Putting Fun Back into Dysfunctional!
Dysfunctional is a matter of interpretation, isn’t it? What is dysfunctional, how do we know if we and our business are dysfunctional and what do we do about it?
Dysfunctional families breed individuals who to some degree are dysfunctional, and without a doubt they bring that dysfunction with them into everything they create; they build friendships, careers, empires around their dysfunction and attract others into their web. At some point, though, as we know with most empires, they all come crashing down, because the limitations that come with their dysfunction will inevitably destroy what they’ve created.
Dysfunction essentially means something is working to the detriment of the outcome desired. To the degree to which I’m dysfunctional is the degree to which I’m in denial of my dysfunction and the dysfunction of my organization. When in denial I’m not willing to acknowledge responsibility for what’s showing up in my organization or business; I’ll blame others for my demise and the demise of my company; I’ll fail rather than admit to and deal with my underlying attachments to family patterns and the secret world that’s been hidden inside me for a life time; and, I’m unwilling to risk losing what I consider to be rightfully mine for the sake of the business, my investors and employees. I’ll take it all down with me, rather than lose face with myself.
We may have come from the most supportive and loving families possible – one’s we consider highly functioning. These highly functioning families have some important dynamics in place: Open communication; respect for each members individual needs and desires, thoughts and feelings; a sense of humor; safety and trust; a capacity to admit when they are wrong; open to outside support; boundaries that provide healthy limits at the same time provide openness to expansion and change. And, every healthy family also provides limiting patterns and beliefs, which at some point will be to the detriment of the individual member. Funny how that works. Even the healthiest families can’t make it all right.
I’ve just been hired by a company in Silicon Valley to work with a number individuals who are important – even vital to the project at hand, yet bring behavior patterns that if not shifted will devastate their current project and the entire organization. In discussing my role with HR, I questioned the degree to which the company itself and the executives running the company are willing to look at own their contribution to what’s occurring with their employees. In this conversation I described how quite often employees act out, much like children in a family. Too often parents will send their children to therapy to get straightened out, but won’t go themselves, though the parents are actually the ones generating the dysfunctional environment within which the children live and operate. Unless the parents come into therapy the environment will remain the same and the children will either revert back to the old patterns, or cultivated healthier dynamics they may choose to leave. So the company itself will mostly need coaching too if it’s really wanting fulfillment and success.
We know tons of parents that lose their children because they can’t manage and be responsible for their little creations. Similarly, I know tons of organizations that have had to fire their founders because they were interfering with the growth and development of the vision they created. And, I know even more organization whose success is minimized by the dysfunction of the business and the humans that run it.
Every family system generates enmeshment; think of a fish not knowing itself separate from the water it swims in. It doesn’t matter how this enmeshed system developed, what it’s about or how it functions – none of that matters. What matters is cultivating an environment that allows for the process of de-enmeshment; empowering them to differentiate and individuate themselves so as to allow a greater capacity to choose to choose what they choose in service to their own well-being and the fullest expression of Self and inevitably and hopefully to the organization they work for.
It doesn’t matter at what sort of organization we are working with – an individual, family, small business or the largest corporations, religions, and governments, we are dealing with the process of distinguishing individuals from patterns that limit their growth potential and the growth potential of the organizations they serve.
Companies fail, I believe because individuals are actually not invested enough in the success they are attempting to achieve. So, it’s not that they are truly failing; it’s that they succeed at maintaining the environment that generates the undesired outcome, which appears as failure. This sounds paradoxical, however it’s what all of us do consistently, over time until we wake up to the fact that we are creating our own demise.
When we can see this from a logical perspective it becomes a no-brainer to choose to think differently, cultivate a way of being that generates an environment that generates the outcome we are wanting. It’s not a big-hairy-monster deal to take the steps to make this happen. It actually becomes fun and very rewarding.
The Dilemma: Willingness to risk what’s at stake for the desired outcome.
What’s at stake on the one hand can be the revealing of hidden agendas, hidden survival mechanisms, hidden alliances; all sorts of hiddens that we may not even know we are aligned to. On the other hand, what’s at stake is the project, the business, investor’s confidence and their money, your reputation; all sorts of circumstantial elements that clearly we are attached to. This is not an either/or proposition. This is a requirement of the inclusion of both in service to and the honoring of all at stake. Both have to be unconcealed, revealed, recognized and acknowledged, and both have to be dealt with openly, with respect, trust, commitment to the vision of the outcome desired, as well as a large measure of humor.
What I love about working with companies and organizations is that the people at the table are powerful, intelligent, high stakes players. The outcome of the choices they make are life changing for themselves and all the people invested in them and their choice-making capacity. Allowing their dysfunctional survival mechanism to expand to include more functional strategies will provide them with unimaginable success in their projects and careers, if that’s what they are truly wanting.
Gift Me with My Enemies and My Ministers
I woke up from a dream this morning that made me question: “Really?” It was only the last few seconds of the dream that seemed so profound. It was a children’s choir – all boys, and they were singing a Christmas song. The only lyric I heard was: “Gift me with my enemies and my ministers.” This is a pretty profound phrase, especially for a group of youngsters to be singing as a Christmas song.
My enemies infuse me with intense emotions – rage, hatred, vile condemnation and contempt. Judgments are automatic, so much so I don’t even know that I’m judging. How I respond, more often than not is a knee jerk reaction. I’m inflamed and my actions inflammatory. I want to violate them as they have violated me based on my sense of what’s right and wrong, good and bad. I want to wipe them off the planet so that I can live peacefully. However …
What I know is that my enemies are my best teachers. They reflect what I most hate in the world and most likely (like about 100%) they reflect aspects of myself that I do not wish to acknowledge or own. When my enemies are around, I have no doubt, I have something to learn.
Ministers are also my teachers, my coaches and counselors. They are my thinking partners, who also reflect back to me, through deep listening and questioning, how aligned I am with my highest truths and how I may be ignoring or distracting myself from the ways I’ve contributed to the very violence I hate in my adversaries. These wise beings bring my attention to the learnings so available for me by embracing the enemy as my long lost lover.
Sometimes, though, in the company of my enemies I retreat, hide and disappear into a myriad of disguises to protect myself from harm and from looking bad. I may throw stones from behind a barrier and pretend it’s not me at all who is engaged in warfare. I disown my anger, my feelings of righteousness and indignation. “It wasn’t me!” I exclaim with defensiveness and contempt for having been accused unjustly.
My ministers inquire regarding my actions, curious as to the origins of my behavior and the thoughts that precipitated them. What has me be blinded to my own truth – in denial (Don’t Even Know I am Lying) of my barbarous attitude and position?
We need our adversaries – our enemies to confront us. They bring out the worst in us and provide opportunities for us to truly reflect on the importance, value and priorities of our hierarchy of desires. We need our ministers, counselors, therapists and coaches to reflect what gifts are available for us by engaging with our enemies.
Many of us love to hate! It makes us feel good to think violent thoughts and even go to war for what we believe to be right and true. How can we get even, or better yet, how can we be victorious? What if I consider the possibility that my enemies are gifts? What would that mean – what are the consequences of such a consideration?
I’ll tell you right now, I hate the thought of giving up my armor of righteousness and entitlement, because I feel safe, powerful and in control when I can wield them with stealth accuracy. Without them, I believe myself to be defenseless, exposed and vulnerable.
I ask myself – what is considered right? What is considered wrong? Who is responsible for the woes of the world? My ministers smile and with their eyes they inquire into my soul’s wisdom for what is true; and I then, for that moment comprehend that I am an accomplice in all acts of violence on the planet. Only by recognizing the seed of vengeance within me I’m able to receive the gifts of freedom from my enemy.
Through deep discernment and with the support and empowering nature of my ministers am I able to choose to choose to see myself and my enemies differently. Through the annihilation of my own pretence and the shattering of the barriers of them vs. us, am I truly allowed to realize I am my brother/sister’s keeper, and they are mine.
The dilemma as a choice-point shifts when I choose to honor my highest truth and risk losing my attachments, my position, my identity – perhaps even life itself for something much larger than me. I’m working on it!
Good Choice – Disappointing Outcome
My client Madeleine has recently been hired as the financial manager for an international corporation. She is overwhelmed currently because she is learning the ropes of her current position while understaffed and in the midst of hiring on new staff. She’s in a pickle.
Carl, a direct report of Madeleine’s, who used to be an equal co-worker before Madeleine’s promotion, is, and has been unhappy for a number of years. Carl has complained to Madeleine all of these years, and now that Madeleine is in a position to do something to help Carl, there’s nothing she can really do in this moment, understaffed and overwhelmed. Carl is threatening to leave, which would put Madeleine into deeper angst; she just can’t afford to lose Carl and at the same time, she can’t afford the time and energy taken up by Carl and his needs. This is a dilemma for Madeleine.
Madeleine is committed to fulfilling her duties to her boss and his boss who oversees the European Market. She needs Carl to stay and do what’s required in order fulfill this commitment. She’s also committed to ensuring her colleagues and direct reports are being served effectively by her leadership. She knows that it would be best to let Carl leave, but how will she manage?
Being in such a dilemma challenges managers and executive alike. Is there a possible win-win situation here or is Madeleine facing a win-lose or your basic no one wins this time around. Sometimes that happens, you know.
One aspect of my work as an executive coach that I like so much is sitting with my client in a dilemma such as Madeleine is facing and exploring what’s possible. Given that in this current situation the outcome will create more frustration for Madeleine, she still has to choose which outcome will create the least amount of stress on her, her team and the company. That takes a lot of presence and maturity to be with such a dilemma.
How does one handle such a circumstance? Madeleine is facing a big fat be-with; a circumstance that challenges her sense of being responsible, reliable and in integrity as a company officer. She’s struggling with her identity as a person that managers and her team can count on.
It’s not that she can’t do the work; it’s not that she’s ineffective; it’s that, in this moment her circumstances are providing challenges in which she thinks she needs to get it all done and all right; however this is impossible, given her current situation.
There’s no right or wrong, good or bad, in a situation like this one that Madeleine is facing. However, the human aspect of each of us that fears for our job, our reputation, our respect and trust, is coughing out strategies, trying to put out fires as quickly as possible so as not to be found out as incompetent and replaceable.
Madeleine is prioritizing her commitments then organizing her thinking to reflect these commitments. Something or someone may have to be sacrificed. How does she choose? Does she choose to choose based on her fear that her boss will reprimand her for her lack of performance. Does she choose to choose based on already being overwhelmed and losing Carl will put her under even further? Is there another way to look at this? Is there another place from which to choose?
We all face moments in our work and personal life when there is a no-win situation. I don’t think it matters that Madeleine is new to this level of management and leadership; she’s up to her eyeballs in alligators. Now what?
Here is my point. We can’t get it right all the time. When we can’t get it right, how do we be with this dilemma, especially when so much seems to be at stake?
Corporations run as if every second counts. Madeleine’s dilemma will stop the clock one way or another. So assessing, not from panic, not from fear, not from inadequacies, but from what choice, in this moment will be most effective, is the key. Choosing to choose from grounded clarity and a level of maturity that reflects confidence in oneself; willingly relinquishing the fear of the consequences – that is what good managers and leaders do. You make your best calculated guess at what’s best to do, then let go. If you’ve done your best – what more could you expect of yourself?
This is the most challenging place to be for any corporate or business person. Letting go of your attachment to doing it right in order to please everyone. Choosing from integrity and professional wisdom is the best any of us can do. Why barrage ourselves with self-deprecating self-doubt and criticism. Allow the chips to fall and be with the you that has done the best. Acknowledge the challenge and be with the experience that comes with failing to be perfect, liked and appreciated.
The most effective leaders and managers in any business setting choose without fear of the consequences. It takes courage to take a stand for your competence, your choice-making and who you are behind the role you play at work.
Madeleine is actually in a perfect situation. She is facing certain failure, as she will face many times in her career. This is an opportunity to explore this territory of the Big-Fat-Be-With. In doing so she will realize a deeper, stronger, more resourceful self; one that will no longer be controlled or influenced by fear.
R is for Resistance
I’m experiencing resistance to writing this blog. I feel angry, frustrated and distracted by, well … It’s more that I’m allowing myself to get distracted; that way I can avoid being with what I don’t want to be with.
You might be asking – as I would, if I were you, why I’m resisting writing if I’m in the business of writing?
Even though I enjoy writing, it’s challenging at times to put words and sentences together in a way that articulates what I’m wanting to say. Sometimes it comes easy and every so often it’s more challenging to get down on paper exactly what’s wanting to be said. In this moment I’m trying to make sense of the idea that resistance is an important concept to bring into this series on spirituality in business. I’m an intuitive writer and sometimes I’m not the thinker here. I’m just transcribing what’s coming through me. I know that sounds a little whacked, however I find that this way of writing is far more enjoyable, revealing and insightful. The point is that sometimes I have to deal with confusion, uncertainty, doubt, and on occasion feelings of being an inadequate loser. I resist having to confront these beliefs about myself; I’d rather go do something easy and fun, where I don’t feel vulnerable to humiliation.
I guess this is the point, isn’t it. That quite often there are aspects of our work that we resist because we don’t like being engaged in those activities that challenge us. We get bugged by people, places or things and put the brakes on, dig in our heels, avoid, distract or ignore what’s in front of us in service to resistance, which is in service to avoiding the discomfort of vulnerability.
Resistance at Work
My work in corporations brings me face to face with people resisting the very work they are paid to do. I’m stymied by the degree of resistance to do what individuals are hired to do; the lack of collaboration that they agreed to, the lack of leadership and management they were trained to do. People are resisting doing what they’ve come here to do. I find that fascinating!
For many, the rules of the game in any organization are unknown, so you have to play your best poker face, your best everything, always – if you want to get ahead, get that raise or praise. You have to resist direct confrontation or insults; you might resist sexual innuendos. You have to resist getting fired and some people resist getting promoted, but they can’t say that – it’s not politically correct.
One specific manager I’ve worked with in the Silicon Valley was threatened by anyone who showed any inkling of being smarter than he was. He had many opportunities to empower his team members in ways that would enhance their performance, however because of his belief that no one could think better than him, he resisted acknowledging and encouraging his direct reports. Many of his direct reports shared with me that they were frustrated and felt limited in their capacity to do their work. The morale of the whole team was diminished because this manager was afraid that someone might outdo him.
This isn’t uncommon – we all know that. Resistance runs rampant in every institution, enough so that we are resistant to calling this game to a halt. There is something at stake! That something is precious enough that we don’t want to give it up. That something has a big price tag on it. Actually it has two price tags on it. One is the sale price – this is the price tag is what you are selling your soul for (Gag me with a spoon!). This price tag reflects the selling of our integrity, our truth, fulfillment, for the sake of power, position, control – and as always the illusion of invulnerability.
Resistance, as a Muscle
Resistance is an interesting set of muscles that we exercise in service to developing strength, control and power. It’s also a survival mechanism we’ve developed over time, and quite often, like many of our survival mechanisms it becomes automatic and unconscious. We’ve become unaware of why we are engaging those specific muscles in the first place. But a point that I want to make here is that we have no idea how much energy it takes to resist. It’s something you might want to think about.
Resistance looks different for everyone, but what’s important is for you to discover, recognize and acknowledge your own particular style of resistance. Like I said, we are all doing it; it’s just a matter of how and to what end.
As the Paradigm Shifts…
As the paradigm shifts we awaken slowly but surely to our own unique contributions to the way life is, as opposed to the way we desire it to be. We see where we resist shifting and changing as an attempt to hold on to what we’ve got, though what we’ve got isn’t necessarily what we want.
Sometimes the practice is to resist resisting; go with the flow, ride with the tide! But first you/we have to become aware that we are resisting and what that resistance is serving.
You may have heard me suggest this practice before, however here it is again. It’s the simplest practice: Be Kind! Kindness costs nothing, takes no time and contributes greatly to peace on Earth. By practicing kindness you will come up against resistance to being kind. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for where you can begin to question the value of resisting. In this moment you are at a choice-point where you can choose to choose differently. In this moment the opportunity to self-realize is upon you, and with that comes the opportunity to be the change you wish to see.
Enjoy the adventure!