December 4, 2023

“It’s really hard!” – Is it, really?

What would you do differently if you didn't believe it was hard?

I met with a client yesterday who is endeavoring to shift a cultural dynamic at her company toward a more performance-based mindset. I won’t share the “from” here. Just the destination. Because anything I mention about the opposite of “high-performing” will be entirely arguable.

Given the macro economic conditions these days, and the fact that I spend the lion’s share of my time with VC-backed companies (and VC firms), there is a plethora of talk about how, exactly, to shift more toward a high-performance culture. There are heaps of books on the topic (the best, in my opinion, focus on Netflix and Amazon), but on the ground at my client companies, the effort still seems to be slightly elusive. I have an idea about crowdsourcing some first principles from your experience in the last graph.

For now, what really struck me about this conversation was my client’s stated belief that “this is going to be really hard, and it will take a lot of work.”

Now, I have just returned from a Byron Katie retreat, a five-day School for the Work, so my brain is tuned to wonder whether almost every statement I hear inside or outside of myself is true, but this idea struck me as particularly juicy.

If you want to use The Work to explore who you might be without a thought or a story, the site for The Work has every resource you need. Download a worksheet for the four questions and turnarounds here and get started.

I won’t recount the details of the process I did with my client. We explored her thought “it’s going to be really hard, and it will take a lot of work.” It’s enough to say that we really questioned that thought. “Is it true?” “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

Where did my client land? She landed on “no.” It’s not true that a shift toward a performance-based culture is hard or that it will necessarily take a ton of time to make that shift. We realized that, without the thought that this shift will be hard and time-consuming, she, as a leader, could begin embodying that shift immediately by giving more direct feedback, for example.

Her position would ensure significant reverberations would follow. My client also realized in this process that one reason they might hold onto this thought is that, with the thought, they can just kick the shift to high performance down the road. There’s nothing to actually do now! It’s way more comfortable to elect to stick with the status quo and be defeatist about this entire enterprise. “Hard” and “time” both can be convenient excuses to keep things just the way they are.

My favorite part of this conversation was inside Question 4 of the Work: “Who would you be without the thought?” My client exclaimed: “I would be so free! It would be so much fun! It’s so much more enlivening to be focused on performance than to be focused on treating everyone the same.”

Seems that way to me, too.

So next time you have a strong aversion to facing a change you really want to make, list some of your judgments and stories about how it will be to make the change and begin doing some inquiry to understand the full range of wisdom around your judgments. I believe you’ll find more options through this process even if ultimately you stay committed to your initial judgments.

Now, I mentioned that most of my clients are engaged in this transition. I would love to crowdsource some tactics or first principles you are deploying or have deployed to make the shift toward an even more performance-based culture.

Please let me know here or on Linkedin. And let’s see what we come up with. I’ll share your thoughts in a future post.



We just released our second live coaching episode on the Hey Sue Podcast. It’s available on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. My guest coach Leah Pearlman and I pull back the curtain with our guest Ajay Manglani. Listen, follow, review, share, and all of the things. Give it a listen and if you or someone you know would like to join us for a session (either anonymously or identified as who they are), let me know!

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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