Does It Ever Make Sense for a Leader to Strain?



Two quick public service announcements before today’s thoughts.

  1. On Newsweek’s “My Turn” page today, you’ll find a “letter to my son Jack” that I wrote in response to their cover story last week about the “Beached White Male.” I’d love to hear what you think.  And if you find it worth sharing, please do so. Hint: Parents with boys, including adult boys, might appreciate it.

2.  Today, in collaboration with three people-institutions I admire, I am launching a new website, The site is dedicated to exploring the ways in which changes in education, work and family are affecting boys and men, and the opportunity that men have to grow, change, and contribute in meaningful new ways. If you or others are interested in this discussion, please take a look at today’s first roll-out and come back as we frequently enrich the site. Onward…

My friend Patty sent me an email last week saying she enjoys RFL every week, but confessing that she often forgets to do what I’ve suggested.  Then Linda Abar told me I misquoted her last week.  Ouch.  I wrote about how Linda, my voice teacher, was teaching me how great singing is improved by practicing a “drunk tongue” which loosens up your jaw.  I wrote that good parent-boss leadership is similarly loose, not strained, not fearful, not fighting.  She agreed.  So, what did I get wrong?

Linda said, “singing never involves strain,” while I had implied that it has to do with modulating how you strain.  It made me wonder:  So strain is never good?  I pushed back – not about singing, cuz she’s forgotten more than I’ll never know about that.  But how about golf: there’s a lot of truth to ease, no strain, but Tiger and those guys swing hard.  I think they strain.  Sprinters strain at the end, don’t they? Don’t editors push at the end? In leading don’t you stretch yourself and your team some?

Linda held firm. She didn’t know golf, but said, “Is it strain? You’re stretching muscles. There’s a firm grip. But are you straining?” What do YOU think?  What would the best golf, tennis, running, editing, conducting coaches say about strain?  Despite my arguments, I think Linda’s right – about just about anything. Yes, sometimes there’s urgency, an emergency, a need for a last minute push. But I think it’s super rare – if ever – that we need to strain.  Instead, we do it out of fear, and in the end we work against ourselves.

So, if you’re like Patty who forgets to try my wacky ideas out, here’s some mental cues to use when you feel like straining, yelling, knee-jerking, squashing someone, raising your voice, panicking, sending an email or proposal before you really think it’s right:


* Breathe.  3 Counts in.  3 counts holding. 3 counts on the out breath.

* Ask: Am I doing this out of fear or trust?

* Ask: Will it promote others’ empowerment or deflate them?

* Ask:  Can I do the same thing but with ease, and thus

Lead with your best self,