Self-Compassion: The Key to Effective Leadership with Massimo Backus [Podcast]

Posted on December 21, 2022 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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Dr. Nathan Regier is delighted to be joined by Massimo Backus who has dedicated his career to helping leaders to bring more compassion into their lives, his purpose is to help others achieve their maximum potential and impact both personally and professionally as leaders. Massimo believes that self-compassion is the foundational common denominator of effective leadership.

What’s in this episode:

  • Massimo shares his definition of self-compassion.

  • Why is self-compassion relevant to leadership?

  • How do we reconcile servant-leadership and self-compassion?

  • How did your personal journey bring you to this place?

  • How is self-compassion different from empathy or mindfulness?

  • Learn about the six onramps to self-compassion for leaders?

Self-Compassion: The Key to Effective Leadership Highlights

VOICEOVER: Are you tired of the negativity and drama? Are you trying to make a difference only to be drained by people problems? The world needs more compassion, not just more civility and empathy. We need in the trenches compassion that struggles alongside people instead of against them. We need a radically different way to engage for breakthrough results. And now here’s your host, Dr. Nate Regier.

NATE REGIER: Our mission at Next Element is to bring more compassion to every workplace. My guest today is such a great fit for this since he’s dedicated his professional career to helping leaders bring more compassion into their own lives. In fact, his first name says it all. Massimo. The name Massimo derives from the Latin origin for maximum. And appropriately, Massimo’s sole purpose in life is to help others achieve their maximum potential and impact both personally and professionally as leaders. He believes that self-compassion is the foundational common denominator for effective leadership.

Massimo Backus is a certified professional coach, a keynote speaker, and has expertise in organizational behavior psychology, emotional intelligence, and team dynamics. I can tell we’re going to have a lot in common already. He invites and supports clients to begin a lifelong path of personal evolution and creating environments where everyone can thrive. I really appreciate his emphasis on facilitating lasting behavior change because to me this is in line with our definition of compassion that supports human value, capability, and responsibility. Massimo has held leadership positions at Accenture, Nintendo, Slalom and Fox Entertainment. He’s also an award-winning documentary filmmaker and hosts a podcast that explores the power of humanity, compassion and emotional intelligence as the foundation for truly transformative leadership. Today, Massimo and I are going to do a deep dive into self-compassion for leaders. Massimo, welcome to On Compassion.

MASSIMO BACKUS: Oh Nate, thank you for having me.

NATE REGIER: Wow, so there’s so many questions I have and I’m so excited to have this conversation with you because in previous conversations I just can feel like we have a lot in common. Before we really get rolling, will you tell us just briefly about your company, what you do, what you’re into these days?

MASSIMO BACKUS: Massimo Backus Leadership is an executive coaching and leadership development firm. I find that the core focus is about helping people get out of their own way where leaders get stuck. Usually the source code for that is internally with them. They’re wrapped up in old stories or behaviors, these belief models that just perpetuate their inability to change or to be called to task on where they need to grow within the organizations that they’re in. And that work happens both one-on-one in large leadership forums. But at its core I’ve continued to find compassion being at the forefront, whether it’s articulated that way or not, that has been a theme that permeates and now continues to be a part of all the work that we do.

NATE REGIER: Wow, indeed, compassion. We were just talking before we started recording about how compassion you could say is trending right now. And it’s always been important, but we’re really starting to realize the power of it. Already I appreciate something you said. I can tell that you really believe that it starts here. It starts with us. It starts inside first. And self-compassion is your passion. So how do you define self-compassion? What is it?

MASSIMO BACKUS: This work has decades of research behind it, in large parts spearheaded by Dr. Kristin Neff’s seminal work and her book, Self-Compassion, and it really is trending now and there’s a tremendous amount of research around what does it look like in different contexts and how does it take shape of the organizations and how do we create it into a vernacular and a language in business settings where people can be curious about it and explore it? Because at its face, it doesn’t sound like something that might fit self-compassionate in an organization. “I’m a leader. Why would I need to focus on myself? I’m all in service of my team in the organization.”

And the basis of Kristin Neff’s work is around the three elements of self-compassion, common humanity. We are not alone in this struggle or this challenge of life. Mindful awareness, “What is it that I’m thinking and feeling in this moment and how can my mindfulness and awareness of what is happening right now inform how I choose to respond?” Speaking to Viktor Frankl’s great quote around stimulus and response. And then the third piece is around self-kindness, which, again, I think for leaders it doesn’t sit well. What do you mean you want me to be kind to myself? I’m a leader. I got to work hard and push my team.” And the reality is that that is the opportunity for us to recognize what needs do we have or what unmet needs do we have, and what can we do to address those so that we can truly step into the role of service?

NATE REGIER: Thank you. Three key components there in self-compassion. And you mentioned the research and you mentioned Kristin Neff. I know there’s just some great research being done on compassion now and self-compassion. What are some of the highlights that you’ve learned? What is the research telling us about leadership and self-compassion?

MASSIMO BACKUS: The theme is that it permeates nearly everything. When we think about peak experiences, when we think about any notions that we would strive for in positive psychology, there is a tentacle of self-compassion that links to all those things. Retention, wellness, engagement, motivation, goal achievement, our willingness to learn, our willingness to continue to pursue a goal even when there are setbacks. All of these outcomes that we want are benefited by a practice of self-compassion.

NATE REGIER: There’s a paradox here. There’s something that doesn’t seem to reconcile and it comes up all the time, because most of the people, the leaders that I talk to about compassion are also really fans of servant leadership. And this idea of servant leadership is take care of everybody and serve people. And yet you’re saying take care of me. And I just don’t… Day after day, just this week I bet three leaders have told me, “Wait, I didn’t learn to take care of me. That’s selfish. I come to work, take care of everybody else every day.” So how do we reconcile that?

MASSIMO BACKUS: It is a paradox and really what it is, it’s a polarity, Nate. They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s not one or the other. It’s a both and. And in order for us to truly serve, we need to be at our best. And that is a matter of having healthy habits, taking care of ourselves, understanding what we need in order to be our best. That could be exercise, diet, sleep. But it’s also about understanding what is our internal monologue with how we are treating ourselves and viewing ourselves with peers. And what I find to a person with all the executives that I work with is that there is some notion that, “I have all the degrees, I have all the expertise, I have all the technical knowledge, I’ve got a great background with all these powerful titles, I should be enough. But I still don’t feel like I’m enough. I’ll continue to strive externally for some form of validation that will then solidify me as being enough that I will know that I arrived.”

And what they realize is that no amount of external validation they will arrive. And in truth, the notion that they need to continue to grow isn’t because they need more technical expertise. They’ve already acquired that knowledge. It is now the knowledge of, “What do I need to do to be at my best so I can be in true service of the knowledge that I have to share, my skills, my experience, wisdom, and be there for my team?” The last thing I’ll say on this paradox is that this isn’t about taking a week off and going on vacation. This isn’t about having a full afternoon to yourself to go play golf or something. This is about practicing self-compassion within the moments. And it could be a moment before going into a meeting with a person on your team to have a difficult conversation or it could be in a moment after you hear some news that isn’t easy to take through feedback. It is how do we lead this into the moments throughout our experience as leaders and pair that up with the compassion and the accountability that we need to have for others?

NATE REGIER: Thank you. That is a difficult thing to recognize. And it’s not easy for leaders because they spend all these years developing what Amy Balog, my friend and executive coach calls the performance self, my identity that is based on performance not being, not a sense of identity that’s on who I am. And I’m reminded of, we talked about the Latin root of your name, the Latin root of the word compassion means to suffer with, to struggle with. And nowhere in your definition of self-compassion did you talk about my job is to alleviate everyone’s suffering. You really talked about being present, being with, having a sense of shared struggle. And I often tell leaders, how can you struggle with people if they don’t know what you’re struggling with? So this necessity of being vulnerable, being present, being in tune with your own stuff and being willing to have that be part of your leadership journey. And I’ll just stop there because I want to ask you a follow up question, but I’m curious your take on that.

MASSIMO BACKUS: So often leaders find themselves in a place where they are not comfortable being with their own struggle. So we continue to look outward. “I need another credential or certification, I need more money. I need to get promoted. I need a bigger team. Those are the things that are going to fill in this gap.” And I think you just nailed it with what you said, Nate, that if we can’t be with ourselves in the challenge and recognize what the impact is, how can we truly be there for other people? All of this is to say, the benefit of being able to practice compassion is so we can connect on what is the truth and so that we can move together towards the outcomes that we want so that we can work effectively. And it is when we’re living in a place that is not the actual truth, but it is some variance of reality that we’re not able to genuinely connect. And the performative self is not based in truth, it’s partly based in truth.

NATE REGIER: You mentioned some of the work you do has to do with internal narratives and the stories we tell ourselves. I’m guessing, if I were to take a hunch, that some of those stories take us away from the truth. Is that what you found?

MASSIMO BACKUS: I think that is often the case. The stories that we tell ourselves become habitual and once something becomes habitual, we lose sight of the origin. And when we lose sight of the origin, we can’t tell if it’s true or not anymore. It just becomes a part of who we are. And I was just speaking with somebody earlier today, and they’ve reached extraordinary high levels of success and responsibility at a relatively young age in their career. And they were saying, “I’m still not enough. I go on social media, I see on LinkedIn all these other people that are out there and they’re on stages and they’re doing these other things and I’ve just never been good at being in front of people and I’m just not that person.” And so they had this story that separates them from someone else, others them from what they aspire to do and aspire to be. And that story itself is limiting them because they’re basically self selecting out. They’re saying, “Those people are doing something great, but I’m not that.”


MASSIMO BACKUS: And where does that come from? What’s the origin of that? And how true is it at the outset if you looked at what this person accomplished, you would probably think, “Well, you’re quite well equipped to be in the company of those other people.” What’s been your experience with that, Nate?

NATE REGIER: While you were talking, I was thinking just today, earlier today I was working with one of my colleagues on taking a look at our social media strategy and look at all the things we’re doing. But despite all of the work we put in, all the things we’re doing, I still found myself saying things like, “Well, I want to be like so and so, or we’re not doing enough of this.” Or focusing more on how we are less than or different. And so yeah, it creeps in. I can sense it. We call it FOMO. “I’m missing out, I’m not doing the right thing.”

But you know, you have been through a journey. You’re not a stranger to this. And I think something that gives you so much credibility and integrity here is that you have been on your own journey, you’ve learned a lot through your personal work. I would like you to share a few more specifics about some of the strategies and daily practices of self-compassion. Would you be willing to get there by telling us about how you came to this? What’s your journey?

MASSIMO BACKUS: Outside of the journey that you could see on the resume of where I worked and the accomplishments, there is a story of someone who was leading global leadership development organization and was responsible for building the current and next generation of leaders and executives in a billion dollar organization. And at that time, I myself was not a good leader, or more specifically, I was not a good manager. I wasn’t someone that truly listened to understand or truly empathized with what my employees were experiencing, was truly in service of them. I thought I was. I had the best intentions.

But my actions were not aligned with my intentions. And that was the catalyst for me to go on my own journey and realize this doesn’t feel right. I tell all of my clients and the leaders that I support that I won’t ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. And in fact, I’ll go first. And I think that’s important when you’re doing transformational work. But I also realize I had some pretty big blind spots myself. And by being a practitioner, I wasn’t going to get at that. I needed to go back to becoming a student of this work.

A pivotal experience for me is that I went through a program called the Hoffman Process, which is in Sonoma in northern California. And I want to unpack what that whole experience was. But one of the salient things that came out of it for me is a recognition that… And Susan David who wrote Emotional Agility speaks to this often, this idea that our emotions are data. And I realized that I was having emotions and I was not responding to what they were trying to tell me, instead I was just acting out of those emotions and then having feelings about the feelings, and I was being driven by them as opposed to putting myself in the driver’s seat. So one of the daily practices, and again I go back to that idea of this is something that happens in moments, I don’t have a time block on my calendar to say, “I’m going to sit down with how I’m feeling right now.”

This is about before every meeting, after every meeting to do a quick check in, “What is the emotion that I’m feeling right now and what data is that offering and what can I learn from the data?” And for me, just taking those beats has been transformative and recognizing, “I’m triggered by something and I’m not able to be present. Maybe this conversation shouldn’t happen right now. I am feeling strong emotion right now and I realize what it comes down to is that I’m hangry and I actually just need to get a snack because I’ve been in back to back meetings. Or I’ve been in back to back meetings and I realize this next meeting could be a phone call instead of on Zoom. So I’m going to walk while I take this.” Practicing self care and self kindness, but still being able to be in service of the other person.

If we’re an autopilot and we don’t check in throughout the day with these things, then we just are left fatigued from continually trying to keep up with our positive intent, but our actions not following suit.

NATE REGIER: Thank you for sharing some of your personal journey. And along the way, I really heard you talking a lot about how you went through this process of becoming of what we call emotional literacy is kind of on the way to emotional intelligence. You first have to be aware of, “What’s even going on with me and what does it mean and what is this trying to tell me?” And so much of self-compassion, you mentioned this idea of just being able to be present without judgment around what’s going on. And I can’t miss this chance to plug Brene Brown’s new book, Atlas of the Heart. It’s just so amazing. It’s such a great book. And the way she catalogs emotions and experiences and just says, “Here’s what’s going on. Here’s what it’s about. Here’s what it’s trying to tell you.” And I know it’s been great for me. And I’m guessing our readers, if they’re into this conversation, they could probably benefit from that resource as well.

MASSIMO BACKUS: Oh, it’s an incredible book. And before it came out, I was in conversations and thinking to myself, “If only there was a book that could organize this for people so that they can work on emotional fluency.” Because without it, we have very limited resources to go to other than the five core emotions of mad, sad, glad, happy. But it opens up the vocabulary for all of us to figure out what this is. And as you said a moment ago, it’s about doing so without judgment. The ability to have an emotion and not judge it was a game changer for me, and I find is eye opening for all of my clients. And it’s just not something that we’re ever taught. But when you realize that it’s an option, it changes the way we respond to all circumstances.

NATE REGIER: Fantastic. So self-compassion, you shared a little bit about this, alluded to some of your daily practices. How is it different from mindfulness, empathy, a lot of these other big words that we hear out there?

MASSIMO BACKUS: They’re all intertwined and as people even start to talk about this more and more, especially in an organizational leadership context, it’s important to anchor on definitions. If compassion is about the ability to suffer with and take action to alleviate that suffering, self-compassion is that practice for ourselves. And to put it in really simple terms, can we speak to ourselves the way that we would a dear friend or a loved one or a colleague that we care about? And most often, if we had some mechanism where we could tap into the internal monologue that leaders have of themselves, it would be terrifying what we heard, how brutal and harsh we can be to ourselves. Myself included, have spent much of my life being very adept at beating myself up. And you realize that that is the antithesis of what we’re trying to strive for.

And it is not giving yourself a pass. It’s not pity, it’s not being complacent, it is none of those things. It is to say, “This is difficult, this is uncomfortable, you’re not alone. What is this discomfort telling you? And then what can you do about it?” So it’s very forward looking. And I think there becomes this belief that, “I have gotten to where I am, this level of prominence and leadership because I’ve been hard on myself and I’m not hard on other people. But it’s by beating myself up that I continue to push to some great place of success.” And at the outset, I suppose you can’t dismiss that entirely. Maybe there is some truth to that for people to say, “Yeah, that has been a motivator for you.” But does it have staying power? And leadership is an endurance sport and I don’t think that brutalizing oneself is something that propels you for the long game. So this reframing on it is the right approach.

I’m curious from your perspective, Nate, when you think about compassion and empathy as words that are used interchangeably often, how do you segment them and how do you illustrate where they’re related?

NATE REGIER: Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s been a big part of our journey is kind of the going definition now, if you look at kind of what’s coming out of Stanford and some others, is that compassion is empathy in action. So it’s, “My heart goes out to you and I want to go do something about it.” Pretty straightforward. With our definition of compassion, we really have identified several myths that just aren’t true about it. And one of them that it’s just empathy in action. In fact, in our framework there are nine strategies to practice compassion and empathy is one of them. So we like to say empathy is one ninth of compassion. But also to me, the empathy is so important because humans are hardwired to feel with each other. We have these mirror neurons and I think because we’re an affiliate species, Darwin discovered that species that affiliate survive better. We take care of each other. So empathy is critical to stir that in us.

But I see people practicing amazing compassion, not driven by empathy. I see people taking compassionate acts driven by their values, driven by a plan they’ve put together to make a difference in the world. It’s not so much that they’re feeling anybody’s pain, but maybe it’s a cognitive thing, maybe it’s based on their principles in action. And so I just see compassionate acts driven by things other than empathy and I’m okay with that because I think moving us towards greater levels of value, capability and responsibility is the end goal.

MASSIMO BACKUS: So empathy being an emotional connection for compassion, but that there are cognitive approaches to it, there are behavioral approaches to it and that makes it accessible to people from all different cognitive dispositions.

NATE REGIER: Well, yeah, I mean can feel… Let’s say you talk about losing your dog. Let’s say your dog died. And I remember when my dog died, so at some level we felt something similar. Maybe we didn’t go through exactly the same thing. That would be emotional empathy. But let’s say maybe you’re a member of a minority group and you’re not being treated justly and fairly at the workplace. Maybe I can’t relate. I’ve never felt that way. But I can understand, I can be curious, I can listen to you, I can have you describe to me what it’s like to be you. Then I can empathize here. And that’s a different phenomenon. But they’re both really important. I think one takes curiosity to empathize in a cognitive way.

MASSIMO BACKUS: Definitely. Curious about the other person. And I also think there is a personal piece around that, about curiosity of, “How am I experiencing something that I can’t emotionally empathize with?” Which is kind of the default to what we’re maybe most comfortable with.

NATE REGIER: Right. One of the things, I’ve been to more funerals than I want to in the last couple years of people that I should not have been to their funerals. And there’s just nothing you can say. When trying to support a person who’s lost a spouse way too young or lost a child way too, there’s nothing you can say. And one of the things I’ve started doing is start paying attention to my own experience of being in that moment, the awkwardness, the insufficiency to be able to do anything. And I just disclose that to them and say, “I don’t know what to do or what to say, I feel insufficient. But I’m here. I’m just here.” And it’s been incredibly liberating for me to be able to be vulnerable like that. But also I’m surprised how powerful that is for the other person to not try to fix it. Because you can’t. And you can’t relate. But to bring my own vulnerability in that moment, so I can really tap into what you’re saying about and needing to be aware of my own experience of that.

MASSIMO BACKUS: Nate, what have you realized when you share that with someone, the person who lost someone, what is their response?

NATE REGIER: It’s incredible how powerful it is. The grace, the thanks. It’s not awkward. It creates a real raw connection and I feel much better because I feel like, “Well, that was way more helpful and I even feel better after that than if I’d have said something stupid or awkward or the same thing everyone else said in that receiving line that was stupid.”

MASSIMO BACKUS: There’s a great scene in Ted Lasso. I don’t know if you’re-


MASSIMO BACKUS: But the funeral scene and all the players come off the bus and each one says, “I’m sorry for your loss, I’m sorry for your loss.” And the last person, Nate the Great goes and comes up with something silly because he doesn’t know how to handle the awkwardness. And we can all relate to that.

NATE REGIER: Yeah. Thank you for bringing this up. Let’s go there a little bit. So I’ve mentioned that we’ve identified some myths that we just don’t think that compassion is being fully realized because of myths we have about it. Have you seen any myths or gaps or misunderstandings of what self-compassion is that you can help leaders overcome?

MASSIMO BACKUS: I think there’s several myths about it. It’s soft. It doesn’t feel like it’s action-oriented. It’s hard to know what is the outcome of compassion. It’s hard to know what does that look like in action? What behaviors am I supposed to be demonstrating to show the passion and how will I know that it, quote-unquote, “worked”?

When I think about it in the context of self-compassion, I think one of the biggest myths around it is that it is in some way letting yourself off the hook or not holding yourself accountable for something that you played a role in. And the reality is when we practice compassion for ourselves and others, we can speak to what is the truth of the circumstance. And that’s why we need to practice the self kindness piece because the truth hurts. And recognizing that when we can be strong through a difficult situation, we are better equipped to take action on it, to respond appropriately. And that being hard on ourselves is actually a form of self pity, not self-compassion.

NATE REGIER: Man, I see that same thing, this idea that it’s soft or that… Well, and you see people respond or it’s letting yourself off the hook. So let’s say someone shares maybe a flaw, mistake they made, maybe they’re carrying a burden emotionally and they share it. So often we want to make that go away, like that emotion is a problem. “Oh, it’s okay, everybody makes mistakes. Give yourself a break.” And we’re trying to let them off the hook because we’re uncomfortable with what they’ve just shared and we don’t know how to be there with them in that and go to that place where whatever that experience is, it’s teaching you something, it’s forming you. It doesn’t need to be judged. And I think whenever we try to make it go away, we’re already judging it as bad, as wrong, as needing to be fixed.

MASSIMO BACKUS: I think one of the most powerful things that we can practice is catching ourselves before we have that response to squash it. Because when we do that, we’re basically saying that, “My discomfort is more important than you speaking your truth.”

NATE REGIER: Right, right.

MASSIMO BACKUS: And it can be a very simple phrase of, “That sounds hard. That must be tough.” It needs to be authentic. That’s not judging what they’re doing, it’s not trying to solve it, and it’s not putting your own need for comfort on top of what they’re experiencing. It’s just simply validating that, yeah, given what they’re saying, that sounds difficult, And then being present with them and you don’t need to say anymore.

So much of the work that I do within executive coaching and I teach coaching to leaders is the ability to be present, to be curious. And that’s saying less, that means shorter questions or maybe no questions at all. But sometimes the silence is where things are revealed. And when we can catch ourselves, whether it’s at the funeral or someone sharing something vulnerable, “Is what I’m saying serving a need that I have? Or is it being present and available for the other person?” And if it’s about my need, then maybe saying nothing is better than saying something at all.

NATE REGIER: Well, in that example you gave, “That must be hard or I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through that.” We call that strategy validation because empathy is where I say, “You’re not alone. I’ve felt that too.” Validation is to say, “What you’re experiencing is legit. It doesn’t need to be fixed. It’s okay.” And so you just giving those examples about, “Here’s how you say it.” And then you shut up.

Man, the time just flies in. There’s so many questions I’d love to ask. Would you give us an example of maybe how you might work with a leader towards greater self-compassion? What would be some of the things you would do just so we can get a flavor for what that process might look like?

MASSIMO BACKUS: So I’m currently working on a book, Nate, and in the book there’s essentially six pathways, on ramps to getting to self-compassion. Remember I talked about finding moments when we can do this, and the moments that throughout the day, there’s on ramps, different pathways that we need. And they are inward, so this is about understanding, “What am I feeling in this moment?” As I talked about before. These are outward, meaning, “What’s happening right now? What are my actions doing?” This is about being aware of the impact I’m having on others. Forward, which is about understanding, “What’s my purpose? What’s my vision? Is what I’m doing aligned with this or not? Because if I’m not in alignment with my purpose and my vision that I might be triggered, I might be feeling frustrated in this moment.” Backward is about looking at our biography and our history and understanding, “Where do we come from?” And there’s a very important story that is part of that and, “Is that story true? Or these stories that I’m recrafting as I continue to grow my emotional intelligence?”

And then the last two are leeward and wayward. And leeward is the side of the building we go to get away from the storm. And so that’s the practice of, “In this moment, I need self-kindness.” And that can take a variety of different forms, but to recognize what those are and what works for you. For me, taking a deep breath is an act of self-kindness and it helps center me. For someone else, it might be just holding their hands together and feeling the tactical touch of [inaudible 00:30:51]. And then with wayward, this is about looking at places that are unexpected. And I think there’s so much value in our exploration of what regrets do we have in life and what can we learn from them? Dan Pink’s new book, the Power of Regret is an exploration of the value that comes from regrets that are very real. Looking at our rock bottom moments. We’ve all had rock bottom, they’re different for each of us, but that’s a shared experience. We’ve all had a tough time. And how did we handle that situation? What can we learn from it? What are we grateful for?

And then the last thing is around forgiveness and what do we need to forgive ourselves for? Every human has done something in their life that needs forgiving. And that’s okay. But we need to be able to forgive ourselves for that so we can learn from it and take it forward with us as opposed to it’s something that is associated to shame or guilt. So that’s how I try and organize the different ways to access self-compassion. And in each one of those different pathways, there’s a whole list of different exercises that people can do. And it’s about finding what’s right for you. What works for me might not work for someone else, and that’s where the constant non-judgment is an important practice in compassion of all forms. Judgment is the enemy of curiosity. Curiosity is the source with which we can access compassion for ourselves and others.

NATE REGIER: I’m so intrigued by your book. Just the elegance of how you named those pathways I think is just a wonderful use of those different forms of the same word and where we go. I love it. I can’t wait to talk to you when this thing is ready. And I’m again reminded of how one of your commitments I can tell is keep things simple and practical and effective and useful. I always appreciate professionals like you that are well-read, you know the research, you’re on top of what’s going on, but you can make it practical and accessible. Because most leaders, they don’t have the time or the bandwidth to do all of that work, and you’re making it easy.

So I got to land the plane. I’d prefer to just keep circling, but I got to land the plane. And I’m curious, is there anything that you really wanted to share or talk about that’s on your mind these days? Or maybe something you’re seeing that you just really want leaders to know?

MASSIMO BACKUS: I keep seeing leaders experiencing a sense that they are alone in their challenges. I think it’s perpetuated, this is not to vilify social media, but I think that when we put our curated lives out there and your own lived experience is not that curated life, it’s easy to distance yourself to other yourself. “Well, I’m not as perfect or as happy or as successful…” Or whatever it might be, “… as other people are portraying themselves to be.” But we’re all living in this world that is inherently complex, that we’re dealing with big systemic challenges and everyone is trying to do their best and everybody struggles.

And for anyone who’s feeling a sense of, “I’m alone in this or I’m the only one that’s having this challenge.”, find trusted people in your life and share with them what’s going on and ask them not to solve it for you. You’re not going to them and saying, “I want you to tell me to feel better, that it’s not that bad.” Not looking for toxic positivity here. What I’m looking for, “Is this something that you can relate to? What is your experience?” Validation, as you spoke to, Nate. Or at least an outlet to realize, “I’m not alone in this.” And when people can get to that place of validating, “I’m not alone.”, we have the resources, we have the skills to figure it out. It’s when we’re stuck in isolation that we are disconnected to those resources to figure it out for ourselves.

NATE REGIER: What a wonderful invitation and admonition for those of us that are leaders, but also trying to support the leaders around us in our lives. Massimo, how can people get ahold of you if they’d like to learn more or reach out?

MASSIMO BACKUS: M-A-S-S-I-M-O B-A-C-K-U-S. I’m on LinkedIn and social media and all those places after I just [inaudible 00:35:24] the reality of that. But anyone who is interested in compassion, self-compassion or realizes that they are stuck in a place of either isolation or on the hedonic treadmill of external validation, those are the types of leaders that I work with. And when we can get over the need for external validation, it is nice. We all should acknowledge it, it is nice. But it is not a need. And those are two very different things, when we can realize that it’s not a need, but it sure is a nice to have, it changes the game.

NATE REGIER: We’ll put those links in the resources list in the show notes so people can connect with you. Massimo, thank you for who you are, for your candor, for all the work that you’ve done to distill this stuff into useful tidbits for the rest of us. I can only imagine that your clients experience you the same way I have, as someone that can practice what you preach and be a supportive presence and also get alongside them to journey towards creating cultures where there is more compassion. So thank you so much for being here.

MASSIMO BACKUS: Nate, thank you. This has been a treat and I’m so grateful for the work that you’re doing in the world. You’re a leader and an inspiration.

NATE REGIER: Thank you, everyone for joining us on this episode of On Compassion.

Here are three points that really stuck out for me in this great conversation with Massimo Backus. I’m curious what stuck out for you. First, self-compassion isn’t about taking time off work. Massimo challenged the belief that we have to get away from the stress to take care of ourselves. It happens in the moments, in the flow of work. Whether it’s recognizing that you’re triggered and taking a few moments to breathe or turning a Zoom call into a phone call so you can walk and talk. It’s about the daily practices that keep you centered, present, and healthy.

My second key takeaway is that leadership is an endurance sport. Sustaining great leadership requires self-compassion to survive. Yet most leaders are so hard on themselves. Massimo points out that brutalizing yourself isn’t the best way to propel you for the long game. And finally, judgment is the enemy of curiosity. When we judge ourselves or others, we become unable to see anything but our own narrative. Non-judgment is a constant in the practice of compassion in all forms. It opens up the possibility of learning, innovation and growth. The game changer for Massimo in his career was when he developed the ability to have an emotion and not judge it.

VOICEOVER: I hope you enjoyed this episode of On Compassion with Dr. Nate. If you found new hope or guidance for your life, will you share it with your tribe? If you know someone who could be a great guest, please let us know. Are you ready for a practical way to bring more compassion to your organization? We have a solution. Visit Check out the show notes for links and contact information and remember to subscribe, rate and give a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening. Until next time, keep your compassion mindset engaged.

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