Let’s start with Sonder.

Not the app.  The idea.
That everyone is living a life as complicated and important as yours*.

It’s a crazy idea that we are all in this together, and it’s actually not just about me or you, but that we share our community as equals with many others. While we may be front and centre in our own lives, we are but passing traffic in most others.

Things are tough right now. The world is complicated and needs to be agile and flexible for us to be able to just join the dots.

If you’re in the 90% that are doing ok, then act like the 50% that is happy to lift some of the weight.

Rock up happy to see your team, or even your boss.  Create a little Gezellig spot for them to come into.  A bit of banter. A bit of kindness.  Maybe even a little love.

Then I’m going to add in two data points.

These come from thousands of people we’ve measured in the mwah. Culture Dashboard, over the last year in our culture work.

The first data point is:

We all get that the world is complicated and needs to be agile and changing and flexible. Almost all of us fully acknowledge that organisations should be the same.

Here’s the graph.


The second data point is:

How many of us want to deal with change versus those who just want to have a safe, secure, predictable space. Half of us prefer to have that stable space to changing to meet the opportunities.


Here’s that graph.

Together they mean that we all get the world is hard and complicated and changing.

But only half of us are up for any heavy lifting to meet the change.

Leaving out the vulnerable – at any one time let’s agree that there’s about 10% of us doing it really tough. This means something serious is impacting their life right now.  So, let’s accommodate this group, and appreciate that they need to get off the train for a minute and just survive this patch in time.

That still leaves 90% of us that fall into the ‘We’re potentially up for some of the heavy lifting’. We could do it if we wanted to.

The merge of Sonder and sharing the load

Now let’s merge Sonder into that 90% and divvy us into those two groups.

What does it mean to Monday mornings?

Ah, the start of the working week.

We’re all struggling out of bed. It’s getting colder and the nights longer. Increasingly we get up in the dark and put those bare feet on cold bathroom or kitchen floors before heading into a commute or over to zoom, (once teeth and hair are done).

No matter how bad your weekend was, let’s apply Sonder.
Acknowledge as we walk in, that every person is living a life as complicated and important as yours, and may just have had a terrible weekend, maybe even worse.

“But they’re the boss”, you say. “They can take all feedback, all the time.”

Let’s think about this. We did a lecture this week and we talked about the new expectation that every leader solves impossible problems all day, every day. Think about the impact of this and how it is completely unsustainable.

How do you do individual flexibility perfectly aligned to an ideal of work/life balance when the person next to you has some stuff going on too, and still get the work done?

How do we get the customer needs understood and met when you have no time, and less than required resources?

How do we achieve perfect psychological safety for every single person when your safety requires other people to change something fundamental about them to achieve yours?

What if the boss needed a spot of Sonder appreciation too.  Imagine they’re just a person battling through some stuff too. Assuming ChatGPT has a little way to go just yet before it takes over, they’re probably just another human being doing life as best they can.

But. But. But. Sometimes you just have to be cruel to be kind.

I heard this one again this week.  ‘I love to coach and sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind’.

Maybe this is true, and maybe not. Take the case where you’re the Under 8s soccer coach and an uncoordinated kid thinks they’re getting close to making the State Rep side and feeling confident they’re in line for the shirt at the awards night next week. Sure, there’s a kind way to let them know that there’s an awful lot more growth and practice required to get to rep, and you can suggest perhaps they wear another cool shirt for awards night to avoid any embarrassment.

Under 8 soccer coaches aside, this is the voice of people who walk around thinking ‘I love to coach and I’m keen help you by giving you load of bad/unexpected feedback, at speed. A ‘stream of consciousness of my own brilliance’, if you like.

Any good coach will tell you to be an effective coach, you have to build trust and credibility first. You have to create a safe space for giving and receiving feedback, and space to listen and be understood.  It’s a conversation.  Both sides.  Meeting at a point of learning.

So if you’re leaping into your awesome coaching advice, and the other person is in the foetal position on the floor rocking back and forward, you might not be quite there yet.

If you haven’t put in the work to build trust, and create that safe space for growth, they may take your well-meaning feedback and shove it up your jumper.  You have to do the work first. Mainly on yourself and if you want to be useful, there’s no avoiding it.

Let’s talk about Gezellig.

Gezellig is one of THE best words in any language ever.  It’s a Dutch word that has no proper English translation but let’s try.

A cosy place. A safe space.

But it’s more a feeling than words.

You’re outside in the cold and darkness, and you look inside a home of people you love, all sitting, smiling and laughing together.  Candles lit. Fireplace stoked. Warm food on the table. Soft music you love to sing along to, and you say ‘now that is Gezellig’.

And I wouldn’t mind going right in and joining them.

So, what now?

To varying levels of high performance or excellence depending on Sonder, and where we are in life right now, whether we’ve chosen it or landed in it, let’s rock up, open to someone having a worse weekend, worse night, or worst commute than you.

Let’s rock up to throw some ideas on the table, to workshop some crazy ones, and try and compromise to get to a good space, not just demand solutions from war-weary leaders who are as tired as you are right now.

As someone said to me this week, let’s ‘not just admire the problem but help solve it’.

Let’s rock up with a moment for a coffee sometime today, with someone who looks like they’ve haven’t been listened to for a long time.  Or to sit quietly with someone who is all talked out, and just needs a little refuge from the barrage of words and critique they’re in right now.

Let’s pause from coaching, and compliment someone on something they got right or could teach someone, maybe even teach you.

Let’s pause from the critique and leave aside the assumptions of ‘less smart than’, ‘less understanding than’, ‘less experienced than’, less complicated, or less important than whatever you’ve got going on.  Let go of ‘I’m on my own against the world’ and accept that everyone else has stuff going on too.

What would that look like ?

Funnily enough, it would look a little kinder. A little more generosity in the bridge building. A little more openness to what another has to offer.  Give a little more compromise and wriggle room for colleagues that might need it right now. A little more respect for tricky contexts and no easy answers.

Funny thing is, I’ve never met a good leader or a good colleague, that wasn’t kind.  Wasn’t open to helping and building more of the bridge.  Wasn’t cheering on that war-weary boss and letting them know that you trust that they’ve got this no matter how impossible the problem or how imperfect any of the possible solutions.

Whatever your religion or belief system, there’s something to be said for karma.  Doing for others as you’d have them do for you.  Doing the right thing for someone might just prove to be good for your day too.

So back to the two data points.

Things are tough right now. The world is complicated and needs to be agile and flexible for us to be able to just join the dots.

If you’re in the 90% that are doing ok, then join the 50% that is happy to lift some of the weight.

Rock up happy to see your team, or even your boss.  Create a little Gezellig spot to welcome them.  A bit of banter. A bit of kindness.  Maybe even a little love.

*Sonder – The profound realisation that every random passer-by, has a life as vivid and complex as your own.

John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, 2012

And paraphrased many times since in The Urban Dictionary and other social media