Ineptness as a Masterful Teacher
Hank is a young fellow working for a fifteen year old company in Sarasota, Florida. He is frustrated because there is a lack of momentum on the part of his manager to fully implement Hank’s gifts and skills. He’s frustrated because he feels underutilized and unfulfilled. He feels like a racehorse that isn’t given enough rein to really run the race and win. He’s being held back, but why?
More often than not, managers aren’t conscious of how they influence their team. They don’t even know that there’s a way that they are being that limits the success of their direct reports and the success of the company as well. Only sometimes are they holding back their direct reports in service to their own desired outcomes. Usually, they just don’t know.
What Hank hears from his boss is to not push for change too quickly; “Things take time around here. Slow and steady wins the race.” Hank isn’t a tortoise; he’s a thoroughbred. He was hired for his expertise and the results that he’s capable of. He has the passion and capability to make things happen quickly. After two years with this company under this particular manager, Hank has exhausted much of his creative energies fighting his manager for more free rein.
Hanks dilemma isn’t foreign at all to many individuals working under a management style that holds them back rather than supports growth and expansion. How does he bring the best he can to a situation where his manager really doesn’t know how to manage a thoroughbred like Hank? He could quit; however, is there something else that’s happening here for Hank that could bring value to his time in this company? What’s possible here as a learning opportunity?
Through our coaching, Hank gets clearer that he is being exposed to a management style that is ineffective for him and people like him. He wants things to change – he wants his manager to be more of a mentor; he wants to move up in the ranks and be a leader himself in bigger and better ways. He’s stuck behind a plow horse and can’t see his way clear to run the race he believes he is here to win.
A fascinating aspect of Hank’s dilemma is that he is actually in a perfect internship opportunity where he has the most to learn to be a really good leader for people like himself. Rather than focus on how ineffective his manager is, he can focus on two things:
- What’s missing in his manager’s style that if it were present would spur Hank on to greater success?
- What’s available in the current situation that can be of benefit to him and his leadership development? What’s incubating within himself that will bring about a much more powerful leadership style?
I believe that these questions are so essential in business coaching. Sometimes our clients can’t change their circumstance, however they can shift their perspective. I believe that every situation we find ourselves in is an internship – a place to learn what we need to learn. More often than not, like Hank, we didn’t consciously sign up for these internships – these learning opportunities. Thoroughbreds want to run – they don’t want to do anything else – there’s nothing else to do but get to the finish line. However, Hank has an opportunity to learn through experience and take notes on how to be a leader – committed to the best and highest contribution of his team. He can only do this through his current experience.
Being fully immersed in his current circumstances, Hank is having an experience that informs him about his own personal reality, needs and desires; informs him of what capacities he sees is required to work in the environment within which he finds himself; and, informs him of what capacities he wants to cultivate to be the manager he wishes he had for himself, and that he wants to be for others.
Hank’s practice is multidimensional: He has to get out of his normal operating strategies, which include the automatic generation of thoughts and feelings. He has to look around and see how his environment is currently affecting him. He has to think – I mean really think, about what there is to learn right now beyond perceived constraints. He has to accept that what he thought would be the rewards and outcome of this position in this company isn’t forthcoming, yet there are greater rewards far more rich, delicious and sustainable for him to achieve, right here, right now. Hank can get – and is getting, that this is a leadership development opportunity of a lifetime that isn’t available in any MBA program; not even at Harvard Business School. If he can shift his attitude and perspective, Hank will become an exceptional leader and manager.
We all have dreams about what we imagine our careers will reap. More often than not, we see it happening soon, faster and better than it actually occurs. We get frustrated, pissed off, resentful because it doesn’t look the way we imagined it. As we each step into being grown up and adult, realizing that life doesn’t show up the way we want, but shows up the way it does, we have a much greater capacity to choose willingly to explore the opportunities for growth and learning that are right in front of us. By meeting what feels like demands with openness and curiosity we will be given the rewards we anticipated in ways we’ve yet to imagine.
Though it appears as if Hank’s manager is inept at his job, he will actually be one of the greatest contributors to Hank’s development as an up and coming leader. However, it’s up to Hank to fully utilize his time under his guidance to fully benefit from his mentor’s style.
No Peace on Earth!
There will never be peace on Earth. Never! Not as long as humans put themselves in charge of the rightness and wrongness; the goodness and the badness, prosperity and poverty. Nope: It ain’t gonna happen!
Peace will come when we give up doing unto ourselves and others what is hurtful, harmful and destructive. I drink coffee and alcohol, use sugar and eat meat and wheat – all of which are destructive to my system. I use electronics, drive a fossil fueled vehicle and count on many of those organizations who contribute to destruction of the planet, to keep me safe and provide electricity, etc for my comfort. Like the majority of individuals on the planet, 70% of my thoughts are negative. This also contributes to an internal environment that is not peace-full; it is actually dis-eased. I’ve been in relationships with people that cause me constant frustration as my expectations have me distance myself, withdraw and withhold. I feel victimized and want to get back at the individual who broke promises and ignored agreement. Yet, I want peace.
I have come to realize that the world doesn’t need fixing – no peace required. It is perfect and faultless in providing an environment within which we learn and grow through the trials and tribulations of the circumstances we are presented. That is the whole deal with coming into human form and to Earth University; make all the classes easy and effortless and the learning disappears. Therefore, we need the world the way it is, until we need it another way, and then, it will miraculously become that!
From this Universal Consciousness/Spiritual Intelligence perspective, all corporations and business environments are also perfect for getting the learning we’ve come to get. Perfection is always and everywhere. It’s up to us to get smart enough to recognize such perfection and utilize it for the very purpose for which its presented itself.
My perspective, in this moment, is that we are here, enrolled in Earth School – from nursery school to post-graduate work. We are here to become enlightened to greater and greater degrees. There is no end to which one can become enlightened; learning opportunities just keep on coming. It’s as if the more conscious and enlightened we become the more the Universe creates a greater array of challenges for our species. Eckart Tolle said that never before could a species consciously choose evolution. Evolution: Hmmmmm. Is there ever an end to evolution? I dare say there is none!
How do we evolve? We evolve only when we are at the edge of our comfort zone and are pushed or voluntarily push that edge to include what never before was possible, what could never be imagined and, what now is only a twinkle in our creator’s eye! There is no limit to our evolution as long as we keep ourselves in the game.
Okay, so that sounds as if we can take ourselves out of the game. No, we can’t. And you may think you want to because the game in some ways seems to be getting bigger than you, and scarier than you planned on. It may be; however, what’s important is to focus on what’s yours to do. What course are you currently in and what are the objectives of this particular learning opportunity? No, you can’t take yourself out of the game, because, like Dalai Lama’s hotdog, you are one with everything.
I believe that most of us have some investment in saving the planet – that somewhere in our personal or professional vision statement there’s a word or phrase that reflects this compelling desire to do something to make this a better place for all of us. In the world of business, it’s no different. Yet, we are challenged to do the job we are hired to do, at the same time attempting to cultivate an environment that is healthier to work in. At times we throw up our hands and whine “Is there no peace?”
As I began so I shall complete with “No; probably not.” This doesn’t mean that life will be full of despair, frustration and depression – not anymore than it has been up ‘till now. So, learn to be peaceful within, though the circumstances around you are not to your liking; find what causes a lack of peace. Ask yourself what would be valuable to learn, discover or practice in situations within which you feel out of control – this is how you cultivate peace – at least for moments at a time.
I retired from saving the Earth and all the people and beings that live here too. Sometime I forget that I retired, but when I remember it becomes clearer that what’s mine to do, and what’s only mine to do is to let myself off the hook for being only human, which often includes being less than perfect, not fulfilling other people’s expectations and feeling guilty and shameful about my inadequacies and unworthiness. What’s mine to do is to practice kindness to myself and others and to be mindful of what I do that could be harmful, trying to minimize my impact of the earth.
I love peaceful moments and pray that all of us can share peace – if for only moments at a time. They are exquisite!
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!
In the Pursuit of Mei-Li
Mei-Li has a Ph.D. and works for one of the biggest communication companies in the world. Originally from China, she has been in Silicon Valley, California for the majority of her adult life. Married with two children Mei-Li is very happy. However, she has been facing a very challenging dilemma for many years: Though she is happy, successful and fulfilled in her life as it is, she’s concerned that she should do more – be more.
Mei-Li observes her boss focusing most of his attention on getting ahead; she sees other women at her level of management working for the next promotion, the next level of leadership and responsibility. “I don’t want an increase in responsibility; I don’t want to work that hard; I don’t like talking with people that much that I want to move to the next level of management. But, should I want to? Is there something wrong with me that I don’t want to do that? I’m afraid there’s something very wrong with me.”
As Mei-Li shares with me over many coaching sessions, her consistency of feelings and truths about what’s true for her has me coach her to see the dilemma she is currently constrained by. On the one hand, Mei-Li loves her job and the team she manages. She has the free time she needs to be available to her children and to her husband in a way that fits best with her sense of the quality relationship she wants. She isn’t stressed and unnerved by unmet deadlines. She’s actually one of the 10% of the workforce that actually is fulfilled in her career.
On the other hand, Mei-Li’s culture married with our Western culture attempts to move people into work that isn’t their’s to do. Mei-Li watches people spend more time being people pleasers than effective employees of this company and she finds this frustrating and confusing. “People aren’t getting their work done while they are schmoosing for a promotion. Should I be doing that? The fact is, I don’t like schmoosing; I don’t like going to cocktail parties, playing golf or any of those other social things that you are supposed to do if you want to get ahead. I’m a pretty reclusive person who enjoys my life the way it is. But, I feel like I should be doing more.”
Many of us face this dilemma of being more – doing more; at the same time actually finding fulfillment in what we are doing right now. But, aren’t we supposed to want more money and power? Aren’t we supposed to want the bigger office, more contact with the more influential people of the world? Aren’t we supposed to want more?
My sense is, and I shared this with Mei-Li in our session, that what people want is to get to a place where there is fulfillment in their work and personal life – that there is balance with health and happiness. I believe that most people want what Mei-Li has. She already has it. Though the current within the corporate structure drags many people in its undertow toward some fantasy life that is wrought with a lot of what they don’t want to do and perhaps aren’t really cut out to be with, there are few who willingly choose health and fulfillment with what they have, what they do and how they be.
Mei-Li laughs as she begins to see a bigger picture – one that allows her free choice to choose for herself what’s hers to do. She laughs to hear that what people are struggling for is what she already has. She laughs as she realizes that she is presently free to choose to be happy in the life she has created and if in the future she feels inspired to grow her career toward greater degrees of leadership and responsibility, she can do that.
Mei-Li isn’t out of the current, and as long as she is in the corporate environment there will always be that field of influence. The degree to which she can stay aligned with her commitment to well-being and fulfillment in her career, the stronger her dedication and the less pull this will have on her.
Christopher, who I spoke of a few weeks ago, shared with me that if he could do anything he would work with inner city kids, teaching them math and computer skills. Then, the litany of “Why I Can’t Leave My Job and Give Up Everything I Worked For” began. There was no stopping him; the who would pay the mortgage, who would take care of my parents, I’d have to give up my addiction to Siamese cats; on and on, fully engaged in the undertow of a make believe reality, for too many, is actually real.
Mei-Li has found an eddy for now where she is out of the stream of influence by others. She is finding herself – the one she believes she has to continually pursue. It takes strength and courage to step out of the normal way of being for the sake of what we are all striving for – well-being and fulfillment in our careers. Kind of crazy when you think about it! Perhaps the pursuit of Mei-Li has come to a happy ending; right here where she has been, but now enjoying it to a much larger degree!
Yoda says “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Wow! Think about what that would look like in the business world: Letting go of winning, power, promotions and bonuses; letting go of being right and other people being wrong; letting go of complaining, blaming and shaming; letting go of stress and worry and all of the underlying reasons for the stress and worry. What would you have left?
Christopher is a Senior Director for a corporation in Atlanta. He’s been with the company just over two years and is extremely loyal and committed to the company’s mission, to the degree that he had a physical and emotional breakdown after giving his all to the project that will inevitably make or break the company. Now, a couple of months later, he currently faces a similar dilemma – this time consciously, and this time he realizes it’s not just his body that’s on the line; it’s his soul that could be taken.
“What options do you have, Christopher?” I asked him after his complaining how things are exactly as they were those many months ago. Matter of factly, Christopher responds with “There are no options!” “Really?” I ask. “There are no options?” “Yes, there are no options,” He said: “except to revert to the old me that yelled and hollered to get people to do what they are supposed to do. That means setting myself up for another emotional and physical breakdown, and that’s not an option!”
“There are other options,” I countered. “Let’s look at them.” What I was attempting was to get Christopher to see that one of his options is to leave the company and go somewhere that may be more in line with maybe a more workable situation for him. He didn’t see leaving as an option, nor did he see letting go of everything he feared to lose as an option, either. Christopher’s perspective offered no option. He’s in a stalemate.
Yoda also said: “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” What does that mean in Christopher’s situation? By having the deepest commitment and the most serious mind, it’s easier to fully align with that which you are truly committed to. In Christopher’s case, is it the success of the company orhis own personal success and the maintaining of his reputation (He fears that if he leaves the company his reputation will be tarnished.) that’s at stake? One other thing he is committed to is keeping himself healthy – it’s not an option to sell himself to the devil again. Yet, through my eyes, it looks very much like this is happening. When someone as brilliant as Christopher has no options, he’s a dead duck. He’s given his soul away if he gives himself no options.
We’ve been trained to see the world a certain way, and it’s essential to our survival in many families, communities and business environment, so we think, to maintain that perspective, no matter what. Our minds can’t make sense of our reality if it no longer looks the way it’s supposed to. Much like Christopher, we are then faced with no options and no way to move forward, except to do what we’ve done in the past and we know that’s not going to work.
If we don’t want to lose what we are afraid of losing, our egoic self will bend and twist reality in such a way that we experience stuckness. We can feel lost in the midst of bright lights and lots of people. It’s not uncommon for people to experience mental and emotional exhaustion and breakdowns, inevitably losing more than they were bargaining for. Aren’t we a curious species?
The dilemma Christopher faces is because he has a great deal at stake. On the one hand he has his position, his credibility and all that he’s invested in this company. On the other hand his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is deteriorating. Attempting to hang on to what he’s got will most likely mean he’ll lose everything.
Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose
Where Christopher sees no option, I see he has no options too, but from a different perspective. Unless he opens himself up to the possibilities he currently doesn’t want to see, he will lose everything. My job as his coach is to gently guide him towards what now appears to be too frightening to accept. Inevitably, he will have to choose to shift his paradigm and experience a reality that he doesn’t yet believe exists.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
For some this process is a walk in the park; yet for others it can be experienced as a shattering. There’s nothing wrong with a shattering. A shattering is the same as a paradigm shift, it’s just way more painful in every way, you, I’m sure, have imagined. And, generally, it takes a great deal more time to recover from.
What’s right in front of Christopher is right in front of each and every one of us: the opportunity to discover what’s worth losing and what’s not. It all goes away, sooner or later. In this moment, though, it’s just a matter of choosing to choose to choose to be accountable and responsible for the consequence of the choices we make. I hate that part as much as most people do. I want it all good and all easy. When it’s not, I don’t want to look at options I don’t want to take. I’ve learned though that my life isn’t worth living if fear is the only conductor on this train. I’m listening to Yoda and other spiritual teachers in order to create a life worth living. Christopher will make a similar choice, I have no doubt.
Not losing is a no-win game.