EP 59: What Is Your Leadership Story?, with Aaron Rose

Nov 13, 2019

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EP 59: What Is Your Leadership Story?, with Aaron Rose

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly chats with Aaron Rose about the inner work that’s calling so many leaders. They talk about what’s missing when we focus on external tactics, why we resist self-exploration in the first place, and where to start if we want to change our subconscious patterning.

Feedback always welcome! Questions for Kelly and/or guests? Want to suggest a guest or show topic? Cool. Just email

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 EP 59: What’s Your Leadership Story?

Duration: 20:41


Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource.Today, we are answering a question and the question is, what is your leadership story. My guest is Aaron Rose and Aaron is a transformational coach, an inclusive culture consultant and a motivational speaker. He’s worked with organizations like McKinsey, Columbia University, T-Mobile, Greenpeace; I mean just doing really, really incredible diversity and inclusion work. He’s also worked with a lot of public figures, really helping them to embrace their unique role in building a better world.

So all of you know that this is a conversation that’s near and dear to my heart. I recently came across Aaron on Michael Ventura’s podcast Applied Empathy and that show, I was literally nodding my head every single word that was coming out of Aaron’s mouth so I felt the need to connect and he’s with us today so Aaron welcome and thanks so much for joining me.

Aaron: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really wonderful to be here. I remember when that podcast came out and it was like probably within thirty minutes, I had an email from you and clearly there’s such strong alignment here.

Kelly: Yeah, so with this leadership story theme that we’re sort of covering today, I want to start out by talking about the inner work that is really calling to a lot of leaders regardless of what organizations they may be leading. Today, we’re talking to creative and technology agency leaders but within our work that’s calling to leaders even unconsciously. You are so tuned in and so tapped into the why for all of us. So like why this happening at this particular moment in our collective lives?

Aaron: Such a beautiful question. And I invite everybody to really let that question sink in, and almost to make meaning of it for yourself first, if you’re into like, what was your first reaction to that why because owning our why is really what makes all of this possible. From my perspective, we have been, we’re actually in a really beautiful face of human evolution where we finally have the resources to deal with all of the ways that we have experienced the illusion of separation from ourselves, from our own authentic nature as well as separation from other human beings. And really the opportunity at this time is to clean up the detritus of the past and then to give ourselves permission to release our nervous systems attachment to feeling really stressed out and defensive all the time and to figure out what it would be like to be a human being who was living life from a place of being motivated by love and expansion and adventure rather than chaos and scarcity and fear. And the perspective that I work with is very multi-dimensional. There’s lots of different ways that we can see why this is happening at this time but one of the simplest ways that I like to feel into it is really that a lot of people in a sort of growing wave have been saying, is this all there is. And there’s got to be a better way, even in my own my own life and in my work in the last 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, more and more people are willing to admit that what was the ideal of how to live your life isn’t fully nourishing us and are starting to look around and say okay, if I’ve admitted that this isn’t working for me in whatever way, then there is that opening to have a new experience.

Kelly: Right, just talking about admittance for a second, I think there is so much sort of beauty in letting go and being honest with ourselves first. The antithesis of that would be sort of the fake positivity that we see on social media and things along those lines. Admitting to yourself first, this isn’t actually what I wanted my life to look like or this doesn’t feel like what I thought it would feel like. It’s such a great place to start and it’s almost like we are focusing on all of these external factors like society says owning an agency we have to have this range of revenue and we have to have this number of full-time employees and maybe multiple office locations. Why do we focus so much on the external? And what are we missing when we do that?

Aaron: I mean, we really live in a world that programs us to look externally that gives us the instinct that what is outside of us is more real than what is inside of us. Again, many reasons for this but the image that comes to mind right away is the way in which we often habitually condition children to not be able to understand and relate to their own instincts. If a kid says I feel sick, and the parent questions them and it’s like no you just don’t want to go to school right now. Or a child is like I don’t want to hang out with that person or I don’t want to go to that birthday party or I want to listen to this song. And there’s some kind of external arbitration on their deeply held self-expression and sense of what drives them forward. And many of us have had that experience of being conditioned to disregard our gut instinct. And to look outside of ourselves for an external authority to tell us, what is right and wrong. And we accepted that because on a deep core level as a child. The calmer the nervous systems of your caretakers are, the safer you feel, and so you actually equate even if it’s a violation of your boundaries or your needs. You equate them getting what they want with your safety because you rely on them for food and shelter and all of that. So on a core evolutionary level, it really crosses our wires. And we’re just in such an over stimulated from one perspective world right now in terms of just having the ability to pick up our phone and get lots of people’s opinions on things but we’re slowly starting to I think return or rapidly, from one perspective return to the sense that actually the only fail safe is to rebuild the trust with ourselves.

Kelly: Right. And so what you’re talking about before it’s really like the foundation to why we become people pleasers and why we put other people’s needs first, why we kind of suppress our own emotions. It’s really interesting how all of that just compounds over the course of your life and it really makes you who you are because of that imprint.

Aaron: Completely. Yeah and just to bring a little bit of science, the way that our brains are structured between zero and seven, some people say all the way up to fourteen is that we’re really in this very impressionable state that similar to the state that you go into when you’re in hypnosis, where your brain is essentially collecting all of the information about the conditions of the world that you live in and setting certain emotional and neurological patterns to recreate a certain set of behaviors to keep you safe. And so, if you are in an early environment that conditions you to feel like you have to manage other people’s emotions in order to keep yourself safe, then that setting gets very firmly set and the way that it actually works is that I always sort of see kind of like a door closing. And a lot going on because ideally if your raise in a really powerful life-affirming environment, once those settings get put in, then you’re locked in. And you’re good for life but a lot of us have had some faulty programming put in and so we got to peel back the layers and choose again.

Kelly: Yeah. So at this point, what do you think the reason is, most agency leaders sort of resist that diving deeper to understand what their own leadership story really is and what it can be?

Aaron: For one I think sometimes we question whether or not it’s worth even asking the question, what happens if I admit that things aren’t going as well as I thought they would or things are going great. But I don’t feel good. If we ask a question without knowing what the answer is, it puts us in a vulnerable place. It puts us in that place of having locked away from something before we know what the safety net is gonna look like.

Bu paradoxically in order for the safety net to appear, we have to create that willingness to see it. So I think that, that very understandable fear is one aspect of it and I think there’s also a lot of scarcity in our culture where it’s like I don’t even have time for like 45 minute check in with my direct reports where I add like a few more self-reflective questions in versus a 20 or 30 minute weekly check in, like how do I have time to fully delve into the depths of my intuition and my inner world. And the third piece is that a lot of us have a Pandora’s box vibe about what would happen if we went into that internal realm. I was working with I guess it was the financial services institution and we were doing a session on empathetic leadership and how to connect more fully as a team because there were some high conflict, high stress environment patterns.

Kelly: In a financial situation? I don’t understand.

Aaron: Yeah. And this like bright-eyed young guy raised his hand as we sort of we were just working on some basic breathing techniques for regulating when we’re really stressed and he raised his hand and very candidly said, is it weird that I am really scared about what’s gonna come up if I take a deep breath and it was just this very candid moment that revealed so much, which is that if we’ve been suppressing our authentic emotions and our intuition for so long, there can be that sense of the flood gates opening but the truth is that if you just let the floodgates open and you schedule sometimes it just feel whatever comes up, then you end up on the other side with a lot more clarity.

Kelly: Yeah and I’m absolutely that person. I was like I don’t want this, I am suppressing it, what’s going to happen; it is it really does feel like a Pandora’s box. It’s like I don’t want to open that box, it’s too scary, it’s too much. I’m really afraid of what I’m going to find out being on the other side of that I’m like I have nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s incredible. But so yeah I understand where that fear comes from. When we last met up for brunch in the city, you kind of joked around that we could call this the theme of the show just like subconscious patterning and the potential title for the episode could be like why your childhood maybe to blame for your business issues. We had a pretty good laugh about it but it’s really true, it really is true. So can you just talk a little bit about that?

Aaron: Totally, I love that and as you were saying that the phrase that was coming to mind was the cold is coming from inside the house. That kind of energy what those early programming, no matter how much it seems like a problem is outside of us, it’s that other person’s behavior and it’s that person who made the hiring choice. It’s the way this office is set up.

Kelly: Everything else.

Aaron: The building management, whatever it is. It’s ultimately up projection of what’s happening internally within us and so great question to ask is what’s not working well my business right now and how does it feel. And when is the first time I remember feeling that way, feeling like everybody needs something from me and I just don’t have enough time or feeling like people are volatile around me or feeling like the other shoes always gonna drop. Things go well for a while and then they fall apart, feeling like I have a need and it’s always in conflict with what the business needs. These different things we can really look and say, where did that get set or the other way that we can look at it, is, what was my family like growing up. And do I see those similarities playing out in my business right now.

Kelly: For the agency leaders either watching or listening to this, the ones especially that are kind of just off the precipice of starting to like really peel back and like hesitantly peel back that first layer, really wanting to know more about their own leadership story. Is there a place that you would suggest that they start? Because there’s so much information out there. We’re bombarded with all different things as soon as we go down the Google rabbit hole. So is there a place that you would suggest to start whether it’s from a resource perspective or mindset perspective or anything like that.

Aaron: So I always really, the medicine that has always guided my work is how can we make our means reflective of the ends that we seek to create and so we’ve been speaking about the power of taking back full responsibility for ourselves and reclaiming your intuition and so the advice that I want to give in this moment is about recreating that relationship with yourself before going and buying someone else’s product and tool and things like that. So I would say first is developing some kind of regular practice where you are taking a deep breath with yourself. It could look like a five minute meditation practice. It could look like a specific song that you listen to in the morning while you stretch and you don’t do anything else. Creating that space where you are starting to become more intimate with yourself again with your inner world. And the image that came to mind for the folks who are listening to this is first that kind of meditative breath moment of some kind and then second, some kind of journaling or voice note practice where you’re actually letting your subconscious speak to you. There’s a practice called morning pages from the book, The Artist’s Way but there’s lots of different ways that you can automatic and just sit down with a page or maybe what you have time for, set a timer for ten minutes maybe you have a notebook or you just say I’m gonna fill up a page  per day. If we start to finish you can put a lot of pressure on the conversation with ourselves in the same way that like if you have a kid who’s been like dad like trying to get your attention for a while then you’re fine you sit down, okay like put it out. And then they kind of clam up or what might have happened in other relationships that you’ve had. It’s starting to create a regular container for what is true for you to be expressed without it being judged, without anybody else needing to see an I love writing but I know for some people, it might just be actually voice noting, pretending you’re on a phone call while you’re on the treadmill in the morning or while you’re on the exercise bike or while you’re walking to the subway. And just saying this is what’s going on. I’m just gonna talk it out with myself right now because that starts to over time when you do that, you start to notice the patterns. And something that I want to offer really quickly here that just keeps coming up from a previous question that you asked is that sometimes we’re afraid to ask this because we’re worried that the answer is going to be not only that we have to make some shifts in our business but like we don’t even want to be running an agency to begin with. Maybe there’s something else on the horizon for us. But if the fear and the question is there, the relief wise on the other side of exploring it and whatever the answer ends up being, it’s going to be for your highest good.

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely and again I mean you’re heading it right on like exactly relatable to what my experience was. When I thought I can’t do this anymore I don’t know why. I’m like losing passion for this. I feel like there’s something that I was meant for that doesn’t really look like this right at the time when I was about this all my agents state not knowing that I was gonna sell it but really scared that I was gonna sell it I don’t have children this was my like fourteen year old daughter and I was gonna like give it away to someone else like there’s so much emotion attached to that.  So I was in that exact same boat and I think that’s why there was so much fear it in that decision and then once I made the decision even more fear, what’s going to happen next. So I really resonate with everything that you’re saying. Is there anything else that you want to just kind of impart right before we wrap up here? It’s been a great discussion by the way but I always want to give you the ability to have creative license.

Aaron: So yeah two things are coming through. One is again kind of just to reinforce this idea of subconscious patterning, we think about the fear of connecting with our intuition. By intuition we just mean your gut instinct rather than someone else’s logical opinion about what you should be doing. And why we sometimes have that fear and even thinking about you filling into making this very bold choice to sell your agency and what was the social emotional relational cost of you making a bold claim about how you wanted to live your life when you were a kid, when you were in those sort of early formative environments and what was that programming and how could that made you feel like literally the world was going to end and the way our bodies sometimes feels physically like I’m gonna die. I feel like I’m being dangled off the cliff right now that’s how. Yeah. And understanding that it’s a nervous system response that you can work with and shift and so I wanted to offer that to people as well because sometimes we can have that deep fear that were literally like taking our entire lives by doing something that feels good. And so just bringing in that level of compassion and that perspective and then I just offer folks that if this is something that is intriguing to you, I have a variety of levels of ways that I work with people on this including intensive one on one coaching but also different meditation practices and little tools that you can use on your own to support this inquiry because we are all being called for the next chapter of leadership in embodying even if we still run the same business in five years, the way we’re going to run it is gonna feel different and we agree to participate in that co evolution that we’re doing together.

Kelly: Yeah, beautiful. Well I will put a link to your website and all of your information in the show notes so that everybody can access that and again just thank you so much. I’m so grateful that you’re here today.

Aaron: It was such a pleasure to have this conversation. Thank you for having me on.

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