April 3, 2023

Is your Cup Empty or Cracked? (Challenge #61)

Is your Cup Empty or Cracked? (Challenge #61)
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You know how there are a few leadership sayings that have become overused almost to the point of cliché? “You can’t pour from an empty cup” is one of those for me. But then something struck me. Is there a difference between an empty cup and a cracked cup, and what are some things we can to heal the latter?

Resources Mentioned
How My Cardiologist taught me about Kind Leadership (Challenge #2)

Related Episodes:
What if there's still too much to do? (Challenge #52)
When's the Last Time You Asked for Help? (Challenge #50)
How to Delegate--for Real! (Challenge #45)
Kind Leadership Secrets for Keeping your Cool (Kind Leadership Challenge 20)

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This episode was produced byPodcast Boutique.


You know how there are a few leadership sayings that have become overused almost to the point of cliché? “You can’t pour from an empty cup” is one of those for me. I mean, like most other moldy oldies of this sort, it points to an essential truth of life, that we can be only as good to other as we are to ourselves. But as I was pouring my first coffee this morning after my customary peloton workout when something struck me. Is there a difference between an empty cup and a cracked cup, and what are some things we can to heal the latter?


Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, the podcast that empowers principled leaders to heal their organizations in ten minutes! I’m Dr. Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild, where I use my PhD in Higher ed leadership and nearly 2 decades of experience in academic libraries to coach leaders like you who want to build a better world without burning out. 

Kind Leaders aren’t perfect, and we don’t need to be. We strive to make tough decisions without becoming jerks. We design systems that enable our teams to make a big impact without overworking. And we know that once we stop controlling and start collaborating, even the most ambitious vision can become effortless. Kind Leadership is pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So if you’re up for a challenge, stick around as I teach you how your school or library can create a resilient, thriving legacy that will strengthen your community long after you’re gone.


So back to cups. Filling your cup so you can refill others’ is the first step of the first skill of kind leadership. If you’re not kind to yourself, it will be exponentially more difficult to create a kinder workplace, much less a better world. However, not all cups are made equal. Some are larger, some are smaller. Some are made of solid ceramic, like the slightly wonky and over-thick coffee mug I made for my husband during my brief attempt to become a potter back in 2019. Some are those crappy paper cups you get that spring leaks if you look at them funny.  

In addition, some of us have less energy to pour into our cups, or have more obligations to pour out from our cups. Take me, for example. In some ways I’m very privileged in how much I can fill my cup and how little I have to pour out of it. I’m married to a wonderful guy who is a true partner and carries at least half the load of our life. (As I write this episode, he’s finishing up our taxes and just got a load of laundry going). I have a job, that while it has its stressful moments, overall is still one of the best places I’ve ever worked. We don’t have kids, our parents are in pretty good health all things considered, and we are able to live far enough below our means that most unexpected expenses are more irritating than scary. 

That said, my cup has some ongoing leaks I have to be mindful of. I was born with a pre-existing condition that I talked about way back in episode 2. Luckily it hasn’t had a huge impact on my life so far, but I have to keep that leak patched up with exercise, diet, and rest, as well as annual tests and checkups to catch any issues while they’re small. I also have lifelong anxiety that needs tending, lest the small neverending drip of energy loss it creates becomes a full on flood. Those leaks also mean that I have to make some less than optimized choices around the Kind Leadership Challenge. Hustling is all well and good till you’re burnt out and unable to do anything but watch Netflix and berate yourself for two weeks. I can commit about 20 hours a week max to this project in the short to mid-term. I have some money I can use on top of what I make from coaching and speaking until it becomes self-sustaining, but that’s not unlimited either. So I try to balance out what I pour in to my cup with what I pour out, either by choice or in those leaky spots.

Finally, we have the issue where we can diligently fill our cups, patch and monitor their leaks, and yet our kid or our boss or a student can take a big swig out of the mug when we aren’t looking. We may have to pay energy taxes of some sort due to systemic challenges, social injustice, or just plain dumb luck. I think of the pandemic as a good example here—the pandemic came and took a big ol’ swig out of most of our cups (though more from some than others), and then slammed our cups back down on the table. The strongest cups were still ok, maybe with a chip or two. Other cups developed cracks that will require ongoing maintenance. And some cups were shattered.

So what have I realized from torturing this metaphor for the last few minutes? Well, it is true that we can’t pour from an empty cup. However, keeping our cups full is a complicated and tricky business, harder for some of us than for others. It can also become easier or harder depending on the season of our lives. So the solution, and your challenge for this week, is probably for all of us to help each other keep all our cups full enough. If your cup is doing well and about to overflow, give a little extra to someone who needs it. And if you’re struggling with cracks, or are on a tough journey that is draining your cup, ask for help. I find that it almost always balances out in the end.


Thanks as always for listening to the kind leadership challenge. Before you go, here’s a quick way you can spread the word of kind leadership. I’d like you to take a moment to think of a friend or colleague who might benefit from this week’s episode. Then, open your app or head over to kindleadershipchallenge.com/61 and share this episode with them. Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.  

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