaking point or there is a catastrophic event to start making bold choices about your life and the way you work. This is your work. This is your time.


[This content was originally published via on June 25, 2015.]

Carson Tate is a productivity consultant and the founder of Working Simply, Inc. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style (Penguin Random House, January 2015). She serves as a coach, trainer and consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies including AbbVie, Deloitte, Wells Fargo and United Technologies.