“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.
Sounds annoying doesn’t it! But really it’s the best design in the world.
Our nose stops smelling when we’ve been sniffing the same thing after a while.
Our ears stop hearing the background noise of traffic and planes.
When we think of resilience, authenticity, decision-making, quality questioning, maintaining psychological wellbeing, relationship building, giving feedback, listening… we talk about developing these as skills. Teaching people for them to learn. This is not the most effective way and here’s why…
Are you pushing or flowing? We’ve become so numb, so disconnected from who we really are, we’ve lost sight of our own innate source of inspiration and we’re running around busily trying to make others’ inspiration fit us.
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How comparing from the perspective of the self brings nothing of benefit.
This phrase, “mine’s better than yours”, usually brings to mind a child’s voice, in my head a boastful, whiny voice, combined with the thought of the house, the car, the job, the clothes. All the material stuff that’s chased, believing it brings the contentment we seek.
|First day in the new job….|
|I’ve never been responsible for so much before.||I wonder what the new boss will be like.|
|Better make a good impression or they’ll think they’ve made the wrong hiring decision.||Better make a good impression or they’ll think I’m no good at my job.|
|Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of all this.||Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of this department.|
|OK, let’s do this.||OK, let’s do this.|
|[Step into the office, shoulders back, head up, eye contact, confidently greeting people]||[Steps into the office, looking around]
Is he here yet?
|[Conversations in flow – listening deeply]||[Conversations in flow – speaking passionately]|
|Wow I’m learning loads.||Wow I know more than I realised, and he seems to be really listening. This is going well!|
|I have so many questions.||These questions are really getting me thinking. I love this!|
|These people really know their stuff.||I feel like I know my stuff even better than I did before this conversation!|
|They seem so engaged with what they’re doing and keen to change things for the better.||I love this job and this new boss seems great!|
|I’d better show that I know stuff too [adds knowledgeable stuff to conversation].||And he has insights to add. That’s so useful to have a new perspective.|
|A few months later…..|
|[Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations grows….]||[Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations is dropping, confidence is dropping]|
|Hey, I’m doing great! Look at all this stuff I know now.||I’m not sure I’m as good at this as I thought I was.|
|I can add so much to conversations.||I don’t feel I can share anything he doesn’t already know.|
|I have so many ideas. I’m thriving on sharing them with everyone!||I don’t know where to take this next. I can’t get a word in edgeways anyway.|
|6 months later….|
|I get all this now.||I’ll wait to be told.|
|I’ve got a clear plan of what we need to do and how we’re going to get there.||It’s always his opinion first so no point thinking first.
|Why is this person saying this again? We went over this already?||If he’d only listen he’d hear what I’m really saying. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t care what I have to say.|
|I asked for that last week. What are they doing?||What’s the point, it won’t be exactly what he wants anyway.|
|I have this amazing idea – I’ll go and tell the people who need to make it happen. It must be done yesterday!||Instructions received. Robotic task-completion mode engaged.|
|Nobody has anything to say around here.||…..|
|I wish people would just get on and do instead of seeking permission from me!||Given he knows it all I need to check this first or it’ll be wrong.|
|Why does nobody interact in our meetings or bring ideas?
It’s like they’ve all just disengaged.
We’re taught our whole lives – from school and through work – to show our brilliance. Have the ideas. Show you know things. Demonstrate capability. Do stuff and do it well and quickly.
All through school, university and work we’re rewarded and praised for knowing and doing.
Then we reach leadership and we keep knowing and doing. And people disengage, switch off their brains, and do the basics or go elsewhere.
We need to just be. To listen. To allow space for others to grow into. And yes to add insight. To provide a broader context or set a vision higher than anyone might believe can be reached. But all the while involving and listening to others.
How are you doing at being?
Like alcoholics, I’m not sure my treatment will ever be entirely complete, but I’m on the right track.
I’ve always strived to achieve. To achieve with the hope of being ‘good enough’ for the parental figures in my life – be they at home or work. Having always found good grades fairly easy to come by at school I expected the trend to continue in work, sometimes sorely disappointed by the different type of race being run there with politics and relationships suddenly part of the game – not just working hard to deliver ‘the work’.
And some Type A is good, it gets stuff done, it pushes boundaries, it challenges beyond what we first thought possible. But, as with most things, too much and it becomes a weakness. It’s downsides begin to outweight the up.
When I look back on my days in HR I see a me who was shoulder to shoulder with the tough-minded commercial leader : “Well, if they can’t cut it this might not be the right place for them.” “If their caring responsibilities are going to take priority over their job then this isn’t going to work.” “10% growth again this year? Of course we can do it! *collective leadership battle cries* Are you in or out?”
Some of this was because their Type A matched mine – deliver more, more, more, with less, less, less.
And this behaviour was underpinned by an unkindness, a lack of care, a lack of empathy. I was so fixed on (supposedly) doing the right thing for the business, so aligned with these focussed, driven leaders – who were meant to be the role models to follow – that it didn’t occur to me that anything else was an option. I thought it made me a “commercial” HR person – what all the books said you’re meant to be.
I did change my attitude and approach to my role in HR in later years, seeing the importance of holding that space of challenge and providing balance to the Type A leadership style, reminding leaders of the human beings involved – my kids played a big part in that development for me. And my attitude and approach have definitely changed again since leaving corporate life.
But the biggest shifts have come through working with my own coach, that this unkindness I showed towards others started from an unkindness towards myself. That I believed I was only good enough, only deserved praise / attention / love if I was tough and resilient, if I showed I could deliver the results – be they A grades in exams or improved sales and profit, only good enough if I worked hard.
These messages we get as kids, they reverberate through the years.
And so although I know I’ve come a long way in my journey from that version of me back there, I also know there is still more to do to keep myself grounded in believing I’m good enough as I am. From that self care comes a genuine care for others and the ability to make the right choices for the human beings in this world around me, more than the business results and hours worked.
Last week I had another realisation in this journey of mine and this little phrase that came to me resonated strongly – “I think if I’m being a high achiever it makes me better, but it only makes me worse.”
If you’re on a similar journey you’re definitely not alone and I’d encourage you to keep going, keep exploring, keep understanding and empathising with yourself because from there comes understanding and empathy for others.
With levels of mental health concerns rising things aren’t going to improve unless we start here.
And for my own latest exploring on this journey? It’s brought me to Buddhism which has put a whole new mind-blowing spin on it. I’m still processing a lot to be able to write on that. But maybe for another post…
[Photo credits : http://members.cogwa.org/man-blog/do-you-have-to-be-a-tough-guy-to-be-a-man/ ; https://www.surrey.ac.uk/quality-enhancement-standards/collaborative-provision
“I feel like a washing machine – everything’s churning round and yet it’s going nowhere.”
“I feel like I’m sinking in it all.”
“This isn’t sustainable.”
These things I’ve heard from leaders I’ve worked with. Men and women who feel swamped. It could be they’ve stepped up into an MD or CEO role where they’re suddenly in the most exposed position they’ve ever known, without development through their transition. Or budgets are cut in in the “reduce costs to maximise profits” race, removing more people from the structure than there are systems or processes to compensate for. Or businesses that have grown so fast, piling the work on those who are there, without stopping to review what’s actually needed to grow sustainably. And sometimes it’s not even any of that. It’s just that sometimes life throws a load of stuff at us all at once – from home, from work, from relationships… and it can be overwhelming.
These people are usually also incredibly committed to doing a great job. People who really care about delivering – for their team, for the business, for their customers.
We all have a need for achievement and for control in our lives. How much achievement or control I require to ensure these needs are met will differ to how much you need, but they are needs which are present to some extent in all of us.
So if we have a need for achievement and control, and our life feels like a washing machine, that’s a tough place to be. Not achieving much and feeling out of control.
This then starts to impact our confidence, we doubt our abilities – “surely I should be able to do all this”, “maybe I’m not capable”, “if I can’t manage all this I might be out of a job”, “I’m not good enough”.
And if we start dropping in confidence, we start being more risk averse. We find it harder to make decisions. We become less effective with our work – which then self-perpetuates the belief that “I’m not good enough”. Your resilience drops.
In this place, we are the victim of our persecuting circumstances.
And we can change it.
I will always, ALWAYS, be so thankful for being introduced to coaching. It’s such an important route for people to stop and examine where they are, in a safe space where they can be entirely themselves and talk freely without judgement.
Stopping and thinking with a coach helps you raise your awareness to what’s really going on – maybe spotting that there’s been more good stuff happening than you thought, or maybe noticing all the challenges that have been going on and cutting yourself some slack in recognition of the cumulative effect.
And then moving forward from that point – choosing what, if anything, you want to change, exploring what you can take control of amongst all the stuff that feels currently out of reach. Building self-belief, ticking off some achievements, growing a feeling of control, empowerment and resilience.
The Ladder of Accountability is a great model to describe the stages you can go through with situations like this. In the lower stages a growing volume of concerns or problems might have been rumbling away in the background for some time. Then, for whatever reason, they come more sharply into your awareness. At this point you acknowledge reality – you might be saying “this can’t go on, I need some help” and although you might not be entirely clear on everything that’s involved, or how to get to solutions, you’re committed to something changing.
Coaching then helps you untangle the clothes that have been tumbling in the wash for so long, you can hang them up and see clearly what’s there. From that point of clarity you can step through the upper stages of the ladder – into a place where you’re choosing your actions – back in control and achieving.
I care about making work better, and for me that means enabling leaders to navigate all the stuff that goes on for them, and about which they often have very few, if any, people to completely, openly talk to.
We can only help others put on their oxygen masks if we put our own on first.
So where’s your oxygen mask?
Image credits –
Andrew and I have kept in touch on Twitter since we met about a year ago, and it was after a recent phone call that I asked if he’d write a post for my blog. During that call he talked about how, for many years, he was a task-focussed, ‘traditional’ manager – managing resources (both human and otherwise) rather than engaging hearts and minds. Now, since the leadership programme, he’s seen another way. As a leader of contracted teams – rather than direct reports – it could be argued that he has a much more challenging leadership context. And yet his teams have flourished under his new-found people-focused leadership.
Here’s Andrew’s story about the power of choosing to make a change…..
What if business leaders didn’t stay in soulless, global chain, hotels?
We all do it. Check-in, find your room, walk in and, yep, everything is pretty much where I expect it to be. No matter where in the world or what chain of hotels, yep, it’s all where I usually find it. And guess what. We go for food, and see similar people to us, talking about how business is so tough, talking about last night’s football match, how they wished they had gone to bed earlier etc etc. All very familiar.
We get what we always get.
It’s comforting in a way.
Recently I opted out of this ‘routine’ and stayed in a yurt. It got cold at nights. The food was prepared in the wood burner in the yurt. I spoke to the entrepreneur who has created this fabulous business as part of her portfolio of Green Economy businesses – she was full of optimism and hadn’t stayed up late watching a game.
As I set off for my meeting on the first morning, I looked back, saw the view captured above and grinned. I don’t ever recall walking away from a hotel and grinning…. My day started with a feeling of happy confidence…. As I headed off to corporate hotel meeting venue…
So, what if we don’t hold meetings in soulless office meeting rooms.? We don’t all have the pleasure of working in environments such as google or apple… Well, actually we do. In fact, we have better. It’s called ‘outdoors’.
I am fortunate that I work for a great company that allows me the freedom to Lead as I choose. They give me the tools, support and coaching (that’s my link to Wild Fig Solutions) to get on and Lead to the best of my ability.
So I took my team out for a walk in the woods. Literally. This is a team of Contract Managers. Not usually seen as a ‘soft and genteel’ bunch. So it’s fair to say they were probably curious at best and cynical at worst as we set off.
But here’s the thing. Out of the standard soulless office environment, we had laughter. We had ideas. We had a new energy to face the rest of the day. We had Contract Managers that said ‘we must do this more often’.
I work for a progressive, forward thinking company. Since we worked with Helen at Wild Fig Solutions and Lane4, I see more and more meetings being held in the great outdoors by others around our business.
Our CEO declared our business performance last year as ‘Stellar’. ‘Nuff said.