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At the start of 2023, I did something that for most of my life has been unthinkable for me.

I asked for what I needed.

I’m a people pleaser. Have been since childhood. On the Leadership Circle Profile, my top Reactive Tendency is Pleasing.

(Reactive tendencies can be defined in various ways. I often explain them as the behavioral patterns we developed in our formative years that kept us safe, reinforced our sense of self, and protected our fragile egos. As we develop as leaders, these tendencies have gifts that serve us, yet also can manifest as behaviors that are barriers to our effectiveness.)

Pleasing manifests in me in different ways: always doing what I say I’ll do, delivering high-quality work, considering the experience and reactions of others, and, of course, wanting to be liked and included.

For most of adolescence and young adulthood, I was always hoping to be included, feeling like a tag-along, and hurt when I was left out.

At some point in adulthood, I developed a different Pleasing technique: the coordinator.

I couldn’t be left out if I was the one planning, coordinating, including scheduling.

I stepped into the role with gusto and commitment, and in truth, it served me well. I developed a core group of close friends built on shared experiences.

When we moved from Minnesota to Colorado, one friend said “You can’t leave. You’re the glue that holds us together.”

Let me tell you: Being the glue might be rewarding, but it’s exhausting.

Since I moved to CO, I’ve been intentional about building friendships while maintaining those in MN.

The older we get, the harder it is to coordinate, plan, schedule. The more there is competing for our time.

And at the end of last year, I was exhausted by trying. Frustrated.

So I did something the Pleaser in me hates to do: I asked for what I needed.

Rather than just pulling back and not being the planner, I made the conscious choice to talk to my close friends. I told them I needed to take a break from being the planner, the coordinator, the glue. That I wanted to see and spend time with all of them, but I couldn’t twist myself in knots trying to make it work.

Do you know what happened?

They didn’t fall away. They didn’t move on without me.

They all said “Got it. Makes sense. I’ve got you.”

And they did.

Last week, I was reflecting on this year and recognized that they all stepped in and stepped up. I never felt excluded, and in fact had some of the richest experiences in our friendships.

I didn’t take a completely hands-off approach: I engaged and planned when it made sense. But I didn’t hold it as my responsibility.

I also learned that I can find and maintain a healthy, sustainable balance between me being the planner, the glue, and letting others do it too. In all honesty, it’s far more fulfilling.

I let my Pleaser rest, invited in boundaries, and asked for what I needed.

This idea has come up recently with a number of my coaching clients. Some are leaders who are overwhelmed, or who aren’t getting what they need from their teams.

When these situations come up, we start to explore:

  • What is it you need from others?
  • What’s stopping you from asking for what you need? What Reactive Tendencies are getting in the way?
  • What are you afraid might happen?
  • What might be possible if you ask for what you need?
  • What would it feel like if you asked and they stepped up?

As they navigate these questions, we uncover the stories they tell themselves about what it would mean to clearly ask for what they need.

Maybe they fear people won’t see them as perfect, in control, or committed. Or, like me, maybe they fear being excluded.

Once we uncover what’s getting in the way, we can explore what’s possible, and find a way to ask for what they need that remains true to their values.

When they do ask? Relief.

And without fail, the people on the receiving end appreciate the clarity (because clear is kind), and generally appreciate being asked to help.

So as we step into the start of the holiday season, here’s my suggestion to you:

Take some time to consider what it is you need from others in 2024.

  • What do you need help and support on? Maybe it’s to achieve a better work/life blend, support a side hustle, care for an aging parent, hit a big deliverable, achieve an aggressive revenue target, or step into your full leadership potential.
  • What do you need from others to make that happen? Family, friends, your boss, your team, your peers.
  • What’s stopping you from asking for what you need?
  • What might be possible if you ask? How would it feel?
  • How can you ask in a way that is clear and compassionate in equal measure?

Challenge yourself to make the ask. Even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard. Find an accountability partner if you need that support. (Again: Ask for what you need!)

As we head into my favorite holiday, US Thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for the amazing people in my life who heard my ask, recognized my exhaustion, and said without fail “I’ve got you.” Each of them did, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Hey there, I’m Cynthia. I’m a leadership team whispererexecutive coach, and speaker. I guide leadership teams in high-growth companies to achieve rapid growth in a healthy, sustainable way. I coach senior leaders to discover the path to lead with ease.

Like this post? Want to see more? Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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