Leading With Clarity with Marc Lesser

Reading Time: 13 Minutes

In this episode, Marc Lesser discusses how compassionate accountability can transform your workplace.

Takeaways We Learned Marc…

Embrace conflict and practice self-awareness.

Conflict is not something to be avoided but embraced. By cultivating self-awareness and seeking support, we can navigate conflicts more effectively and find resolution that aligns with our values and goals.

Cultivate compassionate accountability.

Accountability is about alignment with what is important to us. By holding ourselves and others accountable with care, trust, and heart, we can foster healthy relationships and create effective workplaces.

Prioritize clarity and alignment.

Clear goals and alignment are essential for accountability. Regularly check in with yourself and others to ensure clarity, as situations and people change over time. By addressing misalignments and having genuine conversations, you can work towards alignment and strengthen relationships.

Understand the nuances of communication.

Communication is not just about the words used, but also about the emotions and stories attached to them. When seeking alignment, explore the deeper meanings and emotions behind the words to foster understanding and address doubts or concerns.

Embrace curiosity and dig deeper.

When faced with ambiguous or unclear communication, embrace curiosity and dig deeper to gain clarity. Instead of avoiding potential doubts or concerns, ask questions and engage in open dialogue to foster alignment and strengthen relationships.

Recognize the power of alignment and accountability.

Aligning with goals, values, and visions is essential for effective relationships and workplaces. Accountability, when approached with clarity and care, fosters a sense of alignment and leads to increased productivity and well-being.

Embrace compassionate accountability.

By combining accountability with compassion, we create a harmonious blend of clarity and empathy. This approach acknowledges the human element and fosters sustainable relationships and cultures.

Genuine conversations lead to alignment.

Building alignment requires engaging in real, authentic conversations. By actively addressing conflicts, understanding emotions, and clarifying expectations, we bridge gaps and work together more effectively.

Embrace curiosity.

Adopting a curious mindset in leadership and relationships helps us navigate difficult situations and interactions. Curiosity allows us to approach challenges with openness and a willingness to learn, fostering a more compassionate and accountable environment.

Shifting perspectives on difficult people.

While there may be genuinely toxic individuals, it’s important to recognize that we all have the potential to be difficult in certain situations. By understanding this, we can approach difficult relationships with empathy, seek alignment, and work toward resolution and growth.

About Marc Lesser

Marc Lesser is a CEO, executive coach, and Zen teacher. He founded and was CEO of 3 companies, and helped develop a mindfulness program inside of Google’s headquarters. Marc was a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center for 10 years, and director of Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center, the first Zen monastery in the western world.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and Executive Business coach Allison Dunn. Our topic today is leading with clarity. And our guest is Marc Lesser. He is an author, CEO and executive coach as well as the Zen teacher. He founded and was CEO of three companies and helped develop a mindfulness program inside of Google’s headquarters. Marc, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Marc: Thank you. Great to be here.

Allison: Excellent. I love to kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners?

Marc: Don’t avoid conflict.

Allison: Any tips on sometimes people can’t even recognize that there is a conflict?

Marc: Yeah. Yeah, I think this number one tip, maybe backing up a little bit from that.

My leadership tip is practice self awareness. And, find great support.

Allison: Okay, excellent tips. Thank you very much. So don’t avoid conflict. Number one tip. Mark, you say that the key to healthy relationships and effective workplaces is compassionate accountability. Can you explain what compassionate accountabilities?

Marc: Sure? Well, let’s start with accountability, which again, is a word that’s kicked around a lot. Not a very popular word people generally, although we like holding others accountable, right. But we don’t like ourselves being held. It kind of has this feels a little bit like painful or torturous. But what it but really it’s about alignment, like starting with, like, aligning with what is important to us? In what way are we aligned with our, our values, our goals, our visions of what success looks like? And then accountability, as it’s usually thought of? In relation with another person? Is there alignment? Are we are we clear about what we’re trying to achieve? And are we clear about how we’re trying to achieve it, how we’re wanting to work together. And, and by itself, accountability can get a bit, a bit cold, right?

Like, it doesn’t necessarily have a lot of care, trust or heart. So that’s why the compassionate accountability, it’s just such a, I think, important conversation, as, as you just said, in terms of building relationships, or cultures that are that are sustainable and effective. I think we really need the human element. But we also need that kind of clarity, which is why I ended up you know, naming my book finding clarity, when someone asked me well, what this is really about, and it takes, it takes this kind of aspirational, ongoing practice to be clear to practice with compassionate accountability.

Allison: And Marc, I would say, in the work that I do with organizations, accountability, like everyone says, yeah, how do I hold them accountable? Right, or how do I create a level of accountability? And the, the better question often is, is our goal clear? are we aligned on that? Because once you do have that accountability comes so easily.

Marc: So yeah, because then it’s just right. Are we clear? are we aligned? And, and then let’s check in regularly because things change, right? The situations change, people change. You know, sometimes we think that we’re clear, we thought that we were clear, but actually, we’re not as clear as we thought we were about, you know, what success looks like even it’s even two interesting things that seem so deliberate or obvious or are often need, you know, we, we are pretty complex creatures. We humans are our ability. You know, we fill in gaps really easily with whatever, whatever thoughts and ideas we might have. So yeah, it’s a beautiful and important thing, right, this Are we clear and coming back and checking in? Yeah.

Allison: You also use one of my favorite words, which is alignments. What would be you know, I know that my listeners are experiencing at points in any given day or week or year misalignment with either their direct reports the company’s direction, how, what is the process? Or what are the ways that you would suggest to find alignment between individuals? Departments? Teams?

Marc: Yeah, I mean, it means having it means actually having real conversations genuine, genuine conversations. Not right. So not avoiding, not avoiding conflict, original tip, the restaurant original tip. Right. So, you know, and I think finding alignment perhaps is the other side of the coin of not avoiding conflict. Right. Not avoiding. Maybe it would be gentle or to have said, Don’t  avoid misalignment work toward work toward alignment. And again, it sounds it sounds so obvious, but it Yeah, if I was, I was even thinking of. I, it’s funny, the situations that stay with us. You know, I can remember a situation in which I was the CEO and two women who worked for me, kind of I was on my way out the door, and they stopped me to ask me, you know, they wanted, they asked, what was kind of a simple question, like, when are we going to do the next stage of our branding and website development? Right? Simple question, right. I heard it as a criticism. I heard it as why is this taking so long? Or when are we going to get our act together?

So it’s interesting, because there’s, there’s often, you know, there’s the words that we use. And then there’s what they mean, the gaps that we’re filling in the there’s the, there’s the words that we use, and there’s the emotions that we feel in the stories that we tell. So this is part of like, okay, when are we you know, how’s this? How is this project going? You know, tell me more what’s Is there something about you know, it’s not it’s not just around aligning around the date? It’s aligning around? How’s it going? How’s this project going? What’s working? Well, what could be better? You know, what is your personal investment in this? Do you have some doubts about this? So it’s so interesting, right? The, the, how, you know, how’s it how is this how is this project going can mean, and feel and have a whole bunch of different nuances. So this is the, the joy and the work of aligning alignment and, and of accountability.

Allison: Just to kind of carry on because this the, the example you just gave, like, I heard it in a completely different way. Like, they’re excited to get started. When is the next stage? Right. Right. Right. And really wanting to know, like, where are we at? And how, you know, like, what’s happening next? Because they’re excited?

Marc: Yeah, that’s yeah. Great, great add on there, right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, yeah, whole range, right. Or, or, you know, a colleague, or maybe someone that you report to says, you know, can you have that report to me by Monday? Right, again, that could be great. You know, wow, he’s excited about this, or, man, he’s this person. Clearly, there’s doubt that, is there doubt, or is there excitement? That, like, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s be a little. And, and often, if there’s some feeling that there might be doubt, we might choose to not go there. Right. Like, man, why? Why would I go there? Well, why wouldn’t you go there? Why wouldn’t why wouldn’t you say? Hmm. I have this strange feeling about that. Can we? I’m curious, curious if there’s anything, anything underneath that? Or behind that? Um, Are you as excited about this project as I am? Or is there something else I should know?

Allison: Like, did you need it sooner? Absolutely. That’s on par. I’m going to work on it on Monday, it may be sooner than five does that work kind of conversation right. Now. So digging, digging deeper. So I think the  key to that is to recognize there’s an emotion there’s a trigger or there’s energy that you’re feeling and it could be good or bad and to make sure that it’s being reciprocated and that you’re in alignment to the end outcome, whatever that it may be, is just a report or something else, right?

Marc: Yeah, because right So there’s, you know, there’s alignment and accountability about, you know, timeframes about how we’re feeling and how we’re, what our approaches, you know, what, in what way are we? Where are we on the, you know, excitement and dread spectrum, perhaps?

Allison: Right. I think my next question, I almost want to play the ying and the yang of it, because I think it’s sometimes depending on how you approach things, what is going to be more meaningful to you. So we talked about compassionate accountability, what are the benefits of achieving that?

Marc: Yeah, I think, you know, using the language that we were just using.

There’s real power and effectiveness in alignment, and in getting in getting things done, as well as in you know, individual well being relationship well being cultural well being, because without that, there can be an unexpressed gaps.

I have this image, you know, way, way back I used to work with draft horses I used to I was involved in farming with horses and this image of the effectiveness that there is When horses are pulling together. And the ineffectiveness and jerkiness when they’re not and the same is true for any relationship or any team or any company. When people are working at cross purposes, or there’s a lack of pulling together. Right. So that’s the this is the real, the real incredible benefit of, you know, compassion, that accountability of alignment, combined with care and trust.

Allison: Yeah, and you kind of did the yang of it for me. So like, you know, it feels jerky. It’s not you don’t I mean, it’s not going smoothly as it could if everyone had a clear idea of how the what move to make next together.

Marc: And what that might, how that plays out is that things aren’t getting done. Right. Things are not what I thought was being accomplished and what you thought was going to be accomplished isn’t.

Allison: You kind of tied three unusual people together. So what’s can Homer Simpson, the Buddha and Alice in Wonderland teach us about leadership?

Marc: Well, Homer, Homer is I think, in some way, most of us, maybe all of us have what I what I think of as the Inner Homer, which is the inner victim, the person that is always avoiding conflict, the person that always you know, has something to complain about everything, everything is going wrong. And person who doesn’t want to be responsible. I know this and I call this you know, Why does everything have to be so hard? Voice that that’s one of the voices are? Yeah, I also I’ve become a more of a student of Homer and Homer, Homer isms. And yeah, and then, when that question came up, Why does everything have to be so hard that made me think of the historical Buddha, who is also asking the question about well, why is life difficult? Why do why is there so much pain? And, you know, and his answer had to, to, I think with in some way, avoiding conflict in some way.

Not dealing with the things like impermanence, things like that. There are things about being human that just are painful and difficult that we need to learn again and again to face and transform.

So Buddha’s great teaching was that through not avoiding difficulty through not avoiding pain, suffering difficulty that we can learn to understand them and turn that understanding into greater acceptance and even a sense of well being and joy.

And then as I was writing about this, then Alice in Wonderland appeared. I thought, well, yeah, what’s the practice? What’s the ongoing on the ground practice and it’s about being curious the practice of, you know, curious, certain curious Sir bringing, bringing curiosity to almost every situation as much as possible is I think, you know, for leaders for any relationships for this, this human life, right. Be curious, not furious is the kind of the first, the first practice of compassionate accountability.

Allison: Okay, love that. And my next question is, you kind of, quote difficult people, how can we shift our thinking around difficult people?

Marc: Yeah. I think it starts with, you know, recognizing that we can all be difficult people in it depends on the situation. Seriously, seriously? Yeah. Especially when there are, you know, power, when there’s roles involved. When there’s status involved. There’s, there’s going to be, you know, people, you know, that was a big lesson for me as a leader to see that, that some people found my style challenging or difficult or difficult. Now, it’s important, I think, you know, to not dismiss that there are difficult people, there are people who are kind of toxic, who can be kind of toxic stress makers who, you know, can be like the bulls in the China shop are just going around creating, creating a, you know, a stream of stress and difficulty through their way.

But I think those people are fairly rare these days, and less and less. I think those people are not rising in organizations, I think maybe they used to more that people cared less about emotional intelligence than they do. Now. Again, there’s certainly there certainly are exceptions. So I think, I think where this gets where your question, and this topic is really interesting, is there are difficulties in relationships? How do we deal with difficult situations? How do we deal with when people are angry with me? How do we deal with all of the cause when there’s a lack of alignment? Then we’ve got a difficult situation, right? And how do we more skillfully? How do we more skillfully work toward alignment? How do we acknowledge lack of alignment and find ways to work with it?

Allison: You are set to aim to make a significant social impact with your book and I just wanted to give you an opportunity to share with us what that is.

Marc: Well, I think to me, this this work of compassionate accountability is the maybe the undergirding things of get not only getting things done, but I think once we.

Once we move beyond our usual kind of fight or flight response, there’s a way that it can open our hearts and open our minds to, to create a kind of sense of safety in inclusiveness, and not needing to be defensive. And, and I think, as, as we, as leaders, as as people do this on an individual basis, and how we influence each other.

This is the kind of social impact that I think is has the potential to bring the kind of positive change that I think most of us want to see a world that is more connected, more generous, and more effective at the same time.

Allison: I was Thank you. I appreciate that. And I think that that’s, you know, that’s a that’s a beautiful purpose for the book, you already mean for to have that type of social impact. I was reading a statistic and they were talking about, like the decline of our youngest generation actually. Having less compassion and less, maybe heightened emotional connected, you know, because we do so much screen time and whatnot. Your thoughts on that?

Marc: Yeah, I think I know, there’s been a lot written about that. We’re in the midst of this giant social experiment in terms and I think it got vastly exacerbated with the pandemic. Believe it No, even for me, my work life went from 100% in person to almost 100%. Online. And I think that in some way, I, my experience is that the online world, you know, can, if there already is any lack of connection, it can exacerbate that. Right. And it there definitely is something that’s lost, even with, even though I’ve been a big proponent of how much can get done online. And I think there is truth to that.

But you know, I recently, I’ve been working with a leadership team where it was online, and then we recently had an in person a two day off site retreat. And I was just blown away at how much happened at that in person retreat that could just never have happened. Online. So I think for young people and for everyone, there is, you know, time for us to get back out there. I’ve been a little slow myself, but I’m although I’m I have tonight, I have three groups in a row that I’m hosting at my house. Outstanding. Tonight is my CEO group. Excellent. Last night last night was my group of science and mindfulness teachers that get together once a month. And the day before that I had a half day meditation retreat at my house and I was like, I like this. I like this. This being in person stuff. 

Allison: I added a host facilitator to your bio.

Marc: Yes, definitely. No, I love being able to be part of creating safe connected alive spaces. And I yeah, I was with someone yesterday who’s starting a nonprofit that’s working with high school students and young people just to do that. And I’d like to do more of that with many different many different audiences this let’s create safe spaces for each other.

Allison: That’s beautiful. Mark, your book is new. Is it out?

Marc: It is out. It’s been out almost a couple of months now.

Allison: Okay, fantastic. So you can find his book finding clarity how compassionate accountability builds vibrant relationships, thriving workplaces and meaningful lives. Mark, I want to make sure that our listeners know what is the best way to connect and or follow you.

Marc: My website is Marclesser.net marclesser dotnet. Lots of writing and audio video. Lots of love. Lots of resources there. So come visit.

Allison: Fantastic. Mark, thank you so much for your time today.

Marc: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

Join our list for exclusive tips, content and a welcome gift – our ebook on how to engage your team and boost profits.