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The Secret to Mastering the Hard Stuff of Leadership: Being Thoughtful

By Susan MacKenty Brady
July 12, 2022
professional woman looking out office window


Over the years, I have worked hard to help good people get out of their own way (myself included) and to narrow the gap between best human intention (positively influencing a situation or person) and actual impact. 

In my executive coaching capacity, I found myself taking on the “relationally difficult assignments” with leaders who ranged from having no clue of their negative impact on others, to those who had interpersonal “quirks” that were perpetually getting in their way. These leaders were often very senior, very intelligent, and struggled with the “soft stuff” of leadership (which is actually the HARD STUFF.)

I have also worked with and learned from those who were masterful at the hard-soft stuff. They navigated themselves in ways that left others feeling seen, included, engaged, respected, appreciated and most importantly – valued. These masters of the relational side of life are the ones people remember with fondness and appreciation. Those who worked for them in the past would jump at the chance to work for them again.

Along the way, I’ve tried and tested different tools, practices, mindsets, assignments and assessments, and the ingredients for a remedy of sorts emerged as the secret to leading effectively – and leading inclusively.

Moment-to-Moment Thoughtfulness

What has my experience taught me? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Thoughtfulness is the key. Being it vs. doing it. It is a lot harder to make interpersonal mistakes when you are in a state of mindfulness and intentionality.  

I am now on a mission to enroll everyone I can to at least attempt to show up more thoughtfully. 

I’m not talking about remembering birthdays and giving a colleague a hand when needed — for sure these are expressions of thoughtfulness.

I’m talking about being thoughtful not just doing thoughtful.

Being thoughtful is what saves us from doing or saying something that causes others or us unnecessary pain — and cleaning up quickly in those moments when our best intent doesn’t land as desired. 

The Benefits of Showing Up Thoughtfully

Showing up thoughtfully is the individual behavioral pathway to a myriad of personal benefits, including greater inner peace, healthy intimacy in relationships, more harmony and less conflict, increased joy and fun, less tension and more ease.

At work, showing up more thoughtfully allows for more effective communication, inclusion and belonging, innovation, inspiration, creative problem solving, healthier teaming, and better collaboration.

10 Tips for How to Show Up Thoughtfully

At the core, showing up thoughtfully means treating yourself and others with respect. It is more than being kind or compassionate, but it for sure requires empathy and self-awareness. Here are 10 tips you can deploy today to show up more thoughtfully:

  1. Be conscious of your energy. What you spray into the world has impact on others.
  2. Check your impact to be sure it is aligned with your intention and take responsibility when it isn’t.
  3. Notice your thoughts and emotions and the thoughts and feelings of others – ideally before speaking.
  4. Be mindful of your well-being and the well-being of others.
  5. Hold yourself in warm regard despite your imperfections.
  6. Navigate your own personal boundaries with discernment and care.
  7. Refrain from speaking, reacting or acting out in haste, anger or strong emotion.
  8. Practice deep curiosity about a situation, person, thought or feeling.
  9. Treat yourself and other human beings with empathy and respect.
  10. Lean on others for perspective when the going gets tough.

Look, I do not practice all of these tips perfectly (just ask my teenage daughters and those with whom I work.) I do, however, work hard to do better every time I know I have not acted as thoughtfully as I could have.

Living in a state of being thoughtful implies living with intention and practicing empathy. It is loving and kind. It is taking a breath before taking action. 

When leaders I have worked with have put to action many of these tips, they report the ability to live life more often from their best self. When I put these tips to work – I know I return more quickly to my best self and can lead from there. That “best-self-Susan” is the one I feel proud of. She’s the one worthy of following. She’s the one with whom others want to be in a relationship. (My co-authors and I write in detail about investing in your best self in our recent best-selling book, Arrive and Thrive.)

Why Showing Up Thoughtfully is a Moment-to-Moment Practice

There is no arrival at a constant state of showing up thoughtfully because we are human and some days and moments are harder than others.

To show up thoughtfully, reorient and observe the tips above. Play with a recipe that feels right for you and the person / situation at hand. Here’s what I know for sure: incorporating the “being” of thoughtfulness will improve your leadership, relationships and life. It will also serve to protect others around you from being impacted when you may not land as your best self intended.  

Which tip do you wish to practice right now? How can you show up more thoughtfully today?

Be on the lookout for future blog posts, as I share my experience coaching others and myself about how best to deploy the 10 tips for showing up thoughtfully. To learn more about me and my work or to book me to speak at your next event, download my speaker kit.