She told me it felt like “a knife to the gut.” 

In my work as a leadership developer, coach, and researcher for the past 20 years, a leader I was working with once told me that change felt like “a knife to the gut.” In other words, the emotional pain was metaphorically physically excruciating. Change – although exciting for many – is undeniably uncomfortable, confusing, and sometimes just emotionally outright hard. As a researcher and leader myself, I know oh so well, what it feels like to lead change efforts – what it’s like to be stonewalled or told that your efforts are completely useless. Although disappointing, I stay focused because, regardless of what others say, people will always look to leaders in times of change and conflict. 

Leaders (executives, thought leaders, and the like) are expected to take on the difficult feelings of those we lead during times of change and conflict. However, since everything in the Universe changes, there will always be change and conflict. But, as life coach Tonya Leigh says, feelings are nothing more than vibrations in your body. So the question then becomes: What are some simple and easy practices leaders can use to create emotional clarity in times of change and conflict?  

Here are some simple and quick ways to inspire ourselves and foster our emotional generosity to self while leading in the midst of change: 

Be on time for yourself 

We all keep a calendar, but do we schedule a time for our own wellbeing and actually be on-time for our plans? We need to schedule the appointment – the gym, a facial, going to see a film or play – in writing on our calendar. As the saying goes, if it’s not scheduled it’s not real. But, I take it a step further, just because it’s written it’s really not real until you show up and on time. 


Take time every day to practice gratitude writing in a journal. For example, I always start each gratitude with a writing stem: “I am grateful for,” “I love..,” or a combination of both. Many find their journaling writing practice best in the morning before they start their day and when their minds are less cluttered. I initially started my gratitude practice by journaling before bed because it helped me sleep, but now I have changed it to fit my life at different times. Usually, it’s in the mornings, but my schedule is erratic. Some days I work from home or am traveling and have early morning meetings in different time zones. So sometimes it’s best for me to journal as I transition from work-to-home or at in-between times. I find it will help signal my mind “Stop these thoughts. It’s time to move my emotional and mental energy elsewhere.”  

Breathe consciously 

Yes, breathe consciously! Some call it meditation. A nice long exhale. Power and relaxation reside in the exhaled breath. Don’t judge, but notice your emotions and the stories you’re telling yourself. Focus on breathing without distraction is a daily practice. I practice this because it helps clear my mind and aids in decision-making with less stress. 

In conclusion, as a high-achiever and working with them (e.g. students, clients, colleagues), I found that when the self is neglected, change is impossible and, at best, stifled. This seems antithetical, but emotional generosity to self is that we need to be more courageous and model what’s possible. Change efforts will always be uncertain no matter what we do as leaders. So in times of change, we have to connect how emotions impact our leadership practices, but more importantly how we lead thyself – our emotional-selves. It is only from this place, we can surprise ourselves, inspire others, and lead by example; even during change efforts that feel like they “cut like a knife.”