Thought Series: The value of the intolerable

Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.


Over the last month I’ve been asked to speak about my research findings. More and more, however, I’m noticing that people want tips, checklists, or recipes for success, getting mindful, or whatever goal they are after.

TIP: If checklists really helped, all of us wouldn’t still be struggling so much.

Below is yet another list…of points to consider. These are key takeaways from a study I did on values based leaders and how they manage scaling their organizations. Yet, the one concept that binds them all together is: tolerance.

Leaders that are a cut above have the ability to sit with and manage great intolerance. We go to trainings where we are told “it’s ok to get uncomfortable” or “it’s safe to make mistakes.” But people are coming with their team, where they will go back to an environment where they feel unsafe.

Question: How many trainings have you been to where people were actually uncomfortable?

I’ve only been to one. At Microsoft. Lisa Brummel brought an organization in to help change the culture from being dominating to being more collaborative.  One of the first hours of this training attempted to give vocabulary to the concept of feelings. Among a sea of engineers, where feelings were seldom acknowledged when negotiating tradeoffs for launch dates, vocabulary was limited. People could only identify four terms: happy, sad, mad, afraid. When it came time to identify one of these feelings publicly in conjunction with an exercise we were doing, several people got up and left, some shouted, others boycotted the day. The unspoken feeling was fear, that would be used against them in performance calibration. Since then, the training has been adapted and performance calibration has been revisited.

The point here is that it is intolerable in today’s society to register discomfort with anything. We must be happy, always know the answer, and demonstrate competence even while we are learning something new. restrictive environments like this squash motivation, ability to innovate, and individual creativity.

How much more can you tolerate?



Leaders that are highly valued among employees and even markets, have a great capacity to create the conditions necessary for innovation and ongoing experimentation. Here are some key takeaways from values-based leaders.

1. You Matter, Whether You Like it or Not.

A person’s consistency in word and deed sets the tone and depth for relationships, for how work gets done, for what is permissible. How you are narrows or broadens your prospects. If you take action and you’re committed to making a difference–great. If you’re one of those that decide that ‘well I don’t make any difference I’m just one of 7 billion people–what difference do I make’ (and you live your life that way) that’s the impact that you are going to make.  You know that people who don’t care are less fun to be around, and those that want to make a difference, do. You will have impact one way or another. How do you want to show up?

2. Create a Vision from the Future, Step into that Possibility Not Knowing How to Create It

Most visioning projects start off looking at the past and the steps that got them where they are. They then develop a series of steps to get them to their future. By identifying your future, and beginning to move in that direction the ecosystem will provide it. Each person individually commits to the future. If someone is just going along for the ride, when things get tough it makes it hard to have a breakthrough. What future do you want?

3. Individual Commitment.

All individuals have to commit to the vision. We, as individuals, have the power to create. Each interaction we engage in creates our future. We have the choice to determine the conversation, in that moment, of who we are going to be. Creativity lives at the level of each individual. Groups do not create. Autonomy is only as robust as the level of personal responsibility. There is a certain magic available to people when they operate like they are responsible for their own universe. There are rewards to living life where you consistently choose, and are held accountable for choosing, to serve your team and your community. What is it you are up to? Making a living or a life? What inspires you?

4. Develop & Celebrate Your People.

Most jobs are hard, that is why they call it work. I am not sure whether I would want to work with the type of person who would be willing to endure a job only for the pay. Observe each other’s behavior as they go about aligning to the vision. Teach the team to give and accept feedback during the next team meeting. People truly committed to the vision will accept feedback of their peers. The group develops into a supportive team of coaches that holds them accountable for making a difference.