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Episode 55: Interview with Jennifer Garvey Berger, Author of “Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps”

As the author of “Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps” and the CEO of Cultivating Leadership, Jennifer Garvey Berger discusses the hesitancy most leaders have around power, our relationship to conflict, and the most common mindtraps we find ourselves in as leaders.

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Claire Lew: Hi everyone. I’m Claire Lew and I’m the CEO of Know Your Team, software that helps managers really become better leaders. We give you tools to help you run better one-on-one meetings, build rapport in your team and get status updates. And today on The Heartbeat, I am ecstatic, truly, to have this guest on the show. I read her book at the end of last year and it absolutely blew my mind. So it’s a complete pleasure to have on the show today, calling in from New Zealand in fact, we have Jennifer Garvey Berger, who is the author of Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity, and this is Jennifer’s third book. And she’s also the CEO of Cultivating Leadership, which is an organizational leadership and development company. And so Jennifer, thank you so much for being here. And are you ready for this one question that I’m just going to give to you live?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I’m super excited. I think it’s delightful to be here, Claire. Thank you for having me.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. Well, okay. Here’s the question, Jennifer, that I’ve been asking leaders for almost the past three years on The Heartbeat, and it is, what is one thing, or maybe several things that you wish you would have learned earlier when it comes to being a successful leader?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Hmm, it’s a great question. So the first thing that pops into my mind is, I wish that I had known more about power and been less afraid of power. That has been a real journey for me as a leader is to understand and stand in power and not do the… I don’t know. I think it’s a more female thing of brushing away power or thinking that when people use power, they necessarily use power over. And I always wanted to be more collaborative. I wanted to be more connected. And so this idea that power is necessarily disconnecting is a myth I wish I had discovered as a myth earlier in my career.

Claire Lew: Mm, that power is disconnecting. I can so relate to that, even actually, when you said the word power, I almost felt something instinctually, and I don’t know if folks who are listening did the same thing as well, where it’s almost like it’s a dirty word. We’re not supposed to like power and we’re not supposed to use power. And tell me a little bit about… When for you as a leader, has this become a realization that obviously in your work, obviously consulting and coaching numerous executives, when has this really gotten in the way? How does this manifest?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So I think that, as you said, we get this almost embodied reaction and aphorisms like, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” that pop into our mind. And so I think we are taught, and I think particularly women are taught, but I think we’re all taught that power is a little bit dirty, and that people who want it, they’re power hungry, power grabbing. These are very unpleasant ideas and certainly lead to a sense of, power might be very disconnecting. Power’s about putting me first and you somewhere else. And I think I really had this idea of power. I started my career as a teacher and a professor, and I tried to democratize the classroom. I eliminated grades in my graduate school classroom, so that we would be able to have real dialogue together about what was working and what wasn’t working. And I kept trying to flatten the power difference.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And then when we started this company, there were four of us, and then there were six of us, and then there were many of us, and we were always really clear. We were just one among equals. There was no power difference between any of us, and we were all the same, and again, this idea of very much flattening out power differences. And then it became clear that actually, power is a force that can be used for good, as well as evil, and that we were just looking, I, particularly, was just looking at the shadow side of that. And I was just aware of and afraid of the shadow side of that. And if you’re afraid of the shadow side of something, it can be very hard to get to the light of it. And so to use power as a force for connection, power as a force for helping other people be more powerful, Bill Torbert, the developmentalist Bill Torbert has this idea about mutually transformative power.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And you can’t exercise that if you’re afraid of the whole power thing. You just put the power thing in a box, and you close the box, and then you don’t have access to any of it. And it creates these very weird powerless mess in a senior team, in an organization. I see it in leaders all the time. And there’s something about stepping up and standing in your power and saying, “I’m going to lead something here, I’m going to make something here, and I’m going to create the conditions for us to make it together.” For me, that’s mutually transformative power. This is the leadership that calls on others to be bigger. And not power like, if I get more, you get less, but power as I stand in mine, you stand more in yours.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. I’m hearing two things that I think are just revelatory, Jennifer. The first is this idea that the intent for which you use power has everything to do with whether or not it’s mutually transformative or not. And that actually, the discerning of that intent is what helps a person be able to harness power is power, so to speak. And that without clarifying what that intention is without stepping into it, without willing to embrace, as you put it, the light side and not just seeing the dark, if we don’t do that, you describe this paralysis. And I found that actually, a really, very much echoed in your book, in one of the mindtraps that you talked about, this paralysis, and you called it, it’s a mindtrap of agreement. And I was thinking about how oftentimes, the reason the leaders that I often work with, and myself, shy away from power is because we want everyone to get along and we want everyone to be-

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah, but they don’t want to be separate.

Claire Lew: Exactly, we don’t want to be separate. Exactly. And you put that so well, and using power to actually connect. And if you don’t mind, there was something that you wrote that just really, really helped reframe how the opposite of agreement isn’t necessarily conflict for conflict’s sake, but something different. Do you mind if I read to you? And I’d love to-

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Sure. I’ve never had anybody do that, so let’s do it.

Claire Lew:

Well, here we go. Here’s the first:

So one of the most helpful questions I’ve ever heard in the conflict space comes from executive coach, Catherine Fitzgerald. Her question for helping clients deal with conflict was not about whether the client would win the conflict or whether the conflict itself was worthy, it was about the effect on the relationship. And it wasn’t about ruining the relationship, like, are you willing to risk the relationship for this conflict? It was about deepening it. “Confront only to deepen,” she used to say. Or could this conflict serve to deepen your relationship?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Isn’t that a great question? It’s like one of my all time favorite questions and I live by this. I live by this.

Claire Lew: You can see by my book, I just put a big star and bookmarked this. Tell me a little bit about, in regards to power, how asking that question is useful. Could this conflict serve to deepen your relationship?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I think that you’re absolutely right that this power thing and the conflict thing are cousins. They’re in this family of stuff that I think we tend to think of as relationship diminishing, as unpleasant, as unhelpful, and as to be avoided if possible, like good people don’t have these things in their lives.

Claire Lew: Oh, yeah. I love that.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: But actually, these are incredibly fertile spaces of possibility, of spark, of unrealized potential in the world. What is conflict about? Conflict is about passion. It’s about caring deeply for something. And so to try and dampen that down, means that you have to either, I’m asking you to ignore your passion, or I’m asking me to ignore my passion, or I’m asking us to somehow pretend that our passion is the same, which would be a shame because diversity is so important and complexity. And so if we’re going to pretend that our passion is the same and not get into conflict for that, that’s actually a big loss to us as a team, as a relationship, as friends. And so this idea of, can we use power to make other people more powerful? Can we use conflict to deepen our relationship, to expand what’s possible for us, to build new ideas together? I think there is something about bringing these shadowy things back into the light and making them tools for our mutual use.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. You used a word in regards to conflict, Jennifer, that’s just really resonating with me, which is, you said, “caring” and “passion”, that it’s actually a signal that there’s something that matters to us. And willing to expose that to conflict is actually a willingness just to act on that. And so I was even thinking, and then in regards to power, how it’s this… And you actually touched a little bit on this in your book as well, but just how renaming what it is that the light side of each of these concepts are. So for conflict, it’s not conflict per se, but it’s actually a demonstration of care. And power maybe isn’t power in the way that we usually think about it, but maybe it’s a demonstration of strength and of connection. That’s a word that you used. And so yeah, I so appreciate you using-

Claire Lew: It really broadens my frame of thinking about both of those pieces.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: That’s a great question. I never talk about this because people never ask that question. So it’s a very helpful question.

Claire Lew: I love it. Well, Jennifer, like I said, I devoured your book over … It was, over the holidays at the end of the year and was very curious to know so many pieces, which is why I wrote to you and said, “Oh my gosh, can I interview you?” But the first place I would love to start is where did you get the idea for this book? In the sense that obviously you are coaching tons of folks. This is in the work that you do. But the idea of delineating mind traps and these specific ones, how did this come to you?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah, so the idea itself came … I was at a party with family in Seattle, actually. And we were standing around and talking about things. And two of my fabulous relatives were talking about my book and what would my next book be. My last book was called Simple Habits For Complex Times. I wrote it with one of my best friends and business partners, Keith Johnston. And they started joking. These two women started joking with each other about the thing that they mostly learned about complexity from me is that they didn’t understand complexity. And it was like way over their head. And I thought, “Oh my God, what an epic fail on my part to have attempted to make complexity …” Because in simple habits, Keith and I are trying to make complexity very, very actionable and approachable. This is the point of that book. That book is like we will diffuse this into something that you can use.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And for many leaders. It sold many, many copies and I get people who love this book. So I think it does work for a lot of people, but there is definitely a population that it totally missed. And so I knew another book needed to happen. And the way that book became mind trap … So I knew what I wanted to do is take the fruits of the trees of development and complexity and just see if we could present the fruits. Like, what is the … Like yes, there’s this whole root system theory.

Claire Lew: Sure.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yes, there’s this very strong trunk of practices and experience, but what would the fruits be? Like if I just wanted to hand you, without your having to worry about the tending of the tree, if I just wanted to hand you, what are the most things I’ve ever learned?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And so, as I was distilling those, talking to people, doing focus groups with people in my firm, and also going back over all of the notes I ever took at a senior team meeting of any of the senior teams I’ve ever worked with, I found that there were these recurring patterns of smart, capable, devoted leaders who were trying to make changes and very successfully making changes. And then there were these repeatable holes they fell into.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And as I tried to investigate what is this thing, the thing that I found is that these are each of them. I was shocked. Actually, each of them is inside our physical neurobiological system. Like it is not just a mindset issue. This is a thing your body does. And it does it to protect us from being swamped by the complexity in the world. It does it to make us faster, more nimble, more agile in a world where yesterday is a lot like tomorrow. And so in most of the ways humans evolved, the yesterday’s were probably going to be a lot like tomorrow. And so that connection between the past and the future became really baked into our system.

Now we’re in a world where, I don’t know about you, but in my world have no idea what the future is going to be like. Like zero idea what the future’s going to be.

Claire Lew: You and I both. And I have a feeling a whole lot of other people.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah. Like I don’t even know when I’m going to get on an airplane again, which I haven’t said in many years. So actually that way our system has of protecting us against complexity, completely unhelpful now. Absolutely unhelpful. So we need to find a way to see that that’s happening and then to make a different move in that way to say, “Oh, thank you. Thank you body for shielding me from this. But actually this is a thing I need. And so I need to escape this shield.”

Claire Lew: Yes. And it shortchanges us because we’re reacting to wanting to not get hurt or what we think hurts. We’re reacting to what we feel like might be too much effort and too much of a burden and so we shortchange ourselves. And what I found just really phenomenal about the way you described the things we are trying to protect, Jennifer, and the pitfalls we fall into, is that … I mean, I read a lot of literature on leadership and I read a lot of research and I do a ton of writing myself and what I just found so beautiful about what you did is that each one is extremely precise and insightful. And at the same time, and I literally did this when I was going through the book, I could think of a person, a leader who I had worked with in the past for every single mind trap who exemplified every single one.

And I noticed that there were two in particular that I really felt like I was committing a lot myself. And that’s what really got me, was just how universal and how just … These are exemplified so clearly in people. And so the reason I share all that is because I wanted to ask, while you were writing this were there some mine traps that were more difficult to write about because you felt like you hadn’t experienced them as closely? And then were there some, where it was almost you had worked with a lot of leaders in this one in particular? Just curious of your experience of trying to explain each of these mind traps to us.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: That’s a super interesting question.I think it’s true. Over the course of doing the research I became totally convinced that we all have all of these.

Claire Lew: Right.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: That they really are in our system. And just like we have reflexes that if you hit your knee and a particular place, your leg does a particular thing.

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I think we have these as reflexes. And as you say, some of them catch us more than others.So we might be all caught by all of them, at least a little, because they’re just automatic, but some of them are more tied up in our identity I think, than others are. And so those become the hardest ones to escape from.

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And writing them, I definitely saw that in me. Particularly … This book has some description and then some story. And the story was easier to write. Some of the stories that are just a little bit autobiographical.

Claire Lew: Sure. Hit a little close to home, just coincidentally.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Just coincidentally.

They say write what you know.

Claire Lew: Right.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So yeah, some of them were very easy and some of them are farther from me. And there, I draw on my experience with clients because I’ve seen all of these. As you say, I’ve coached all these.

Claire Lew: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer Garvey Berger: But some of them are less trappy for me.

Claire Lew: Yep.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And some of them are much more trappy for me.

Claire Lew: Oh, totally. I mean I can even … So just to share with you for me. Oh, the one that really got me was the mind trap where you have a desire for control. I was like, “Oh, that really hits close to home.” And then the one that I was like, “Oh, I actually feel like I’ve got a good handle on this,” was the mind trap of agreement. I was like, “Oh, of all of them, I probably fall at least into that.” And so I’m curious for folks who do react to your book, is there one in particular that you feel like most leaders struggle with more than any of them?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: What’s funny in this moment I’m finding that control and the one I call the mind trap of rightness is … These two are particularly grabby right now when everybody has an opinion about everything, even though we have no idea what’s going to happen. And everybody wants to put their hands on this thing and make something happen and there’s no way to do that. And so I’m watching leaders really flailing in that place.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. Well let’s … If you don’t mind, do you mind if we dive into it a little bit and what you’re seeing?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah.

Claire Lew: Here’s the way that I related to this mind trap of control, which is that we are conditioned as leaders to have even the belief that control is what defines our success. So it starts there. And the thing that I really appreciated that you broke down is when we realized that we don’t have control over a thing, which by the way, we have control over almost nothing. I mean, including ourselves.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Certainly complexity, right? There’s no control over anything in complexity by definition.

Claire Lew: Right, and including ourselves. There’s a degree to which we don’t fully control and a lot is automatic. And I mean, for folks who want to get really deeply philosophical, we could talk about free will and we can go all the way down that rabbit hole and sort of what degree of control we actually have. But what I found really useful was you talked about how the tendency of when we feel like there’s not something that we can control, is we just break it down into something smaller that we then feel I can control. And then, something even the smaller.

Tell me how does one break … And you talk about this in the book, but for folks who haven’t had the opportunity yet, how does one break out of that?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah. I just think the first thing to do is to notice that we’re doing it. For all of these mind traps, just watching yourself and developing that little part of yourself who can look at you and smile. “There you are. There you are. You’re doing that again, aren’t you?” That’s this little voice we’re trying to develop. Just a little bit of the observer of you. And then as you begin to catch yourself doing it … So I find questions really powerful.

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I find that the questions we carry shape who we are and what we do and so a question like, what can I make happen here? How will I know, how will I measure it? All those questions come out of a mindset that says, “I can put my hands on something and make a thing happen.”

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: But most of what we care about in organizations, trust, psychological safety, innovation, even things like profit, customer satisfaction, most of the things we care about in organizations, and virtually everything we care about in our lives, joy, happy, well-adjusted children, strong healthy bodies, most of those things we can influence but we cannot control.

Claire Lew: Mmm.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So shifting our thinking from how do I control this, make it happen, measure it, to, how do I influence it? If I’m a leader, how do I create the conditions for goodness here so that I’m, instead of looking at the blade of grass and getting it to grow I’m actually looking at the soil and I’m looking at the seed quality and I’m looking at the water.

Claire Lew: Absolutely.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I’m looking at the ecosystem and tending to the ecosystem. Just knowing that whenever I have the impulse to control one thing or to measure one thing or to focus on one thing, if the problem is really complex, I’m doing the wrong thing. It’s just super straightforward, you know?

Claire Lew: Absolutely.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: If I’m trying to fix my health and I focus only on calories, again they’re measurable, they’re controllable. That’s the wrong thing.

Claire Lew: Right. I mean, so I love that analogy, actually, around health because no one you talk to would say, “Oh, if you eat broccoli tomorrow, the next day you are 100% healthy”, right?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: That’s right.

Claire Lew: Right? No one would ever argue that. Or, “Oh, if you do 100 jumping jacks tomorrow, then the next day after that, all of a sudden you’re going to be strong.” And yet-

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And you’re done. And you finished it.

Claire Lew: Right. And yet we apply, I apply a very similar mindset to what we want to be true in our companies. So for example, we have leaders who come to us and they’ll say, “Claire, I want to build trust in my team, so I’ve been holding one-on-one meetings.” Great. You don’t just do them once, right? It’s not just the one thing that you do. It goes back to this idea that the thing we’re often, I think, trying to optimize for is, those are all lagging indicators, right? The ideal sort of strength or weight or whatever health metric you want to use, it’s a lagging indicator for a whole set of other inputs and conditions, to your point, that you’re creating, and I think it’s the same thing as a leader. The ideas of trust, psychological safety, high performance in a team, those are lagging indicators of things that we are putting in way ahead of time and practicing over and over again.

Claire Lew: I mean, I think you mentioned this in your book. So what it ends up becoming is, it’s about creating the patterns rather than the focus on those outcomes. And God, it’s hard to remember.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And it’s about having the suite, right?

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: To be understanding what are the factors here I can influence? So one-on-one meetings are awesome because you can have them and they are trust building. Great. You can influence that condition.

Claire Lew: Right.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: What other conditions can you influence? What’s the suite of conditions you can influence, and how might we be living our… I think we would feel so much more powerful if we had a sense of ourselves as agents of influence making good things happen in all these different areas instead of… There’s a way the human mind separates segments, boils it down, and then we’re like, “I am going to have the single-point focus on this thing and I’m going to nail this one thing.” When we do that it’s almost always has these crazy, perverse, unintended consequences because humans are not single points of focus.

Claire Lew: Absolutely.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And the challenges we have are so multi-dimensional.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. And here’s the thing that it brings me back to when you say that, Jennifer, is what you were talking about earlier about how these are embodied reactions we have to complexity, so we’re doing that because we’re like, “Oh my God, there’s too many…” If I try to see the whole picture it’s too much, right? It goes against the story that I’m telling myself of what I want to be true. It goes against a story of what I feel like we’re capable of doing. So I think that question, to your point of questions being such an awakening piece of all of this, the question of what are the conditions that I have actual potential influence over, I think is absolutely key.

I share a lot with the leaders that we work with, especially those who find themselves micromanaging in these times of remote work feeling like, “Ah, you know, we just moved all our meetings to Zoom and I’m just trying to… ah. How do you keep tabs on everyone more, Claire”, is something I hear a lot of. And it’s like, “Well, you cannot control your employees and you cannot do that any more in a remote environment than in person, and rather, and this is a variation of what you said which is, the question becomes, well, how do you create an environment for people to do their best work? Is that kind of environment engendering the type of work you want to see true?

And it goes back to the mindtrap of control. That’s what we’re getting sucked into.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah. Yeah. The human desire to want to control something is totally understandable. It’s why one of the things I write about is self-compassion. How do we look at this not as a thing we should feel ashamed of, like, shame on you, Claire, for really wanting control, right?

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Shame on these micromanaging leaders. Actually, we feel nervous, and to soothe ourselves we try to grab control of things. It helped 300 years ago. That was a useful strategy for most people. 3,000 years ago that was a super useful strategy for most people. It’s not a useful strategy if you’re an executive or a team leader or a parent in the modern world. This is not a useful strategy. But the fact that your body goes to it when you feel anxious and that happens automatically, this is completely understandable. This makes perfect sense given we have been over generations.

Claire Lew: Absolutely.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: We just need to on purpose evolve ourselves to the next place for us.

Claire Lew: Oh, I love that. I love, love that sentiment, Jennifer. Also I’m so grateful that you brought in this concept of self-compassion. You talk about it in the book, as well, because I think for some folks who might read it it might feel a little woo-woo, right? Oh, self-love. It’s someone I hear in my yoga class or whatever, right? And yet a huge barrier for so many leaders, myself included, is the fact that we judge ourselves way too quickly and as a result, create unnecessary pressure, and as a result hurts our own performance. And the lever there is, well, we’re not treating ourselves with enough… I think you call it curious kindness in your book.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: We also, when we don’t feel compassion for ourselves because we’re pushing that perfect energy, we don’t have compassion for other people and we get judgy and micromanage-y there. So I will often have leaders who come to me because they’ve gotten feedback that they’re harsh or they’re over-the-top perfectionistic and they’re strangling their teams. And when you talk to these leaders, they are not like humans who are like, “Yeah, I hate people.” They’re trying to do their best, right?

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: They care deeply about the people around them, they care deeply about what they’re on about, and yet they’re driving themselves so hard that one of the outcomes of that self drive tends to be to push in a way that can be really judgemental and not listening very well into others, right?

Claire Lew: Completely.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So these things that we turn on ourselves we also often turn out to the world.

Claire Lew: Absolutely.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Self-compassion is an extraordinary lever for that. It really, because we can practice it with us all the time. As we see our own humanity and as we’re able to smile at it, we’re able to smile at the humanity of others, and suddenly, now that we’re not so clenched tight, suddenly we can be more agile in relationships. We can confront to deepen instead of to win.

Claire Lew: Right. We can see the whole picture.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And that makes all the difference in the world.

Claire Lew: Oh my God, such a difference. I think even if you were to talk to a leader who says, “What does a…”, and you would ask them, “What does a bad day feel like”, and they would describe that tense, balled up clenching sort of sentiment. Then if you were to ask, “What does a good day feel like?” Usually, and I’ll speak for myself so I’ll do some projecting, it’s easeful. There’s some looseness there, there’s some space. I think one thing that I’m curious about Jennifer, and I just know so many folks struggle with this, myself included, is, how do you remember to come back to this? Because sure, you and I sitting here, right, intellectually I’m like, “Yeah, self-compassion. Yeah, space, yeah. Just don’t get so caught up in needed to be right or control”, right?

Claire Lew: And it makes so much sense and it clicks. And yet the week goes on. You and I were talking on a Tuesday here, maybe it’s Thursday, something’s happened. You’re in a meeting, you’ve been in Zoom all day, and a client says something. Someone turned in something late. You’re behind, the day’s almost over. You’ve a million and a half emails, and we forget. What do we do to remember? What do we do?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And we forget.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I mean, I think there are lots of strategies. This is one of these complex questions, right, so we need to build an ecosystem around us. One of the strategies is to have somebody to talk to about it, right?

Claire Lew: Yep.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: To just check in with at the end of a week, even if it’s… So I’m a real believer in peers just being able to listen for five minutes to each other and say, “What did you learn about yourself this week? What was really delightful for you this week? What was really crappy for you this week?”

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And just that much, if we could just sit together and have that conversation. It doesn’t take very long. For like 10 minutes-

If we could just sit together and have that conversation, it doesn’t take very long, for like 10 minutes. Then I would start to develop a little bit more of this awareness.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And the first sign of it is not me saying in the moment after I read, after I see that I have a million and a half emails, then I say, “Oh, I’m probably going to be controlling now.” No, no, no, no. That Thursday passes and Friday passes and then it’s Saturday. And I’m thinking back over the week and I have kind of a bad feeling about Thursday, and I’m running through my mind. “Why do I have this bad feeling about Thursday?” And then I think, “Oh, you know, I was super controlling on Thursday. I was just over the charts controlling on Thursday.”

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So what we want to do is once you have the concept, then you can have the realization, you can put words onto it.

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: You can actually see a thing that happened. And it makes sense to you in a way.

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Like becomes a color on our spectrum, right?

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So you say, “Oh, yeah. That’s red. I have a word for that. I can name that.” And then we want to shrink the amount of time it takes from when we experienced the thing into when we notice that we’ve done it. And maybe at first it’s four or five days, and then maybe it shrinks, and you realize it still, you realize it Friday morning, and then you can reach out to somebody and say, “Oh, yesterday in that meeting, I said you needed to get me a deck by the end of the day. That’s ridiculous. I’m so sorry. You don’t need to do that.”

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So that shrinks it some, and then maybe it’s after the meeting, and then you can pick up the phone and call somebody, until finally after some time, and very many practices, we can catch ourselves doing it in the meeting.

Claire Lew: In the meeting. Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And you, I know you hear a lot about teams. One of the things that’s so important is that we have this. We don’t need to do this alone. It’s not even helpful if we do it alone. That’s not even good for us. So me setting off to like conquer my thing, this is not a good luck, right?

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: The question is how can we collectively support each other’s development? And so how does a team hear about this set of ideas, know what I’m working on, help properly feedback in a gentle way, maybe a light, even playful, way. And how can we begin to look at ourselves collectively and help each other develop these muscles?

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: We are not meant to develop in isolation. We’re meant to develop in community.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. And truth be told reality is based off that feedback we’re getting from others. So we grow not in tandem with reality, but in our own distorted view of it, if we’re just off burrowing away on our lone adventure.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: That’s exactly right.

Claire Lew: Looking to conquer this thing, and this demon. Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: There’s so much that we can’t see about ourselves. We need the mirrors, the support of the people around us. And that for me is what a really high functioning team is.

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: It’s a team where we are all committed to the collective development of every person in the room.

Claire Lew: That’s beautiful.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Or on the Zoom.

Claire Lew: Or on the Zoom. Or on the Zoom these days. The last thing I just want to highlight from everything you just shared there, Jennifer, was just to be willing to ask folks that question. What did you learn this week? Be willing to take that five minutes. I just really want to underline that for folks who are listening. I mean, I think if there’s one thing folks might be able to take away, it could be that, to help create that space to help have that reflection.

Well, Jennifer, here’s the thing I could literally sit here and talk to you for hours and bludgeon you with more quotes that I’m sure you don’t want to hear from your own book, just because I got so much out of it. I do want to ask before we part for people who, so many managers that we work with, they say, “Yeah, I feel stuck. I feel like I’m getting caught. I feel depleted.” If there’s one thing you could share with them of, “Hey, start here.” And maybe it’s something we already touched on, but also if there’s anything else that we didn’t, there’s one thing that you would say to folks and managers who just feel really trapped, what might that be? Where would they start?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I mean, people feel trapped for so many different reasons.

So I guess to begin, you would need to start an inquiry with yourself about what was really going on for you. And I think we very often have emotions or experiences or feelings in our body that we don’t even really notice. We have the sense, “I feel bad today.”

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: But even our language about it is coarse. And what does that even mean? Right?

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: It’s like you go to the doctor and you say, “I feel bad.” What’s a doctor going to do with that?

Claire Lew: Yes.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And yet we could be the curious investigators of ourselves. Like as a personal story, since we’ve moved to Zoom all the time and I’ve stopped traveling, I do a lot of teaching of leadership programs by webinar. And I have been finding that those webinars are very depleting.

Claire Lew: Oh, yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I work really hard for them. And then it’s like all this energy out, and these compressed times, and then I beat myself up because at between minute 26 and minute 31, it got a little slow, and I’m at a loss. So I’ve been watching myself and I get really amped up about this and I pour over, “What could I have done differently?” And, okay. So then I get to the end of the day and I think I’m exhausted and I don’t feel good about myself. And I don’t feel good about the job that I did today.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Okay. So those are kind of crude ways of making sense of what happened to me. How do I get a little bit more nuanced, a little bit more curious, a little bit more compassionate with me and start to really ask, “Okay, what’s going on for me? What really is the discomfort here? Can I name an emotion to myself?

About the feeling and then, “Is this really about the thing I did? Or is it about a perfection standard that I have when I’ve been doing this new platform for 10 minutes? And really I expect it to be as good as it was this other thing that I’d been doing for 25 years?”

Claire Lew: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, of course you should, right?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Right, of course. Of course, because you should just should. And so, as I begin to notice it, it gives me like a little space between being the frustrated, uncomfortable depleted person, and watching the frustrated, depleted, uncomfortable person.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And that little space gives me room to make small adjustments. Small adjustments like taking a walk in the middle of the day. Small adjustments like noticing what really makes me delighted in a webinar and planning that in. Small adjustments like noticing what I need from my colleagues might be different now than it was before and asking for it. So it’s not like there’s any one miracle question or answer.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: It’s more like the process of inquiring into ourselves actually makes the space for our evolution.

Claire Lew: That is incredible. Having the, and I’m going to misquote you a little bit here, but the process to inquire to yourself is what gives you the space for evolution? I internalize that for myself, Jennifer, as this distinction between damning myself, judging, being critical, saying, “Why do you feel bad?” And then you do go into the spiral of feeling bad about feeling bad. So damning yourself versus discerning what is actually going on. How do I feel?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah, if we can treat ourselves with love and curiosity, we would bring that air into the world. I often say to my clients, “You would not be friends with a person who said to you the things you say to yourself.”

Claire Lew: Exactly.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: You would cut that person out of your life.

Claire Lew: Yeah.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So how do we learn to be friends with that internal monologue?

How do we learn for that to be, because it just wants to help us. How do we learn to teach it how to help us?

Claire Lew: And it starts there. Jennifer, thank you so much. A real, real honor to have you here. For folks who are listening, if you haven’t already gone onto Amazon or your favorite local online book retailer and bought those while we were talking, you absolutely should. Truly, truly, probably, I mean the best book on leadership I read last year. So thank you. Thank you for writing it. Thank you for sharing all of your insights. This is the third book that Jennifer has also written, so please be sure to check out her other books, and yeah. So appreciate you having you being here. Thank you.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Thank you so much, Claire.

Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.