“I just need to get out of my own way” such a common phrase when someone’s stuck in something they think they don’t like or want. And yet this act of getting out of our own way can seem so hard.
‘Working in the business or on the business?’ A common phrase to shift attention out of the day-to-day. Up and out into strategy and external insight. But have you ever considered this in the context of your mind?
It really looks like we need goals. It looks like we need to get to that outcome, and that creating a plan and sticking to it is essential to get there. Or maybe not…
It sounds so impressive doesn’t it. What are the big goals you’re working towards? What stretch goals do we need to take this to the next level? What’s your goal in life?
Sounds so strong and definite and clear and powerful like that’s what we all need, to be grown up and sorted in life.
Goals are not ‘wrong’ but our relationship with them is worth an exploration.
Loss is essential. Only through loss can something new flow in.
A thought. Dropped in a moment. New insight coming in.
A definite idea of a plan. Loosened and let go of, even the slightest gap. Innovation of something better appears….Keep reading over on Medium, and give it a few claps if you like it! Thanks
If you’re interested in talking more about the work I do, just get in touch here and we can set up a call.
Now compare that to the definition of emotional intelligence:
“the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)”
When you were in flow, to what extent were you doing any of the things in that definition?
My guess would be not very much, if at all, and certainly not consciously. Not with intellectual effort.
This is because when we’re in our natural state, we don’t need strategies and tactics. We don’t need breathing and centring, or visualisations of the best version of us, or mantras about listening to understand not to reply.
And this is because, in our natural “flow state”, we aren’t paying attention to the thinking going on in our heads. We’re not grabbing hold of thoughts and believing them. We’re not analysing why someone’s said what they said, or why we ourselves are getting frustrated by something, and crucially we’re not trying to manage ourselves out of an emotional response we think we shouldn’t be having in that moment. We’re keeping our intellectual, egoic, personal thinking out of the way and we’re accessing a much deeper space of wisdom and intuition.
Why aren’t we in flow more?
For years we’ve been teaching people (me included until recently) that we need to intellectually manage what’s going on for us emotionally. That we need to use our brain muscle to fix ourselves, that we need to practice and repeat to build new habits and new neural pathways, all so we can be better versions of ourselves more of the time because we’ve been led to believe there’s some version of us which is not good enough and not acceptable to society right now.
The trouble is, the application of our intellectual capabilities to these emotional management tasks, takes valuable energy away from our ability to generate fresh new thoughts and ideas in any moment, from our ability to listen and hear others, from our ability to connect and collaborate.
Remember that flow state? All those things just happened naturally there because you weren’t stuck, caught, or getting tangled in your thinking. And I’m not saying that in flow everything is about positivity and full agreement, with permanent grins on everyone’s faces – but you and others will have felt able to express any frustration or concerns without it seeming like a big deal. In fact the complete opposite. Any such insights will have been gratefully received and discussed, leading to an even better way forward.
So if we’re not “managing” our state through emotional intelligence tactics, how do we get to this state of flow more of the time?
We understand how our human system really works.
What we’ve been doing with emotional intelligence is explore:
the “what” – the content of our thoughts, labelling the emotions we’re feeling,
the “why” – what’s triggered you to get to that response. Often then examined to be re-framed or replaced with a more helpful thought.
This different approach understands the “how” of our underlying system. Think of making a car go. There is no benefit in commenting on the shape or design of the bodywork (the “what”). And there’s also no benefit in polishing the paintwork to a high shine to make it look nicer (the “why”). Neither of these approaches is going to get the car going. You must first understand “how” all the parts of the engine work and fit together to make the thing move forward.
The exact same here.
So how does our system work?
There are two areas where we can see the system working the way it always has and always will.
It really seems like that person is irritating / lazy / slow at their work / makes lots of mistakes.
Or that this other person is amazing / so capable / always on it / full of great ideas.
It really seems like this situation is upsetting, or that one is fun.
That this one will make me cry, or that one will make me laugh out loud.
It seems like these are definites.
But when you see that our minds are entirely like projectors, that definite-ness shifts.
Nothing, ever, in our whole lives, has “made” us think or feel any of those things.
All those people and experiences are 100% neutral until we experience them through our thinking. We are a projector, not a camera, and always have been.
Life is LITERALLY what we make it because we can and have always experienced life through our thoughts.
The thing that makes these experiences seem so convincingly true and makes them seem like they’re coming from outside of us is that we mostly agree about what’s upsetting or fun and what counts as irritating or amazing. We get taught these rules from the moment we enter the world so our thinking around people and situations is mostly very similar.
I witnessed it the other day in the supermarket. Someone talking to a baby.. “oh that’s better, there’s that smile” because clearly the baby not smiling wasn’t good or acceptable. Or at least that’s the message the baby – and we all – received. The thought that the baby attached its identity to.
But then you meet someone who doesn’t see things the same way as you.
A common reaction to these people is to find a way to not be with them. The greater the differences the more we’ll psychologically or intellectually fight or run away from them. Our ego likes to be right and certain and these people who remove such certainty and who challenge our right-ness are a danger – or at least our ego thinks so.
I ran some happiness workshops recently and while most people were in agreement about the stress and pressures of diaries and conflicting priorities, about the difficult people and demanding bosses, the high expectations and reducing budgets…there was one person who was different.
“You all seem to be thinking about this stuff far too much” he said.
“This is just work. You come in, do your best with the time you’ve got, you close things off well for the day, you go home and you do other things”.
Most of the group held onto their own views and saw his as strange, or dismissed this difference with “well you must have an easy job” or “you mustn’t have the pressures that I have in my job” or, I’ve no doubt some were thinking, “your work isn’t as important as mine”.
As far as I know this guy hadn’t had any special lessons in how to get the most from life but he really seemed to have a good appreciation for the nature of Thought, and that when you really see that, your thoughts naturally drop away more easily and bother you less. When you see that the feelings thoughts generate don’t need solutions life gets easier, more obvious and more fun.
Notice for yourself. Next time you find yourself confronted by a different view, see what it’s like to notice that thought and not follow it or hold onto it as if it were the truth.
In recent research*, the skills managers reported they need in the next 5 years significantly underestimate the importance of people. But people skills are exactly what we need to differentiate ourselves from AI. The top 3 skills the managers reported needing were:
1. Digital and technological expertise (42%)
2. Creative thinking and experimentation (33%)
3. Data analysis and interpretation (31%)
And the people skills came in at 6th place.
The thing that sets us apart as humans is that we have vast capacities to be creative and experiment – but this stops when we’re in an environment where we don’t feel safe or valued.
It’s easier to feel safe when we’re surrounded by people like us but this isn’t where the strongest teams operate and it isn’t where the best ideas come from.
So flip that, surround yourself with a diverse team – some reflective people, some who drive the agenda, some who have creative flair, some who pay attention to the practical details. This is when interpersonal problems arise because opposing styles trigger fear in us. We don’t understand them.
The paradox is that these differences are exactly what you need for creativity, agility and innovation.
So as a leader, how do you maximise the full potential of your team? How can you be stronger as a team than you are apart?
Leaders we talk to know that this is what they want to achieve but don’t know how to go about it. They want the business to grow and evolve but fear losing their original vision and entrepreneurial edge.
A critical way to embrace this paradox and benefit from it is to fully understand each member of your team – what their strengths are, what energises them, what frustrates them – developing their ability to talk about this in an open and conscious way, growing mutual appreciation for what each person brings.
This process enables the team to establish conscious team “norms” – norms are habits or codes of behaviour that become the accepted way to do things. All teams have norms but they’re usually unconscious and aren’t always helpful for creating the safety for brilliance.
Sometimes an agreed norm can be as simple as allowing everybody the chance at the start of a meeting to say how they’re feeling and what’s going on, or it might be agreeing to co-create agendas in advance. Whatever your agreed norms, the part which often gets lost is the continued practice of them. The norms slip from the helpful and conscious back to the unhelpful and nonconscious, especially when the pressure’s on, and the team’s success slips with it. Regular team reviews are essential.
Our top tips for establishing helpful and conscious team norms:
1. Everybody inputs into what’s working and what’s not
2. Agree norms that address what’s not working
3. Each member takes responsibility for maintaining them
4. Regularly check how they’re working
5. Celebrate the successes that come from them
6. Adjust them if you’ve experimented and they’re not working
Do this in your team and you’ll maintain your competitive edge over the best bots in town!
Zoe and Helen work with top teams enabling them to harness their collective power. Get in touch to find out how we can help you maximise the differences in your team.
Read more about what we do here.
*(Accenture Survey reported in HBR Mar/Apr 17)
Possibly the most common situation at any level of leadership : Overloaded leaders because half their time is spent solving problems that aren’t theirs to solve. Resulting in teams who don’t believe they’re capable because every time the leader solves for them it tells the team they can’t.
And with the best of intentions : to be helpful to the person in need, to get the thing resolved quickly to help the business be successful.
But instead it helps the business be unsuccessful.
As the leader your time is spent on issues which don’t belong to you. Your time is sucked into being the parent in the childrens’ squabbles. You aren’t adding the value you should be with the role you’re employed to do. And neither you nor your team are working as effectively as you could be. Which leads to everyone feeling deflated; lacking motivation through lack of achievement; energy-sapped from feeling stuck in the weeds, underdeveloped because all the challenging stuff is whisked away instead of being trained or coached through.
And it stems from a need for control.
We all have a need for control – some have it more than others but we all have it. Your ability to control (plan, manage, organise) is likely what got you success and into a leadership position in the first place. But what got you to here isn’t what you need now. It’s not what’s going to move you or your team forward.
But this is REALLY hard to let go of. Shifting to deliver through others rather than through your own fair hands takes you a step away from the action. And if you’re not in control of the action does that mean you won’t be seen to be doing a good job – because you’ve learnt in previous roles that being in control is what’s had you do a good job and led to your promotions. And it’s all around you. It seems to be the thing that people get paid, promoted and recognised for. You don’t hear leaders being praised for creating an amazing team to deliver a project – you hear of leaders who delivered the project.
You’ve not tested this “deliver through others” way before and you likely don’t have many role models around you. What if you don’t do a good job and the work fails. What does that mean for how your performance will be seen? What does that mean for your performance review and pay rise and bonus and ultimately your ongoing career? These are the kind of fear-based thoughts which keep people stuck in the control loop.
Or you might have ego-fuelled thoughts because you’ve done this job for years, you know all there is to know, you can show these newbies how it’s done. Look at me showing how I know it all and can do it all! And by showing this knowledge and expertise I get recognised by those above me because that’s what gets valued.
Either way, this is the story that plays in your head:
I keep control – I perform – I’m safe
But in the meantime, what’s actually happening:
I keep control – my team don’t learn – their confidence drops – they feel disempowered and like they add little value – they disengage and turn off their brains – the work standard and ideas generated drop – so you take more control to counter this – which feeds the ever-decreasing spiral….
So instead focus your control on controlling the development and progress of your team. Become obsessed by the satisfaction of seeing them take another step towards being empowered, confident and capable individuals. Be the leader who coaches, facilitates and mentors. Be the leader of the team that everyone wants to work in because they know they’ll be given clarity of purpose, and space, and care for their development.
All the while holding the image of the place you’re heading to – because this way of leading is playing the long game. Anyone can take control and get short-term wins. It’s the truly successful who see how things could be and who behave consistently in a way that they know is going to get them there.
In the words of David Marquet – drop the authority to the level of information. If you never do, there’ll always be something to solve for someone somewhere and you’ll never be able to go home and eat dinner.
And if the thought of working like this doesn’t light your fire you have two choices –
- don’t be a leader, or
- be a leader who accepts mediocre as the best performance you’ll get from your team.
Jon was a confident leader. Passionate about his business and his products and had a clear vision of the kind of culture he wanted to create: famous in the market for creating a workplace that people look forward to getting to every day and which got talked about as the place to be, all of which meant his teams consistently exceeded what customers expected.
As the business grew, so did his leadership team, including investors with different priorities to Jon. Tensions started to appear and he could feel divisions where there used to be none, which also began filtering into the wider business. The vision was fading and he needed to bring it back on track.
Jon’s experience is not unique. Especially in fast-growth businesses where investment is needed to scale up. Investors bring a whole new dynamic as team members, with apparently competing interests, need to find a way through together.
Research* shows this reality for top UK teams:
47% believe there are important issues to discuss which are hidden due to high inhibition and lack of trust.
30% recognise fundamental divisions exist in the team over their view of the future.
By not discussing the important issues, divisions will occur because the ability to understand each others’ perspectives widens until there can come a point where the relationships are irretrievable.
The issues might be about expectations of the role each person should play, expectations about the skills or attributes each person should bring which don’t match the reality, different views about the direction they think business should be going, breakdowns in communication, frustrations about the way the work is being done, and meetings which sap time and life out of the day….
Fear of some kind or other is usually at the root of not speaking up about the issues. Even for the MD or CEO who might be worried what will happen if they open the can of worms, concerned about whether they’ll be able to handle what comes out, and what impact it will have on their reputation if they’re not able to handle it. This stuff takes skill and courage.
There is another way.
When a team becomes courageous and have these hidden conversations they grow and develop in transformative ways. When we feel safe to take risks we can share our perspective and feel valued for what we bring. This then enables the team to generate ideas, learn, helpfully disagree, create possibilities, which then sets the team up to be innovative and meet challenges head on – aligned in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Using the Aligning Teams Approach with Jon and his team enabled them to have these courageous conversations and appreciate each other’s perspectives and strengths. They aligned behind a common vision and set off as a powerful collective to make it a reality.
A key part of Jon’s team’s success now is credited to him having the courage to stand up and say they needed help from outside the team.
Zoe and Helen work with top teams enabling them to harness their collective power. Get in touch to find out how we can help your team stay on the same track.
Read more about what we do here.
*Source – Andrew Kakabadse, Henley Business School, January 2016
Client’s name changed at their request.