Two bosses

There are two bosses. You get to choose which one leads you.

Your first choice is the critical boss. The critical boss is known for chastising teammates, calling people and ideas stupid, and focusing on mistakes. Teammates of the critical boss are scared to suggest ideas and bring up issues and are anxious about work.

Your second choice is the compassionate boss. The compassionate boss is known for encouraging and guiding teammates, finding opportunities in challenges, and highlighting what is working. Teammates of the compassionate boss feel safe to suggest ideas and bring up issues and are energized about work.

Give it some thought. Which boss do you choose?

If you picked the compassionate boss, keep that choice in mind. Because now I want you to think about your inner voice—the voice in your head that helps you navigate life, prioritize options, and make decisions. Does your inner voice resemble the critical boss or the compassionate boss?

If your inner voice resembles the critical boss, you are practicing self-criticism. I practiced self-criticism for most of my life. In effect, I hired a critical boss to lead my mind. I would chastise myself, call myself and my ideas stupid, and focus on the things that weren’t working in my life. I became anxious—scared to pursue opportunities and face challenges, because I didn’t want to fail.

If your inner voice sounds like the compassionate boss, you are practicing self-compassion. I prefer this voice now. I use it to encourage and guide myself, identify what is working in my life, and forgive myself when I make mistakes. It also helps me engage with the opportunities and challenges that come my way, so I spend more time learning and growing.

What does your inner voice sound like? Does it match the boss you chose?

Many people discover a contradiction here, between how they want to be led and how they lead themselves. I know I did. I desired to work for a compassionate boss, but I led myself with criticism. I was aware of self-compassion, but I resisted it. I thought it was my responsibility to be stern with myself—that doing so would help me develop. It didn’t. It left me feeling anxious. I am at my best when I am encouraged, guided, trusted, and cared for, so now I offer myself these things. It is making a big difference to my mental and physical health.

To be clear, my self-criticism hasn’t disappeared, and it maybe never will. My critical inner voice still has the dial-in numbers to all of my mental meetings, and there are times—especially when I don’t get enough sleep—when it still dominates those meetings. But the more I practice self-compassion, the more I temper my self-criticism, find healthier ways to self-assess, and learn how to lead myself like I want to be led.

Does a critical voice dominate your mental meetings? If so, does the criticism help you achieve your goals, or does it conflict with them?

If you are interested in developing a more compassionate inner voice, I recommend reading Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff.

Thank you for reading,

This is Max’s note—an every-so-often message from Lessonly’s CEO about learning, leadership, and Better Work. Sign up below to subscribe via email. No spam, we promise!

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