Leading with questions instead of leading with answers is a powerful practice.
Sure, in times of crisis, steady, knowing leadership is calming and often necessary.
But the pressure to have all the answers all the time limits creativity and possibility.
Having the capacity to ask questions instead of offering all the answers is what brings out the best in you and those around you.
When you move from a position of knowing to one of curiosity you build trust, both within yourself and in those around you.
Not knowing all the answers has the ability to deepen team cohesion and cultivate creativity and innovation that would never have come from you trying to figure it all out on your own.
Yet so many leaders feel a responsibility to have everything figured out and they push themselves to exhaustion for fear of anyone finding out that they don’t have all the answers.
But courage reminds us that there is a different way to lead and it supports our ability to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t know.”
Today’s guest spent a year doing just that as a way to deepen her recovery and capacity to lead herself and others well.
Terces Engelhart is the founder of Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre plant-based restaurants. Her heart is in serving others and her life’s lessons are the springboard of the stories she shares where her challenges have become opportunities. In 2014 she participated in TEDx at Occidental College. She recently launched her podcast called Unreasonably Grateful. Her calling is to help people trust their inner guidance. She is an author, speaker, wife, mother and grandmother of thirteen. She lives and works on their organic farm, Be Love Farm, with her husband, Matthew, in Vacaville, Ca.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
Content note: This episode discusses eating disorders, sexual abuse and addiction.
Learn more about Terces Engelhart:
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Terces Engelhart: I spent a year of my life in pretty early recovery saying, "I don’t know" to every single question that was asked. It's a great exercise, because I think we can so easily get caught in our know-ness, our knowingness, and when you say, "I don’t know," there's an opening.
Rebecca Ching: Leading with questions instead of leading with answers is a powerful practice. Now, I have such deep respect for leaders who can admit to not knowing in a culture that worships the certainty of quick fixes and those witty comebacks, right? Sure. In times of crisis, steady knowing leadership is both calming and needed, but the pressure to have all the answers all the time limits creativity and possibility. The linear model of leading through telling people what to do shuts down inclusive perspectives and fresh ideas.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life's work. Our goal is to learn how they’ve addressed these burdens, how they rise from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others. Having the capacity to ask questions instead of offering all the answers is what brings out the best in you and those around you. It sure is easier said than done to say, "I don’t know, what do you think? I'm not clear, tell me more. I need help, can you show me?" The dated knowing-it-all way of leading is still present in so many spaces. So it still feels like you're risking being seen as weak or incompetent when you ask these questions instead of immediately offering solid answers. When you move from a position of knowing to one of curiosity, you build trust both within yourself and in those around you.
Now, not knowing all the answers has the ability to deepen team-cohesion and cultivate creativity and innovation that never would have come from you trying to figure it out all on your own. Courage reminds you there's a different way to lead, and it supports your ability to be vulnerable and say, "I don’t know." But dang, I know so many leaders who feel such a responsibility to have everything figured out. So they push themselves to exhaustion while suffering silently for fear of being found out: they don’t have all the answers.
Of course, being led by someone who asks more than tells isn’t always easy. Followers are used to top down leadership too. I see this in my kids. They ask me a question and I annoyingly answer them back with another question. Many of you who are or have labored through homework with young people may have a special appreciation for this tension. The other day, my son just threw up his arms, exasperated, and then proceeded to tell me I need to be a good parent and just tell him the answer to his math problem because it was hurting him trying to figure it out on his own. Now, cue restrained eye-rolls. But really, there is something so cool struggling with him to get the best answer to find the problem, and I love seeing his face light up when he gets it or when we both are struggling to find the answer and we figure it out because of our collaborative effort.
Now, on some days, sure, we carry a little extra weight for those in our charge, but when you feel like you need to have all the answers, it's often rooted in feeling responsible for everyone and everything. This kind of over-functioning is a form of protection from being misunderstood or disappointing someone, all too familiar to so many people, right? I experienced leadership over the years where I was told what to do and then waited for leadership to approve my work or critique my work.
Now, this approach was wrought with scarcity and unhealthy competition, so as a result, my brain still leaps to what I think is the answer and it takes a lot of effort to not default into answering before asking more questions. Now, my guest today, she spent a year saying, "I don’t know," as a way to deepen her own recovery and capacity to lead herself and others well. Terces Engelhart is the founder of Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre, plant-based restaurants. Her heart is in serving others, and her life's lessons are the springboard of the story she shares where her challenges have become opportunities.
In 2014, she participated in TedX at Occidental College, and she recently launched her podcast called Unreasonably Grateful. Her calling is to help people trust their inner guidance. She is an author, speaker, wife, mother, and grandmother of 13. She lives and works on their amazing organic Be Love Farm with her husband Matthew in Vacaville, California.
Listen for Terces's Four Live Directives. They are so simple and also so powerful. Pay attention to some important lessons Terces has learned about leading her business and a team about a tough litigious betrayal from former staff, and notice what inspired Terces to keep on trying, fall after painful fall. Now, please welcome, Terces Engelhart to The Unburdened Leader podcast!
Rebecca Ching: Terces, welcome to the podcast!
Terces Engelhart: Thank you, Rebecca! Great to be here.
Rebecca Ching: Ugh, I have so much I want to cover with you today. I'd love to start our conversation by going back in time 10 years to 2011 (which is weird to think that's a decade ago), when you and your husband both made the really hard decision to close your Northern California Café Gratitude restaurants.
I'd love for you to walk us through this decision and detail how you were feeling at the time.
Terces Engelhart: Well, let's see. So we had started Café Gratitude in '04, and so we had several years under our belt, so to speak. I was explaining to somebody yesterday, we were really a unique community. You know, there was no plant-based food in the mainstream world. There was no almond milk. There was no cold-processed coffee, and we kind of ushered all of those things in. Change always brings up a lot of emotions for people, and, you know, we had all the affirmations on the menu. At that time, they were written on the wall because we had a counter service.
So part of our community was we took care of each other, and we were really good at it. You know, we financially helped people, emotionally, physically, and the community sort of fell into that pattern. However, we're also a business, and a business comes under a lot of restrictions and guidelines and legal definitions. One of the things that we did (and it's kind of a gray area, it's still true in the restaurant business) was we shared our tips with the back of the house, because everyone was working equally as hard. It wasn’t like the front of the house (which would be servers, bartenders, bussers, those people) worked any harder than the people who cooked or prepared the food and did the dishes. And so, every year we always had the front of the house vote because they were the people -- by the very strict letter of the law, they were the people who could get paid from the tips. And so, we voted, and they would always vote to share amongst everyone.
However it goes, someone in a community feels like they don’t get their fair share, and they want more, and a lawyer gets ahold of that emotion or that feeling and attempts to build cases promising large amounts of money or trying to create a class-action suit, and that's sort of what hit our community. We just weren’t prepared to defend ourselves. We didn’t have a line item on our P&L for legal defense. We just -- we didn’t know. As naïve as we were, we didn’t think that would ever happen, and we certainly thought if it did happen, we'd be able to resolve it at the community level.
Anyway, I think everyone has to go through betrayal as part of their process, and the tough part for us was these people that were involved in this were people that we had taken great care of and perhaps done more for than other people. But, you know, one of the dangers of what we do is we create a familial environment. When you work in a familial environment, it brings up lots of your mother, father, family of origin stuff, and then your employers begin to be perceived as a maternal or paternal figure. There's just a lot of healing that has the potential for happening, but it also has the potential for upset, betrayal.
Anyway, that's when we bought the farm. So that's what began our LA expansion. Our sons went down to LA along with a handful of employees, and they all lived in a house together and that's what birthed the LA community. We moved to the farm and just kind of hunkered down and stayed out of the mainstream.
Then, of course, we had to deal with selling buildings and terminating leases and selling equipment and, you know, all of the things to take it down.
How it felt at the time, I would say it felt -- dealing with what we experienced as betrayal, I think, is always difficult. However, I learned one of the most important lessons that I've kind of navigated the rest of my life with which is -- historically, how I and how other people that I know of resolve a betrayal is they convince themselves they don’t care. So they're like, "I don’t even care. I don’t even care anymore." In my view, it's kind of a backdoor way of dealing with the tough emotions that are connected to betrayal. However, I did care. I loved these people. I cared about these people. And so, the lesson I learned in this process was to keep caring and still let go.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Terces Engelhart: That was a pivotal lesson for me, and I've had lots of conversations with people, and some people think you can't do that, but I actually know you can do that. I still care about these people, and if I saw them today, I would still be grateful to see them. So yeah, for me it was definitely a challenging time because we had so much invested in our community and we had to lay off a lot of people. I think we laid off, like, 230-some people, and we kept open only the restaurants that could survive without the use of a central kitchen, and we owned the central kitchen building, so we also lived there. We sold that and moved out.
Really, a whole community disbanded physically, but the truth is that community is still very connected, and we're still very much in communication with one another, and there's still an amazing comradery, love, and respect. Those early days of Café Gratitude were pivotal in everyone's life that was involved in it. I'm super grateful for my lesson, and as far as the impact and the cost of what you might call betrayal medicine, I think we did a good job navigating that. I'm grateful that LA came along at the same time and we had the opportunity to continue the legacy, really, that Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre are.
Rebecca Ching: You just said you're grateful for the lesson. Do you have clarity on that what that lesson is?
Terces Engelhart: Well, the one that I was sharing with you. Well, obviously, there's the lesson: prepare for attack, right? We have a legal defense fund that's part of our P&L, but that's not the lesson I'm proud of. That's just some of the hardcore necessities and what people have to navigate in business today, but the lesson for me was to let go but not quit caring.
Rebecca Ching: You have on your Café Gratitude website your core values, and two of them are love and gratitude. I was curious about how you reconcile those values with betrayal. Is it love and gratitude that help you stay caring? Am I connecting those dots? How do you stay caring even in the midst of betrayal?
Terces Engelhart: Well, I think if we're all honest with ourselves, the reason it even feels like betrayal is because we care so much.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Terces Engelhart: Otherwise, it wouldn’t really feel like betrayal.
Rebecca Ching: For sure.
Terces Engelhart: And so, I think betrayal uncovers how much we care, and the key is can you hold onto that and then resolve whatever the issue is.
So, you know, the sad part about how the legal system works is we were never allowed to talk to them, and they were never allowed to talk to us. And then, there's all these hush-hush orders and stuff, which is such a shame. But I believe that they felt that they were doing the right thing, that somehow, they felt that they had been inadequately compensated. They must have felt that way. I suppose really, the only sadness I have is that whoever we were being, they didn’t think that they could come directly to us and we could resolve it.
So, you know, that's a great lesson for us: to make sure that we maintain the type of relationship and connection that people recognize. Should anything ever come up between us that feels as if it needs some conversation and resolution, that they know that we are people that they can have those conversations with.
Rebecca Ching: Now, that's a powerful takeaway, and my brain is just wandering to they're just breaches or disconnects that happen, and it still feels like it comes out of nowhere sometimes. I just am resonating with that feeling of ugh, we could have handled this differently. This could have been different. You mentioned adding a new line item to your P&L for legal defense. Are there any other things that this experience changed or impacted how you run and lead your businesses today?
Terces Engelhart: Well, you know, again, fortunately unfortunately, I would say because Matthew and I were the figure heads that kind of took that place of maternal, paternal -- when the LA group happened, we step back more and were way less present. Our kids run the day-to-day and our business partners.
So I'd say there's less of an emotional transparency than there once was and probably that's felt, but, you know, there's also probably more efficiency and there are things that people do look to a business for. We really merged the lines of business, work, and what most of us would consider family which is really loving and caring for people. I think, now, we do a great job of that. I mean, one of the ways that that's demonstrated for me is if an employee has something traumatic happen in their family, they usually contact the community of Café Gratitude first, either a manager or GM or administrator, which says a lot. Not too many people, if something traumatic happened in their life, would they contact their employer first for emotional support.
That says that it still exists within our community. It's just not that small kind of lovey-dovey feeling. There's more of a professionalism for sure. There's plusses and minuses to that. Fortunately, because I'm the elder in the community, I still get to be the lovey-dovey one. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Terces Engelhart: I never write up someone or terminate someone. I get to just be the person that is there to support people and encourage people and bring out the best in them. I have the best job.
Rebecca Ching: You do, and you do it well. I've seen you in action, and I'm just thinking about something I say a lot to those I work with of how brave it is to commit to keep caring. It is a daring thing to just commit to keep caring verses hardening up and protecting ourselves from the hurt and, like you said, saying, "I don’t care anymore," which is just a protector.
It's just hiding the deep care. I appreciate that. It's such a dance when you are all in with your work and your life and what you believe and dealing with the complexity and messiness of humans amidst that.
I was really struck when I first heard you share that story and how you rose from that. I want to bring you back to a recent conversation you and I had chatting in your kitchen at Be Love Farm last month. Knowing some other aspects of your story, I noted that the very things that brought you so much pain (food and relationships) are a vital, vital part of your life and recovery today. You were in recovery from an eating disorder, long-term abuse, and you speak openly about your recovery in these things. I'd love for you to walk us through the intersection of your recovery and your work today.
Terces Engelhart: Well, I think -- first of all, let me share with you a definition which I don’t know that everybody would agree with me.
Rebecca Ching: Sure.
Terces Engelhart: It's my experience that people who deal with addiction, in my view, are usually really gifted people, and somewhere along the line, something happens, or something shifts in a life. I think people pick something to invest in that could be addictive or addictive behavior to avoid being responsible for the gift they carry. And so, I think I have a different experience of the addict, so to speak. Obviously, I'm using that term very generalized, but there's lots of versions of what addiction looks like in our culture. My experience is those people are highly gifted and have yet, perhaps, to grow into being responsible for utilizing, fulfilling, and gifting that gift.
For me, I think my addiction started out of a combination of I was a competitive athlete, and the pressure and sometimes inappropriateness that happens in the training and raising of a high-level athlete, and then sexual abuse by a physician which then, you know, I kept it a secret to protect him. And so, all of the pieces in play, then, were, you know, again, taking advantage of how much I care about people which pushed me into what, today, could be classically called caretaking when it costs you. Then, I lived for 20 years in anorexia and bulimia. Anorexics, most of us know now we'll die unless we, you know, have some way of getting some food. And so, bulimia is often times combined with that. For me, that amount was 20 years. So 16 years old to 36 which is a big span of a young person's lifetime. It's young family, relationship.
I had a pretty explosive and traumatic 20 years as a young person. However, I was still always -- which this is something I have only reconciled in recovery -- I was always much of the same person that I am. I cared about people deeply. I was empathetic. I just struggled around food and around control and all the things that might be associated with that. How I survived, pretty much, was living in that world of food in order to get food. Just like addicts live in the world of drugs in order to get their drug, or alcoholics live in the world of alcohol in order to get their drug of choice. For me, I lived and worked around food. I would often do really great, just like some people don’t drink all day and binge at night.
I would do great all day and then I'd end up binging at night. And so, when I went into recovery, I was 36 and I happened to be married to a military man, and we were based right back at the location where the abuse had all happened. Now that we know more about that, I think that being in the same environment at a different time kind of brought up all of the past wounds that I had covered up with starving or eating or activity or business or success or whatever I'd covered them up with. The beauty of that is I was further along in life. I had some more maturity. It gave me the opportunity to re-enter that world and heal them in new ways. For me, I kind of chose an alternative healing path. I was really guided by an internal voice. For me, that voice is Jesus, but people could call it or identify it as something else that was true to them. For me, that was Jesus.
Over the course of four or five years, I was given these four directives. The first one was tell the truth. For someone who's kept a secret for 20 years or lied for 20 years, telling the truth is really scary, and yet it was the most important thing I ever did, because the first time I told someone the truth, I was freer. However, that works. I just kept taking one step, and then I just really practiced being truthful in all areas of my life. It wasn’t like the people around me liked it, because my life had been constructed on the lies that I'd told. And so, my life did begin to unravel in certain areas, but it also began to grow in others. I began to heal.
The second directive was face what you're afraid of; face your fears. That's so easy to say, and so many people have said it. This was in the '80s. Face your fears -- well, it sounds easy unless you're the one that's afraid of the thing that you're facing, and then it's not. So what I discovered is what has me lie or withhold is always the fear. It has me not say because of the fear, and so when you face your fears, it actually creates more freedom to be truthful. The more truth you tell, the easier it is to face your fears. I spent years doing just that.
The third one was stay in the moment, because I noticed that whatever I was afraid of, I was usually projecting into some future event or unraveling or some past regret. Dealing with what was right in front of me right now. Then, the last one was open up to love, which was loving myself, loving others, letting others love me. I still live my life by those four, and when I'm off center, I can usually go back and somewhere I'm either not being completely forthcoming or truthful. Somewhere I'm looking too far into the future or looking back, and if I go back to those four basic guidelines my life works better. And so, I just started living my life that way, and I went through lots of different expressions and jobs and relationships.
When Matthew and I got together, I was actually working for a transformational organization in the city. There's nothing I love more than seeing someone get freedom in an area of their life where they haven’t been free before. There's nothing more exciting than that. It's just, like, the most beautiful thing in the world. Anyway, we invented a board game. The first guidance we got we were like okay, we're just gonna trust our inner guidance, and the first thing we thought was invent a board game, so we invested this board game -- it took us a year -- called The Abounding River. It's a transformational board game that's about keeping your attention on six qualities we chose. Those were creation, responsibility, love, acceptance, self-worth, gratitude, generosity, and abundance. Then, we were like well, what are we gonna do with all these games? I think we had, I don’t know, 5,000 games printed or something.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Terces Engelhart: We thought what are we gonna do with these? We kind of had our life savings, so we were like all right, well, let's open up a little coffee shop because I know how to bake. He likes coffee. That’s a great idea. People will come in and play a game. What could go wrong with that idea? I found out about living foods, raw foods, and I was super interested in that. Like, wow, this is amazing. I was always working with people and healing. And so, I said, "Let's try the raw food." We started eating raw food, felt great. We started preparing it for other people. Then, one day a restaurant became available at the bottom of the hill where we lived in the city and we ended up getting it. We opened it as a raw food café, so Café Gratitude originally was raw food. Raw Food Gaming Parlor is what we call it.
For me, it wasn’t until the first day we opened up, and I stepped back and I saw the original Café Gratitude logo sign, and I realized oh, this is full circle of my healing. The very thing that nearly killed me, I have transformed into something that's actually healing, and now I'm serving it to others. You know, we did things that were really symbolic of turning dining out and celebration and gathering together with people into a healing healthy opportunity, as opposed to what can often be destructive if not handled well. I've had that thought many times before that, you know, in a heroine's journey you sometimes have to walk back into the mouth of the dragon and this time not get burned. I think that was, for me, the full fruition of that. That I'd actually learned how to work with -- the interesting thing about living foods is it's really part of creation. It's work with creation in its natural form and have it be medicine for people.
Now, we farm and it's not the raw foods but it's still the food we grow, the working very close with creation, and providing great food for people in an environment that I believe frees people from places that they've previously been stuck.
Rebecca Ching: Thank you for sharing that. Hearing the journey, the evolution of often our greatest pain is where our greatest healing is. I wrote these down as you were talking: tell the truth, face your fears, stay in the moment, and open up to love. Yes. Telling the truth, it starts with being honest with ourselves, right?
We can't speak truth if we don’t acknowledge it, and that takes a lot of inner courage and inner work. Then, I love how you talked about how telling the truth grounds us to be able to face our fears. Once we release what isn’t true or how we're protecting ourselves with something that isn't true, we have more courage, and then we can be more present with that discomfort so staying in the moment's possible. Then, I almost picture this opening of arms, so then we can receive love. It's a powerful, powerful wisdom I suspect is -- I have no doubt that you’ve shared this with people that you've impacted. I'm excited more people will be able to hear this.
We started this interview talking about the betrayal you experienced at Café Gratitude, but the betrayal was a part of your story way before, and there's just this sense I get the more I get to know you of starting over. You’ve got a birthday coming up. Am I correct that you're turning 71 next month?
Terces Engelhart: Yep, yep.
Rebecca Ching: I thought 70 and Hazel corrected, "No, it's 71!" I trust Hazel. She knows.
Terces Engelhart: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: You are really one of the most vital and intentional people I have ever met. In starting over, you’ve done it a lot in your life, and you really just are not impacted by culture's definition of (or value around) age or failure. And your work ethic, I mean, I saw you when my family was on the farm. You were up every morning at eight milking the cows, in the kitchen, cleaning or cooking. There was always motion, but it didn’t have this frenetic energy that I see of a lot of folks. There was still a rest in peace, and there's something about the sense of, I don’t know, starting over. That just has me thinking about -- you're kind of a PhD in starting over. [Laughs]
Terces Engelhart: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I'm wondering what your relationship with starting over is and how that's changed over the years for you.
Terces Engelhart: You know, that's interesting. I don’t know that anyone's ever named that for me, but yeah, I don’t give up.
Rebecca Ching: You don’t.
Terces Engelhart: And so, for people who don’t give up, I would say starting over is just a part of the fabric of that being. Yeah, I embrace new challenges. I had somebody last night in a guidance group say, "You should do TikTok," and I'm thinking I'm, like, 71! I don’t even know what TikTok is! Yet, you know, I'm looking it up today. How does it work? What does it do? I think I love learning. I love a good challenge. I remember when after enough failed relationships, my kids were like, "Mom, why do you keep trying? Why are you…" and I'm like well, what else would I do? You know, if I'm gonna be a student of love, which I consider myself, then every opportunity to love is a lesson, and how do you learn those lessons unless you participate and apply and you learn and you see, well, that didn’t work. That wasn’t it, you know?
And so, I think I'm just one of those people that, you know, wants to play until it's over. I want to play full out. I don’t want to be observing; I want to be participating. I love growing and learning new things and yeah, I don't give up. I would say the starting over is attached to -- I have a tremendous amount of resiliency. My grandfather was a boot maker, a saddle maker in Arizona. He worked with Navajo Indians, and when he died, he gave me an Elk's tooth, and the animal medicine of elk is stamina.
It's that fortitude, that not-giving-up-ness. I think I've just probably always had that. I don’t quit. I just am not a quitter. And so, I think sometimes if you're not a quitter and things don’t work out, you have to start over. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I appreciate that, and just thinking back to your roots even as a competitive athlete -- I played sports a lot. I work a lot with competitive and elite athletes, and there is some of that tenacity that gets in your bones about the world. It can sometimes drive people to exhaustion, but it is such a resource in times of struggle and falls or failures and starting over. That's like let's do this! What do we need to do? What's the plan? Let's go! I think the curiosity to always learn, I resonate with that too. Yeah, it's just always to learn and grow, so I'm excited to see what you do with TikTok, Terces, that will be fun! [Laughs]
Terces Engelhart: [Laughs] You know, some young, technologically skilled and talented person said, "You should do TikTok, and you should do video content on your podcast." So, you know, I have this podcast, Unreasonably Grateful, and my big thing has been I want to be able to share it with more people, but -- you know, I don’t know. It's like how do you do that, the whole marketing thing and marketing yourself. But anyway, she said, "You should do video content." I was like okay, I don’t even know how these things work. I was just looking at your screen like how did you do this? You’ve got, like, you and me up there. I'm fascinated by what I don’t know.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Terces Engelhart: That's another thing. So, Rebecca, I spent a year of my life in pretty early recovery saying, "I don’t know," to every single question that was asked.
So it's a great exercise because I think I can, and we can, so easily get caught in our know-ness, our knowingness, and when you say "I don’t know," there's an opening. And so, I spent a whole year just saying -- my kids ask me a million questions. I have three children. They ask me questions and I go, "I don’t know. I don’t know. Let's figure that out. Let's look and see. What do you think?" Because it's so easy sometimes as a parent of young kids to have answers for every question.
Rebecca Ching: When my family and I were on your farm last month, we got to hear story after story of those that worked on your farm or volunteered, of how you and your husband, Matthew, impacted the lives of those around you or those that they knew. I mean, we were captivated by these stories. I want you to share how you define generosity and really talk about what fuels your generosity.
Terces Engelhart: So my definition of generosity is being in the flow. Consider that there is an unceasing flow of everything running in through and around us all the time everywhere, but we only experience it to the degree that we're out of the way. So all of us are like sivs, so to speak. We have this grid or this grate in front of us, and we only experience this unceasing flow based on how much of it can get through our personal siv or blocks, whatever the blocks are to the flow. And, you know, those blocks can be I'm not worthy, I'm afraid, there's not enough. There's all kinds of blocks to the flow.
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Terces Engelhart: But when you can identify what those blocks are, then you can keep them in place or not. You can consciously leave them there, but there are some that are probably (in most of us) unconsciously there. We don’t know that they're there, but yet they're blocking that flow.
Generosity is stepping into the flow. It's giving and receiving freely. It's not deciding who's worthy. It's not any of that. It's simply letting the unceasing flow, flow through you. When you don't, seeing if you can identify what's blocking that. Then, you can choose to leave it in place or not, because some of those blocks serve a purpose, particularly for --
Rebecca Ching: Oh, heck yeah.
Terces Engelhart: -- abused -- there're just lots of blocks that are probably --
Rebecca Ching: Very protective. Yep.
Terces Engelhart: Yeah, they're protective, their needed, but they're not needed forever. They may be needed for a time, and there's a time when you can identify it and go, "Oh, I don’t actually need that anymore." So yeah, it's not about who's worthy, who's not worthy, who's love is -- it's just freely giving and also freely receiving is an expression of abundance. It's the free exchange of energy, goods and services, and love and kindness. If we're here to learn to love more (which I actually believe that we are), then it's powerful to notice when you don’t want to give because that's helping you see something about yourself and where, perhaps, you're also restricting your ability to receive.
Usually, where you can't give you can't receive either.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, gosh. Yeah, that's true. I really love the connection of generosity isn’t just giving. There has to be the reciprocity of it. I like that it's not a force thing. Sometimes I see generosity used to define worthiness like, "I am good because I give of my time, of my resources, and therefore, I'm enough." That's over-functioning. That's hustling.
Terces Engelhart: It's manipulation.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, yeah, it can really feel like that too, but we can't do generosity if we can't receive generosity. We can't give it if we can't receive it, and it's so hard. People get mad when I bring that up. They're like, "No. I don’t need anything from anybody." I really appreciate that.
So even just thinking of leadership, then, why do you think it's important for leaders to practice this kind of generosity more? Why do you think we need more leaders doing this?
Terces Engelhart: Well, again, I don’t know that we need it. I just know that if a leader -- we, for years, did leadership retreats. A leader, as I define it, is somebody who when they walk into a room more love is present. So a leader is someone who awakens love's presence in others, and I don’t think you can do that without being generous.
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm. It really starts with ourselves too. I know I can't offer that if I'm not practicing that to myself. It's ground zero.
Terces Engelhart: Yep. I mean, that just shifts, in some ways, who a leader is. What else would we be leading people to or through if it wasn’t the awakening of more love? I don’t know.
Rebecca Ching: You know what, I could imagine people listening to this and going, "Oh, man. More love, no. We need results. We need change. We need impact. More love? That feels a little woo-woo or foufou." I'm saying this just to be transparent because I've said those things and felt those things, like, come on, people, what's up with this woo and love stuff? But the love piece -- if we're not loving towards ourselves and don’t have a heart that's open to love and can tolerate that and that reciprocity of generosity, then to me -- unless, I don’t know what you think about this, but that's where I see toxic leadership can develop or burnout develops.
Terces Engelhart: That whole conversation is an invitation to look and see where that block is coming from. It's an invitation to look and see what the source of that block is, what the source of that skepticism is.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah. I agree.
Terces Engelhart: Why is this skeptic in you coming up around -- what is that, right? Why do we call that woo-woo? That's a great journey to go on.
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Terces Engelhart: That'll lead somewhere. That'll show you something about yourself, because most of us have experienced what it is like to truly be loved, and none of us would deny the power of that experience.
Then, most of us have experienced some dysfunctional expression of something that was called love, but we now can see and know that wasn't love. That as something else. And so, we have to be careful that we don’t collapse or diminish the value or the meaning of love's real power by some misrepresentation of what it was.
Rebecca Ching: I love that the burdens and the protectors that can highjack our generosity and getting curious about them. I mean, for me, the reality is that kind of love with abandon felt dangerous because of the heartbreaks I've experienced. Part of what really rekindled my capacity to love was becoming a parent. I mean, I guess it's sort of having pets first. There was something about having animals when I was younger that was so healing but then there was just something about having my kids and getting to know them that just helped some of those -- you call them blocks, I call them protectors -- relax a bit so I could sit with the vulnerability of that love. I appreciate that. The love and generosity really are so deeply connected. I appreciate you sharing your definition too.
I talk about leadership as anyone who walks into a room can impact that room. How do you want to impact that room? I value you saying, you know, the leaders that you aspire to be, the leader that you aspire to be and want others to be is to want the impacts that room with love.
We feel that. When you're in the presence of someone who can hold that, that's healing. When I'm around somebody who holds that, I feel that in my soul, in my bones, and I'm changed. And so, I think that's a really powerful word. Thank you for that.
Terces Engelhart: Yep. Great, you're welcome.
Rebecca Ching: Talking a little bit about Be Love Farm, I'm fascinated by what you're doing there. You touched a little bit about -- especially during the betrayal you experienced over a decade ago. I don’t know if that fueled your decision or if that was in the works, but talk a little bit about what fueled, not only your decision to buy a farm, but a regenerative farm. I'd love for you to share, too, how Be Love fits into all of your businesses.
Terces Engelhart: Well, you know, we bought land because we wanted -- at the time, I think we had maybe, I don’t know, six maybe five grandchildren. We have 13 grandchildren now, and we wanted our grandchildren to be able to run free. Matthew and I couldn’t imagine raising children that weren’t able to just run freely outdoors because our childhood was like that, but we could see in our children that luxury, those days were probably gone where parents have to always be able to see their kids and know where they are. They don’t have that freedom. And so, we wanted to create that environment. We also wanted to grow our own food and know our water source. We started originally thinking well, we'll grow food for the restaurants.
So we actually bought the land and there was nothing on it. We camped on this land for eight years. When we started here, we had a hose that was our sink and a bucket that was our toilet, right? We had nothing.
Rebecca Ching: That's hardcore, Terces. That's hardcore.
Terces Engelhart: [Laughs] We lived here for eight years in a 13-foot yurt, and we just had an outdoor bathtub and a funky outdoor kitchen.
It wasn’t long ago on Instagram I posted the before and afters of the farm, because I was like --
Rebecca Ching: I saw those.
Terces Engelhart: -- Most people think this is how we've lived, but this isn’t how we've lived. This is all new to us as well. And so, we just were really good at doing whatever it takes to get something up and going. So we just took the next step. We did grow vegetables and fruits for our restaurants, and we even trucked them all to LA, and then we realized this was a nightmare. We're, like, in the trucking business. We couldn’t compete with some of the prices of the local farms there. We're not a big operation. There's, like, five of us.
And so, we have 21 acres, and we just slowly developed it over time as we could afford to, and we actually built the pool and the sauna way before the house because we needed to be able to get cool and get warm and dry. That was when we used to have rain in California.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Terces Engelhart: The old days when it used to rain in the winter. And so, now, we have a beautiful retreat center. We built it to share it with our employees. We wanted to have a place where our employees could come and we could wait on them and they could take a break and get out of city life. That's what we did, and we did all our corporate trainings and retreats here, and it was more of just kind of a hobby along with growing a lot of food until COVID hit and we had to close a lot of our restaurants and, once again, lay off a lot of people. We developed the farm, then, really as overnight stays for families and communities, and we host weddings and corporate events and yoga retreats. We do a lot of yoga retreats. It's a great fit for us.
We also still grow fruits and vegetables for our San Francisco location and some local restaurants. We make wine and olive oil, so we're kind of multi-faceted in our interests which makes it interesting for people. Mostly, we developed ourselves as a community resource for the local community when COVID hit. People couldn’t get some things and we could provide those.
Rebecca Ching: I remember you telling me how your farm stand expanded during COVID. You were like, Rebecca, we are at a dead end and we were so busy seven days a week. People were choosing to come out here. I mean, and your farm stand -- you have popsicles, and sometimes you have bread and pizzas and fruits and vegetables and all your cool schwag. Definitely check it out. You can purchase stuff online.
That's what we were doing. We were trying to figure out, like, what are destinations we can do that feel safe but still connect us to the outside. So did that really fuel what's going on with the farm and your businesses today what you discovered during COVID?
Terces Engelhart: Well, I think one, we discovered people are willing to drive two miles down a country road to get fresh eggs, and that people wanted to be able to be outdoors. We allowed people to walk the 21 acres, and we started creating added value items in order to provide something. We really became a resource for families, families with young kids in particular. My husband and I love hospitality. We love serving people. I think the thing that surprises people is that what we're sharing is actually our home. Some people will ask, "Where do you guys live?" and we're like, "Here!" We're just like one of the rooms, you know? Most people are super surprised. Like, "You just have people in your house, like, everyday?" And I go, "Mostly!"
See, that's part of the generosity. You look and you see what do you have to share, and you share what you have.
It's not like I don’t have anything to share. The question is what do I have that I could share. We all have things to share, and what we had to share during COVID was the farm. That's how it really kind of blew up. Then, we started doing events and festivals and letting people into what it takes to really run a farm. The regenerative part, Rebecca, is just -- there's a movie called Kiss The Ground that our son was a big part in getting made, and there's our relationship with ourselves and there's our relationship with each other. Then, there's our relationship with this planet that we're so blessed to live on. Most of us know we have to take care of this house, and then we have to take care of our house and we can check in and help the neighbors with their house, but then we need to take care of the house that we all live on. Regeneration is about giving more than you take. That's really the easiest way. It regenerates itself. You support it in getting stronger, just like raising children is a regenerative process. If you grow them to be stronger, most kids will exceed their parents because you've given and poured into them, and they've also drawn from other people and other resources.
So regeneration is about caring for the soil. It's about making sure that the land itself is kept healthy so that what lives and grows on it can also live with a base level of health and regenerate itself. It's about not taking more so that the land itself is reduced. But, in fact, caring for the land in a way that it regenerates itself and gets stronger and healthier.
Rebecca Ching: What's the hardest part of running a regenerative farm?
Terces Engelhart: I don’t think it's hard. I think it's a lifestyle, right?
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Terces Engelhart: I think it's just that you're never done. You're never done. You're not gonna check off your to-do list. You're never done, and you have to be at peace with both life and death, because on a farm, the life cycle is not obscured. You're in the face of that life cycle every day, and you're a part of it. And so, you have to be at peace with both the joy of birth but also the process of death, because life and death go on every single day on the farm. There's never a day that we're not present to both.
I think the most difficult part is resolving our own relationships. What we do and what we don’t have power over, and then working with creation and nature in a cooperative way as opposed to trying to get things to do what you want them to do when you want them to do them. That won't work so well.
Rebecca Ching: I can't relate to that at all. No, I totally can, too much. I'm thinking about that and what we talked about at the beginning about caring, because while we were at the farm, you lost some animals to wildlife. I think you lost some chickens when we were there, and they got left out or escaped or something. I could see the sadness wash through you. You didn’t bypass it, but you didn’t swim in the deep end of it. It was we care, and we're gonna commit to caring for the land and all that live on it, and that was a hard loss. What can we do to learn from this loss to care for those living here better?
I watched that, because I have such a tender place in my heart when animals get hurt. I felt my system try to lock up and say, "I could never do this. I could never do this." But I, again, watched how you -- and we all shared lunches together when everyone who works at the farm and stays at the farm can eat together and saw how you processed that. That left a big impact and another reminder that just the commitment to care is brave work.
Terces Engelhart: Yeah, it is. But, you know, I always ask myself, "Who do I want to be known as?" I want to be known as someone who cared. And so, it's worth the risk.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. Well, you are leaving that legacy. You’ve made a big impact on our family and I know on so many of those who know you and Matthew and everything that you lead and love. Thank you so much for your time of day --
Terces Engelhart: You're so welcome!
Rebecca Ching: -- and for joining me on this conversation. I really appreciate it, and I appreciate you so much.
Terces Engelhart: Thank you, Rebecca. I appreciate you, and it was such an honor and a privilege to get to know and be with your family. You're always welcome here.
Rebecca Ching: We will be back. We will be back, for sure. Thank you.
Terces Engelhart: Uh-huh. Thank you.
Rebecca Ching: Leading from a posture of having all the answers is dated and dangerous. We are in a time where we're surrounded by so much creativity and innovation, and we miss out on important learnings and lessons when we hide behind the protective know-it-all wall. Can you imagine following Terces's lead and spending a whole year saying, "I don’t know," to every single question? Think about that for a moment. I know I am, and I'm really pondering what that would look like and feel like in action.
As much as this posture of curiosity and openness is attractive, it feels immensely vulnerable especially in high-stakes conversations at home and in my work.
Let me ask you: what fears come up around taking a posture of not knowing all the answers that you need to face? How can you cultivate asking more questions instead of pressuring yourself to have all the answers? Where in your life do you need to open up to love? I loved Terces's four life directives: tell the truth, face your fears, stay in the moment, and open up to love. These practices support the capacity to lead without feeling like you have to have all the answers. They're also powerful practices of an unburdened leader.
Reading is hard. Reading is also often controversial as you navigated staying aligned to your values, your mission, your boundaries, especially when you don’t have all the answers. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action. Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small. Leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights, it is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up.
Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is actionable and aligned. When the stakes are high and you don’t want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence, and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader coaching is for you, and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo.
To start your Unburdened Leader coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can't wait to hear from you!
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can sign up for the free Unburdened Leader weekly email and find this episode, show notes, and free Unburdened Leader resources along with ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com.