80 Percent Effective
Michael, a COO of a growing startup in Austin, Texas, is a great guy and a brilliant thinker. He’s been hired by a particular company to bring about a turnaround in management and inevitably the bottom line. The company has experienced a significant loss in revenue over the past few months and it’s now Michael’s job to turn things around. If he fails, the company will fold – end of story.
Michael is about to take the company in a direction that will transform its vision, culture and business structure. There’s no doubt he has what it takes to create this turnaround. However, he’s challenged and stopped with every step he takes. For instance, yesterday he received a memo from his CEO that states all unnecessary expenditures will be cut. There goes any actualization of executive team off-sites to thoroughly discuss and implement what’s required to make this company work.
Michael is stymied and feels like his hands are tied! He is out to rescue the company. That’s what he’s been hired to do. Since joining four months ago, he’s been exploring the underlying foundation upon which to rebuild. He doesn’t want to push too hard for change as the company and executive team is also quite new and pretty fragile. He fears resistance and pushback. Michael retreats from potential conflict or confrontation; unsure whether the executive team will follow his lead. Our coaching conversations lean into what might occur if he steps into his role to a larger degree.
I asked Michael to assess the degree of effectiveness that he brings with him to his job. He answers that he’s about 80% effective. For Michael’s personal and professional development and for the sake of the company, he’s going to have to stretch to 82-85% to fully engage the company in this campaign.
You expected me to say that Michael needs to stretch to 100%, didn’t you? Well, given that for Michael, 80% is within his comfort zone, to leap too far beyond the edge could create a backlash. And, as most of us have experienced, if we push ourselves too hard for change, we end up digging in our own heels, resisting and pushing back. Exploring out just a couple of degrees from the edge of Michael’s comfort zone allows him to experience various dimensions of reality that confront him, without leaving the comfort of his easy chair. From here, he can assess and evaluate any number of strategies that would initiate a greater degree of effectiveness. Though he initially leans out just a bit, he actually expands his comfort zone, engaging his fullest potential to explore and experiment with his capacity to make things happen.
It’s actually rare for leaders to operate at 100% effectiveness. And, my belief is that most companies aren’t even going to hire an individual who brings that degree of effectiveness to the workplace, because they are yet to be capable of that level of success themselves. They don’t yet know how to bring about that level of success. That makes sense!
Quite a few executive clients of mine back away from the edge of their comfort zone because it’s unfamiliar territory. They fear what may be revealed. More to the point, they fear experiencing the inadequacy within their humanity, which no doubt will devastate their egoic identity. Who are they without the suit of armor called ME?
The consequence of avoiding the edge may mean that employees and the company at large are unlikely to fulfill their vision. Executives are human beings, and like most of us, they may miss the point of digging through personal baggage and exposing vulnerabilities, along with the nuggets of GOLD! They play a big game, however more often than not they are unwilling to risk their own personal security in order to remain invulnerable.
Much of Michael’s conversation with me thus far has been how the company is resisting, ignoring or limiting his authority. As his thinking partner, my listening informs me that, on some unconscious level, the company is conspiring to bring Michael to the fullest expression of his essential nature and for him to lead from this place. They won’t budge until he brings more of his empowered self to the table. He is required to empower himself to make those shifts in order to empower others to do the same.
As Michael and I talk, he begins to get the lay of the land within himself and his company. He’s beginning to see how, in many ways, the company is waiting for him to step into the very practice he’s going to require of them. He sees now that he has to be the role model for change.
Regardless of how high up in the ranks of leadership one climbs, each individual is required to face their fears and risk vulnerability, only in service to their vision and life purpose. I love working with Michael because he is clearly aware of a larger vision for his company and he has a knowing that this is essential for the company to thrive, or even to survive.
The Dilemma for Michael: he can stay within his 80% effectiveness and capitulate to the company’s foot-dragging, while still maintaining his reputation as an effective leader. Or, he can amp up a few degrees of effectiveness, risking a loss of safety and security. He may be vulnerable to the possibility that people won’t like him, may confront him and perhaps drastically push back. Yet change is required to save the company. He’s considering his options.
Michael didn’t get to be a COO by being a coward. He’s talented, highly effective and has what it takes to create this turnaround. He has no idea yet the fullest potential available to him just beyond that 80%. I’m happy to report that he sees this as an exciting adventure! Wha-hoo!
The “Guilt-Free” Diet
Okay, so I found the diet of all diets! Obviously, by the title you can imagine that it has something to do with being guilt-free while engaging in any number of diets. Are you wanting to lose weight, stop spending, exercise more, quit smoking, spend more time with your sweetie, more time away from electronic companions? I get it! A guilt-free diet may be the way to go!
Throughout my whole life, my body image has been really important to me – the ‘image’ part is one thing but also the health that comes as a consequence of eating well and exercising daily. I’m far less successful than I want to be, yet I’ve been able to maintain my weight within a five pound band-width for about twenty years. Not bad, eh?
Being sixty years old, there’s nothing that will stop my body from doing all those things bodies do as they age: the sagging, creeping and wrinkling – well there’s nothing to be done but to appreciate and value the degree of health and vitality that I have today, as well as continuing to eat well and exercise daily. I’m so grateful to have the stamina and strength that I do have.
However, I keep pushing to lose weight – it’s a constant conversation in my head. And, I realized the other day that for the majority of my sixty years I’ve laid an incessant barrage of guilt and shame upon myself. Guilting myself has been the primary strategy responsible for staying thin and fit. But I realize the price I’ve paid using this strategy over others.
I decided, as an experiment, that I would stop working toward a particular weight goal, which only served over time to solidify how inadequate I am in fulfilling commitments. I would also stop the barrage of “Shoulds and Shouldn’ts” regarding everything to do with food. And, I had an “OMG” (Oh, My God!) moment. A list of attack thoughts spewed out a mile long regarding the “I’m not enoughs” that I’ve been living with forever!
I listed a minimum of 10 statements of guilt and shame that were so automatic I didn’t even know they are there. “You’ll look like an old person; you’ll get plump; you won’t be beautiful anymore; your clothes won’t fit; you’ll be out of integrity with who you say you are, on and on and on. That’s when I decided I’d go on a Guilt-Free Diet!
I heard the wee voice in my head say “What will keep me from gaining tons of weight or being a lazy good-for-nothing if I give up guilting myself? I then asked myself if the harmful side-effects of the guilt may be worse than the extra pounds I might carry. Just another one of those darn dilemmas.
Guilting oneself is not uncommon. For many of us, we don’t know any other way to manage and control ourselves but through guilt. Once I realized how I use guilt regarding food and beverage consumption, I also saw how I use it regarding work, productivity, and my financial where-with-all. I use guilt to make things happen and not happen in every aspect of my life.
Is it possible to live a guilt-free life?
So, while on this guilt-free diet, my practice is to notice the thoughts that are embedded with guilt – notice for instance, when at lunch time, the voice in my head says: “You should have a salad.” That “You Should” is most likely laced with guilt. When I’m about to do something based on that guilt-filled thought, my practice is to say STOP! Then re-calibrate my choice based on what I really want. This requires me to think like a mature and wise adult, instead of that more adolescent part of me that constantly wants what I want when I want it.
Does guilt have to be the only source of motivation?
I’m now more aware of making choices based on integrity and accountability. My intention is to enjoy life and I certainly enjoy it more feeling good and looking good. It’s a fascinating process revealing those thoughts that control and manage my behavior but are harmful and actually create dis-ease, self-hatred and other behaviors to compensate for the guilt and shame. Brow-beating ourselves usually creates the desire to anesthetize that voice – so we choose to eat, drink, do retail therapy, sex, TV, Internet surfing – you get the idea. SHEEESH!
Is There Another Way?
I want to be in alignment with my highest truth and my highest good. I know that spewing guilt thoughts at myself, and at others, for that matter, isn’t in alignment with my highest truth or good. I want health and well-being, and I also want to enjoy freedom and flexibility, which may be in direct conflict to well-being.
It’s interesting just to notice what happens when I take guilt out of the equation – not try to replace it with something else, not try to fix or heal the source of the guilt; just stop the guilt. I consider being a parent to myself and speaking without guilt – only loving thoughts – not manipulative, candy –sweet, but just love and care. It’s just an investigation, an experiment. I’m not trying to loose weight or fix my behavior in any way – I’m just exploring what IS without guilt.
Little by little, so far in this experiment, I’m realizing a greater degree of peace and relaxation – something I’ve not experienced for a very long time. I realize too, the degree to which the incessant pressure to be productive, effective, appropriate, worthy, attractive and desirable, never, never stops. It doesn’t take a vacation, and neither do I.
An invaluable resource that grows with aging is wisdom. Inevitably, we come to discover that who and what we think we are isn’t actually who and what we are at all! What matters to me more than anything else now, is that I compassionately reveal and dismantle self-loathing thoughts that impede my capacity to be the fullest expression of my essential self. How can I be anything but fit and attractive if I follow this advice?
I enjoy the adventure that comes with being curious about myself – how I’ve come to this reality I live within, in this current moment. I have no idea what will unfold from this exploration and practice. I do know that my experience thus far is that it’s contributing to a greater degree of well-being that’s guilt -free!
What to Do When There is Nothing to Do!
A client of mine in Toronto, Frank, is challenged in this moment with an interesting dilemma. His project is stalled due to a number of factors outside his area of responsibility. He’s in a “wait and see” place, and what he’s finding is that he’s experiencing a lack of motivation, a sense of inadequacy and he’s questioning his competence.
“Something must be wrong with me or the way I’m doing my job.” Frank says, as he’s struggling to find what’s missing in order to get some momentum going for his project. “On the one hand, I know there’s nothing for me to do but to wait for decision makers to take the next step. On the other hand, though, I keep wondering if there’s something I can do, or something I’m not doing that’s precipitating the stall. I feel unmotivated and I don’t know what to do about that.”
What Frank is calling unmotivated stems from thoughts and beliefs that arise in this period of incubation for the project. In our coaching session he and I discussed the life cycle of essentially every living thing on the planet, including relationships, corporations and projects. By viewing his project within a natural and normal cycle of being, Frank was able to draw from a reality that allowed him to take his proper place in the unfolding of his project. At the same time, he couldn’t stop himself from asking “Am I doing something wrong? What’s mine to do here? Is there something I can do to hurry this incubation period along?”
Frank’s questions are good ones. First things first, though. One of Frank’s fears is that people are going to find out or decide that he is inadequate. So, in circumstances such as the one he currently is finding himself, the first thought that comes to mind is How am I being inadequate that is contributing to the stall out this project?
Frank’s boss has acknowledged him for his leadership role in bringing the project to this level of completion. He’s been clear with him that he’s done everything he can and now it’s time to wait for others to do their part in order to bring about the next level of the cycle of the project. So, by all indications, there are no inadequacies on the part of Frank. This is one choice-point Frank finds himself at: Can he let go of his fear of inadequacy and allow himself to experience the full capacity of his competence? This is an important step in him defining himself as a leader.
The second question: What’s mine to do?, is the next step. At first, Frank could find nothing to do while waiting for others to do what’s theirs to do; however with a little prodding he was able to come up with a list of five tasks that would be valuable to consider.
- Make a list of all the smaller projects and tasks that have not been attended to while he’s been focused on the larger project and take actions towards completing them
- Take time with individual members of his team, connect with them, perhaps provide some mentoring and supervision – something he’s unable to do when caught up in the momentum of the project
- Meet with others in his company to talk about these types of dilemmas, perhaps brainstorming what’s possible to move projects like this along, as well as openly exploring what he may be missing, as well as provide support for each other when things are not going as planned
- Find projects outside the workplace that provide fulfillment when fulfillment isn’t forthcoming in his work
- Realize that he is more than the fulfillment of his project, and that he needs to explore other meaningful ways to bring fulfillment into his life.
For Frank, and so many of us, this last item is really important. We’ve forgotten that we are not our projects. We are not our degrees, certifications, job titles, our bank accounts, our successes or our failures. We are beings engaged with the life experiences we currently find ourselves in. We are here to be curious, to explore and experiment with what we know and what we haven’t yet discovered about ourselves. Fulfillment comes from courageously stepping into that adventure – for Frank, the adventure is exploring who he is in the midst of nothing to do. That’s it!
Frank’s final question: Is there something I can do to hurry this incubation period along, is also important to consider. Frank is conscientious enough to ensure that he’s doing everything he can do to keep the project moving, as best he can. He is now in the dilemma of being with patience and understanding that some things take the time they take; you can’t pull on a seedling to help move it along to becoming a tree.
This period of time is growing Frank. He too is incubating, and something is happening within him, just like his project, that, when its time, will automatically generate the beginning of the next phase of the cycle of life. This just may be the very thing required for the project to begin to get some traction. Everything is interrelated. Frank is growing the project, the project is growing Frank, and a greater cycle of growth is being generated that is way beyond our imagination. There’s more to all of this than meets the eye!
The Personal is the Professional
Being in business, regardless of the position or title, brings us face to face with choice points. It’s nonstop! Exploring what it is that has us choose what we choose gets us closer to what it is that motivates us to be who we be and do what we do. It clarifies why our professional and personal life is what it is and not something different. It explains why, regardless of our ambition, education and experience, we just aren’t getting ahead.
If there was only one thing I’d like to get across to all of my corporate clients it’s that the personal is the professional and the professional is the personal. How we be in our personhood, our humanity and life in general is how we be in our professional world as well – always and everywhere.
Within any organization’s walls, how one chooses what they choose to choose is most likely how they choose to choose in every other context of their lives. Though the content may be different the process by which they choose is consistent across the board.
We choose based on some fundamental principles, though these principles will differ from person to person. We choose based on:
- “This is how it’s always been done so that’s what I’m choosing to choose now.” Limiting parameters limit our ability to choose to think outside the box. We can’t choose differently because we don’t know that there is something else to choose; that there is a box to think ourselves out of.
- What we are afraid others may find out or decide about us. More people than you can imagine operate from this principle. We source our identity from a decision we made a long time ago – perhaps when we were only four years old, when we found ourselves inadequate to bring about conditions we saw necessary, given the context of our little lives. With this assessment of our limitations comes the fear that we will be found unworthy and unlovable, humiliated and rejected. At this point, we begin cultivating survival strategies that have us avoid being humiliated or rejected by listening for what other people want and need. Based on our own interpretations (as a four year old) we go about fulfilling those needs and wants. Again, more people than you can imagine limit their professional development because they are operating from an immature emotional guidance system, which keeps them choosing based on fear. People with greater degrees of emotional intelligence choose based on the needs of the organizations, not based on fear.
If I continue to choose from a fear-based model, which I developed when I was four years old, I know I’ll remain safe and invulnerable to attack. The consequence of this choice is that I also can’t have what I want, because I’m limiting how I will choose to choose what I choose. If I choose differently I open myself up to vulnerability; however, I’m more likely to cultivate the capacity to be with attacks – not being devastated by them, as I always imagined it to be. I can’t grow myself professionally and I can’t grow the company if I continue to operate from a belief that I made up as a child.
- It’s all about me! It’s not uncommon to hear clients say: “Though I said I was a team player and joined this company to further its growth, I’m really only in it for my own personal gain. I choose to choose based on what will bring about the highest visibility of my efforts and will get me the promotions I’m seeking.”
- I choose to be a team player, listening for what others want. I don’t contribute any new ideas for fear of being found out that I’m inadequate. I hate to be ridiculed, so I avoid any possibility for that happening, even if it means not getting promoted.
Frankly, we are all in it for personal gain; however, this can mean different things to different people. Personal gain can be related to security, stability and safety, to gaining recognition and rewards, to gaining freedom, fun and flexibility. We never know until we begin to distinguish what it is we are wanting from our life in general and our professional life, specifically.
- What’s in the best interest of the organization? A client may say: “I can see my own limitations and inadequacies, and based on the fear of being found out I can hide out in other peoples vision, and limit the fulfillment of my personal and professional vision. Inevitably, I limit the fulfillment of the organization’s vision. At the same time I know that there are ways of being that will advance the initiatives I believe in. In alignment with those initiatives I ‘m willing to be open to possibility, though this may mean being open to ridicule; I will be assertive with my opinions and ideas, though this may mean someone asserting that I’m inadequate; I’m willing to be expansive in cultivating my repertoire of possibility, though this may lead to being found out as silly, ungrounded and unstable.
What needs to be in place in order to support a breakthrough of this dilemma? Trust!
Trust is foundational to any change process. If you don’t trust the organization, your execs and managers, even those who are your peers, you won’t choose to choose differently – it’s too risky! If you don’t trust yourself to have what it takes – an adequate amount of skills, experience, knowledge, and most importantly, self-trust, you won’t take even baby steps toward your desired goal.
Just as an experiment, notice where there is a similar choice making process occurring in your personal life and professional life. Perhaps, for example, you’ll notice that how you speak to your direct reports is the same way you speak to your children or your partner. This can be a fascinating exploration; one that will contribute to your capacity to choose differently and more in alignment with what you really want.
Success: Where does it lead?
Harvey, a client of mine for over four years, lives and works in LA in the television industry. Brilliant, creative and kind, he makes everyone feel appreciated by his character and presence. Harvey has finally arrived at his dream. Not only does he have the dream job for himself, he’s also getting paid what he’s worth. He is in the groove!
Harvey grew up in the bible belt of Texas. Allowing himself to be worthy of a salary that reflects all of what he brings to his career was a huge undertaking since it went against the primary tenets that money is evil, and that we shouldn’t want material comforts. The underlying conflict between being spiritual and making enough money to thrive has been an underpinning of Harvey’s financial demise for all of his adult life. Now, in his mid-forties, he’s taken the steps required to receive the full benefits and reap the rewards of all he brings to his work life. Success!
This all within the past two months; so Harvey has been adjusting to a whole new reality – money, prestige, a new BMW motorcycle and more. And …
What I love about Harvey is that he is very much awake when it comes to seeing that having arrived at his desired destination doesn’t mean the journey is over; he knows that in many ways, a new journey has just begun.
I was unsure what would show up in this coaching conversation once Harvey fully owned his worth, asked for a raise, got it and so much more. What did arise had me breathe a sigh of relief; for what Harvey brought to light was the realization that the money, the position and the motorcycle does not bring an individual to a sense of fulfillment but for just a few brief ecstatic moments.
To see that the striving for more money, prestige and power as just that, takes a breaking through of a reality that we believe to be the only reality. To see the striving as a spiritual practice changes the attachment to the outcome to something that is accumulative and builds something greater over time; we find ourselves with more wisdom, clarity and strength.
It’s not the destination but the journey
Harvey certainly wanted to enjoy the increase in income, prestige and position, as we all do; but the significance was what he had to shift in himself in order to bring this level of success to fruition. He had to dig deep beyond bible belt beliefs and family circumstances in order to truly honor his gifts. It required him to recognize all of what he brings to the workplace – just as he’s always wanted and provided for others. He had to reframe spiritual tenets to see that it’s not about the money or about worthiness; it’s about breaking through belief systems that don’t serve one’s awakening. He had to think outside the box of a very seductive context in order to realize himself more fully.
Now that he has come to this part of the journey he asks: “What do I have to do to feel comfort and security? I don’t see it as a possibility for myself.”
I wanted to ask: “Why did you get this raise and position if it wasn’t for the comfort and security that comes along with it?” It wasn’t a question to be asked out loud, not yet, because to Harvey, there was so much more going on.
Up until this moment, the edge of Harvey’s comfort zone had been receiving equal payment for the value that he brings to his work. Now that he has expanded his comfort zone to include this he is now, once again on the edge of his comfort zone – how do I allow myself to actually enjoy my life, experiencing the comfort and security I’ve created for myself. This is a whole new world he is opening up to, because he was able to get the value/worth dilemma complete – at least to this point.
There’s a point where one realizes that there is no end or finish line. Those who pretend this is so tend to mask the physical discomforts that arise when living inside a box that will consistently feel smaller and smaller. What’s the point if we never arrive at our final destination – we never get to fully reap the rewards of our labor? Why not just settle for less – less stress, less effort, less personal abuse …?
The questions lead us to ask: What is success? What is fulfillment? What’s it all about? If it’s not about stuff and winning, then what’s worth the effort?
For many people, especially men, the crisis in the mid-life crisis means coming to the edge of one’s reality, peering over, and saying “there’s nothing there!” Illnesses, job loss, collapses of the economy all bring us to these same moments of realization that reveal there’s no security, there’s no money, there’s only nothing! What’s that about?
Go forward – there’s nothing.
Stop - and there’s nothing.
The reason so many of us choose to not choose is because, whatever dilemma we face, choosing to choose brings us to the edge of our comfort zones. It requires that we be uncomfortable, that we be open to seeing ourselves and our reality different and that we be willing to explore and experiment with the countless facets of the achievement we’ve come to be, already, in this life. The edge of nothing is the same edge as thing. The practice of walking both sides of this edge, fearlessly, well, it’s pretty darn scary.
Harvey has gone forward, found that it’s not about the money, about winning or about things. He’s now onto his next big adventure, knowing that whatever he finds, it won’t be about that either. Fortunately he sees the humor in it all and we both laugh our heads off. Being in business is a very fun venture!