Do you have a division between who you are as a business leader and who you are as a spouse, friend, sister, brother, mother, or father? In her new book, The Power of A Graceful Leader, Alexsys Thompson shares how to begin integrating who you are and how you lead.
Through her experience with this disconnect in her own leadership and having coached hundreds of leaders in their integration journey, Alexsys offers tools, tenets, and relatable stories to support you in your journey towards becoming an integrated and graceful leader.
She hopes you’ll find yourself making better decisions, building healthier relationships, and experiencing joy, love, and compassion as you transcend into the leader you were born to be.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I am excited to be here today with Alexsys Thompson, author of The Power of a Graceful Leader. Alexsys, thank you for joining. Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast.
Alexsys Thompson: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Drew.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, Alexsys. Can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Alexsys Thompson: Sure. It is not a straight line, but I can do my best.
Drew Appelbaum: Sometimes it is the most difficult question.
Alexsys Thompson: Yeah, it can be. So, I would say that what’s most relevant for the topic that we are going to talk about, which is the book, is I have about 15 years of executive coaching experience and consulting practice–most recently moving more into the spiritual space, focused on leaders and integrating into their higher best version of themselves. The world can benefit from great leaders, which I would think that nowadays, we’re seeing a lot of examples of what that doesn’t look like.
So, it would be nice to see more of what it does look like and people are out there doing that work. And mostly, I am an avid learner and refiner of myself, which is a lot of what a graceful leadership practice and thought process requires is to constantly be in reflection and review and refining.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write the book? Was it some extra time because of COVID? Was there some outside inspiration out there? Did you have an “aha moment?”
Alexsys Thompson: I have coached over a thousand amazing human beings in my lifetime so far and I kept seeing some patterns that show up. It was often a huge gap around the way a leader views self, and it was rigid, and it was unkind many times. I was watching that transcend and project and transfer onto the people they were leading, unconsciously, and so as I started to trend the pattern and doing a lot of my own research and my own re-framing, and my own journey into being more graceful as a human being and as a leader, it kind of just all coalesced.
Now, ironically this has taken me a couple of years to be committed to it, to put it down, rethink it, shift it a little bit. So, COVID did in a beautiful way–one of the gifts of it was it allowed me a little more stillness that I am used to, to focus on finishing up what I started.
Drew Appelbaum: Now were there any learnings or major breakthroughs that you had while writing the book? Sometimes just by doing research, sometimes it’s the introspective journey?
Alexsys Thompson: Yeah, there was a lot of them. So, there are six tenets that came up through this writing process. The two of them that personally was really singing to me was the integration of mind, body, and soul because I am one that has to work on being really aware of my body. I am much more of an intellectual, loner, introverted type that can spend many days in my brain and be quite content.
So, learning that my body was giving me cues to things as I went through some illnesses and that there was some connection and integration work between my mind and my body was kind of an epiphany for me a few years ago.
Then the other part, I had an intuition about it, but I didn’t really know how we’re going to practice it in leaders and as leaders was the last tenant that’s called, “compassionately powerful in all things.”
It’s the ability to hold a duality and let both things simultaneously exist. And that was also a pretty big challenge for a lot of leaders that I’ve been working with.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, a lot of people will write books for their former-self.
Alexsys Thompson: Yes.
Drew Appelbaum: And usually because there was some adversity along the way. Can you tell us about a few of the issues you ran into earlier in your career and maybe some of the lessons that were learned?
Alexsys Thompson: Sure, and I would definitely say I fit into that category. I think in the book I am actually pointing out several times that a lot of the hardships if we embrace them in our role so we can get to the other side at some point, and it might not be the first attempt, that we often can look back with a lot of healthy reflection and share a lesson. This book is a large part of that, both my stories and other stories.
So, early on in my life, I was told that I was too much. I was too this, too that, T.O.O. too much of whatever I was showing up as because I bring a lot of energy with me and intensity. At a really early age in my leadership journey, I translated that into needing to play small. To kind of dim my light, let me say.
That was a lesson I had to unwind, and it wasn’t graceful. In large part, it was a lot of grit and messiness and consistently messing it up, and then going and cleaning it up. But the more that I did that, the more the grace became a part of how I was being with people. But it took a long time and was not just a movement from being clunky and “too much” into gracefulness. It’s been a lifelong journey.
Drew Appelbaum: What are the questions that someone can ask themselves to know if they are even in need of a leadership skills tune-up?
Alexsys Thompson: The fact that they’re asking questions is probably a really good cue that wherever they are, they may be evolving in their leadership journey and they are seeking something, or some internal force is saying, “Hey, we can do something different than we’re doing today.” There’s this prompting and this nagging internal voice that’s often hard to escape.
The ones that are specific to being a graceful leader that I most often hear in my work at the executive level is that they’ll get there–as a senior VP, CEO, CFO, and they’ll be quite accomplished–their resume is beautiful. Their education is spot on. They are sitting there and looking at the wall saying, “If this is all there is, I am so disappointed. There has to be a way and something deeper and more meaningful to my being than the spreadsheet and the shareholder report.”
Those types of things were moments of transition or trial or drama that someone’s experiencing where they have a pause in their life, and it is just a question of whether or not they’re willing to enter the pause to look at a transformational experience on the other side of it.
What is a Graceful Leader?
Drew Appelbaum: Now, the goal is to become a graceful leader, and can you tell us what your definition of a graceful leader or graceful leadership is and who benefits from graceful leadership?
Alexsys Thompson: Well yes, so the cool part about this and why I chose to even spend time in the leadership space in this world, is because really early on in my career, I was at some kind of conference and they were starting to spout off statistics. At that point Gallop, I think was the resource, and it said that every manager, and this isn’t even an executive leader, but every manager most likely will directly impact up to 12 people at any given point.
I quickly saw the leverage point. I had worked for leaders that were awesome, and I had worked for leaders that in my experience, weren’t so awesome. I thought, “Wow, if we could have more leaders bringing out the best in people, then that multiplier, it’s endless.”
So, as a result of that, everybody benefits from graceful leadership, whether it is just the leadership journey within you in your own life, where you believe in yourself and into an aligned life, or you are leading a multi-billion-dollar corporation, the multiplier is the only difference. The impact is no less significant.
When we talk about grace–it is funny because when I started writing this book, I had a lot of advice to take the word graceful and throw it out the door because it was religious in connotation. It was slippery, people can’t get their arms around it, and I was pretty resilient in the fact that this was the book that I was writing.
One of the first tasks was the need to define grace. To say, in the context of this conversation, “Here’s what we’re talking about.”
A graceful leader is someone–there is an image in the book and on the cover, it’s the infinity symbol, and you’ll see six various sized dots on that infinity symbol, and it’s meant to represent that a graceful leader is many things. But paramount is the ability to flow along that infinity symbol at any given point in the nanoseconds of time using intuition as their guiding force. Not ignoring data, not ignoring logic, but really letting the guide be their intuition, taking into account those things and being able and willing to pivot on that infinity symbol at any given moment.
Meaning, they are leading in crisis, they are sitting at the back of the room while other people emerge as leaders. They are standing next to their team-leading, they’re practicing a heavy followership in their peer group or in their industry, while also leading their organization. So, this brings us back into that development. How can I follow and lead at the same time? Which is an epitome of a graceful leader.
They actually have physical manifestations of grace start to show up in them as they are becoming because a graceful leader is a way of being. It is not a doing and that’s probably the biggest distinction.
Drew Appelbaum: Can you give an example of a graceful leader who you look up to personally?
Alexsys Thompson: There’s a lot of I would say unknown to the universe people at the back of the book that I actually express gratitude for, but if we are looking for someone that most of us might know, we could use Jane Goodall.
Those of you that know who she is, she’s spent her whole life with a chimpanzee community actually living inside their community and one of the key pieces of being aligned in graceful leadership is understanding your mission and purpose in this incarnation of your life. She demonstrates that very clearly, very early on in her journey, which is a gift.
Because we don’t know how it is going to unfold, she doesn’t know at the time what her role with chimpanzees may be, but she’s got enough of a knowing to enter into that in a way different than most scientists or people in her field have done before. As a result, we know things about chimpanzees and relate to that animal in a way that we would not have been able to do without her gracefully leading us and introducing us to this primate in a new and quite beautiful way.
Then you see in her career, she transcends her career. She becomes a leader of leaders inside of a field that focuses on being good stewards with animals on our planet, and so I think she’s a really good depiction of a graceful leader and how one can evolve over time.
Drew Appelbaum: How much of an urgent need is there for graceful leadership in the world today?
Alexsys Thompson: Well this is one thing that I couldn’t have known when I started the book pre-COVID. What I will say is that now, in my experience more than ever, we need our leaders at all levels in all industries, literally every leader that’s calling a meeting needs to actively choose leading–not as a default of their last promotion.
So, once you’ve actually chosen that leadership as something you’re called to do because it is a calling, then making the way that you lead a practice for you and then evolving that, whether it’s through conscious leaders, or servant leadership, and then ultimately, a graceful and situational leadership that will be your own journey.
But the commitment and the calling to being graceful is one that, in my humble opinion, is being called for, now more than ever at the current moment where we’re more divisive and we aren’t seeing strong acts of empathy and compassion in certain areas where we need them.
Drew Appelbaum: I’d like to bring something back around that you mentioned earlier in our conversation and it’s compassion and power. Many leaders are often caught on the tightrope of either being compassionate or coming off as powerful. Is it possible for someone to be both?
Alexsys Thompson: It is imperative that you’re both. It is possible to be both. The distinction a leader needs, we’ll dive into this tenant, is the distinction between force and power. So, if you think about the industrial age where it was much more of a command-control and I don’t think that has left us yet. Our style of leadership, that’s a forceful way of being in the world. Power is much gentler, it is much more enlisting.
When it is aligned to a graceful portal it is more kind and loving. So, the tenet actually reads that you influence through an open heart and clear agenda, bonding stillness, and action, understands and owns the impact of consequences on their behavior to self-organization in the world, and they create room for flow while maintaining a structure.
I think a lot of us have read some of the newer books about engagement and happiness and purpose and in life in general much less in a leader’s life.
It was most imperative in a leader with that impact of 12 or more in our universe. So, when the leader steps into their grace center and their knowingness of who they are, that is powerful–meaning that they hold it but they don’t push it. They become this pillar of energy and power that more often is still, than it is in action, and it becomes a source of safety and compassion and directive when needed for the team, the groups, organizations, and communities that they are leading.
It’s really imperative that this leader that moves into grace understands the duality. They can also understand the synergy and that they don’t have to be one or the other. It is called the sucker’s choice–I can either be nice or I can get results. The truth is that you can do both.
Drew Appelbaum: How does gratitude play into all of this? What kind of role does it play in successful leadership and can you think of any situations where grace and gratitude combined in the workplace?
Alexsys Thompson: I’ve spent many years working in the space with leaders and the short story is, when I worked with leaders, I would buy this beautiful leather journal and I’d send it to them and say, “We’re going to journal.” I’d get a paralyzed response or a, “No, I am not going to,” but either way, it wasn’t working. It was that they didn’t know where to start. There was some resistance to it.
I developed some guided gratitude journals with the intention to work with leaders in this space. That has made all the difference in the world. Put yourself where we are now with COVID. There are times where it’s really hard to sit back and think, “What could I possibly be grateful for in this world that I am living in today? This new way of being and not being with people?” When you can be still enough to explore where those gratitude’s are inside of what we might call undesirable or unwanted or a victim relationship with the state of the world or state of the situation, we have an opportunity to allow another duality to exist.
We can acknowledge that COVID is not helping us in many ways, in our economic life, and for small businesses, we are seeing huge hurt there, not to mention the health consequences but we can also say that in that same conversation that there’s a lot of small business that have learned agility and have adapted and have found new ways of working.
They would not have slowed down in that stillness without the stillness being forced upon them and they wouldn’t have taken the time because there wouldn’t have been the pressure and need to figure out a new way. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs in the community, and what I hear is, “I’m really thankful for the slowdown because I love to go back to doing this particular thing the way that it was used to be done,” and that would have been missed opportunity in most cases.
Gratitude is like the portal to what I am calling a grace center, which is the part where your heart and your cyclical energy kind of connect and start communicating with each other–where you have access to a power and a collective knowledge far bigger than the ego itself can even hold. That’s the impact of gratitude and I’ve seen it evolve in leaders many, many times.
Often times what someone would call a horrible situation in the beginning. So, as an executive coach, sometimes I’ll work with a leader that is under the pressure to make a shift pretty quickly, and usually, it is their behavior. Some emotional quotient in their work. That is an undesirable place to be in. It feels like, “I didn’t choose this, it’s being done to me,” and all of those things but once they enter into the gratitude in the situation, all of a sudden, they start to find their grace connect.
Their internal intuition starts to get turned on, and if they allow that to happen, they’ve taken what could have looked like punishment or a demeaning, shameful experience and they’ve turned it around into a very powerful, but not forceful, way of being in the world.
Drew Appelbaum: One of the more interesting things I found in the book is when you describe alignment and you say to consider taking an alignment inventory, which is cataloging the times you acted in a way that you put yourself and soul into misalignment. Can you talk to us about how important alignment is and maybe what this alignment inventory looks like?
Alexsys Thompson: Sure, thanks for calling that out. That’s not for the weak-hearted. It is literally being still enough to start writing down where you weren’t the best versions of yourself. We all know those highlighted spaces where we’re like, “We could have done that better. If I knew now what I knew then.”
To start cataloging them, I took each decade from the time I was 18, and I went a little bit beyond because I had some not-good things prior to 18. From 18 to the point where I was 50, I started cataloging, “Okay, what are the events in my life that were highlights and transformational pivots? What was my role in that? Was I acting in my highest good? Did I get defensive and withdraw? Did I take the opportunity? Did I have to wait for that opportunity to show up a decade later?”
Then once you get that done, the really hard part is to start listing the people. Because what I began to understand was because of the intensity that I bring into the world just being me with that “too much thing,” I had run over some people. It wasn’t my intention to be hateful and hurtful or dismissive or totally miss the boat, but the reality was that that was the impact or the consequence of who I was being at that time.
I spent over a year, just over a year making that list and when people were still alive and when people were willing to have a clean-up conversation, I had those conversations.
They were hard, they were humbling. Some of the people wouldn’t let me enter into that forgiveness space, there wasn’t an opening to create closure or a new way of being with somebody. As a graceful leader, this is really one of the tenets, it’s understanding that all the consequences for your life are yours. It doesn’t mean bad things happen that maybe you didn’t bring into being but in your relationship to that defined bad experience, you have total control of that.
So that inventory for me was humbling and hard and so liberating. I was able to just let go of so much guilt and shame and that opened up all of this space to be something else and that’s where grace centered in.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, there is so much more in the book, we really just scratched the surface but I like to ask one last question, which might be the most important one because the most important step in any journey is the first one and after reading the book, what is the first step folks should take to bring more grace into their lives?
Alexsys Thompson: Start a gratitude practice if they don’t have one. It is that simple and it’s that hard. So, when I say practice that means there is a ritual to it. There is consistency and a rhythm that you find. I have seen it done a bazillion different ways and all of them are lovely as the key to you defining if it is working for you is if you actually feel your heart expanding.
If you actually start to see things in a different, more compassionate, more compelling awe, and wonderstruck light in the world, that’s how you know that your gratitude practice is starting to kind of crack away at the hard armor that many of us put around our heart for many different reasons. Those are as unique as the individual.
But the goal is to try to breakdown the armor so that you can learn discernment and you can create safety for yourself with your own heartfelt relationship. And then extend that beyond that. The gratitude practice is the fastest, simplest, and hardest way to do so.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Alexsys, writing a book is no small feat, especially one like this one that’s going to help so many leaders and business professionals. So, congratulations on publishing your book.
Alexsys Thompson: Thank you for that. I appreciate your time, Drew.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, if readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Alexsys Thompson: Slow down and look within.
Drew Appelbaum: I mean I love it. This has been a pleasure and I am so excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called, The Power of a Graceful Leader, and you can find it on Amazon. Alexsys, besides checking out the book where can people connect with you?
Alexsys Thompson: A couple of places, I’m on Instagram, Facebook, all that @alexsysthompson and we are also opening up a retreat center. A small, intensive, intimate retreat center in Vermont that is called Ubuntu and you could find us on those social media channels and webpages as well.
Drew Appelbaum: Very cool. Alexsys, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Alexsys Thompson: Thank you, have a great day Drew.