OMG!! When did I lose that…when did I change?

That was a question uncovered by my client a couple of days ago.  “I used to see those people as people and now I see them as objects. OMG – when did I lose that…when did I change?  What happened to me that suddenly getting the job done was more important than the people doing the job?”    Take a moment to pause here and realize how big a revelation this could be for a leader.

It was a pivotal moment – a light bulb moment – a when-did-results-begin-to-define-me? moment.  It was important because it became really clear what we will be working on.

But let’s roll the clock back.  What he discovered was that some time in the past, the results of the team’s work had become more important than the team.  Achievement trumped people (their growth, development and well-being) and failure was no longer an option.  The tone of his leadership changed because IT was more important than THEY were.  THEY became no more than a means to an end…”if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can!”    

Here the story of how it all began to fall apart.  The team came close to perfection – they delivered far more than was expected.  But in their moment of triumph, the leader reminded them it wasn’t quite good enough because it wasn’t perfect.  It’s like going to the Olympics and winning the Silver – since when has Silver been shabby?

So there they were – delivering excellent results and hearing about their shortcomings and not their accomplishments.  That’s what happens when winning becomes the only objective.  (For those of you who would quote,  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” –  that is a simple truism that will defeat you in the end.  Life’s games are way more complex than that!!  In fact, read on – that’s exactly what this is about)

Back to our story.  There was little celebration of milestones accomplished.  Oh, milestones were noted, but praise came with the caveat that what they had delivered was never quite good enough.  Some of the team decided that the message they received was not really different whether they failed or succeeded: if they failed they would be berated and if they succeeded, their success was applauded while any weaknesses were noted.    So people began to leave .  They defected to other teams and to other companies.  The people could feel that they were seen as objects – less valued.  They wanted more for themselves.   Over time, our leader had changed his focus – from developing great people to delivering great results.  He took his eye off the leader’s ball – the leader’s objective.  Leading is about delivering results through people.

“When did I lose that? – the ability to see my people as people?”   It was a great moment.

What’s the lesson?  Before change can begin, honest self-examination is critical.  Change requires an awareness that something is not right and an intention to make a change.  The “ah-ha” was the beginning for my client.  And now our work begins.

Intuition – or that little voice that says “Don’t step THERE”

I’ve been playing with Intuition.   You know that voice in your head that can say “Oh – try that” or “Don’t step THERE!” We all have the voice.  The question is, how often am I willing to first listen and second give credence to what it tells me?

Back in my corporate days, you wouldn’t have caught me dead paying attention to my intuition. I was so in my head!   Any new idea had to be validated through research, published (HBR was always a good source) and widely recognized as valid.   Are you aware of how limiting those head games make us?  I didn’t either – never even considered it. I was such a good corporate player.  Turns out I played pretty small.

Before I left my nearly-30 years at IBM.  I read Joseph Jaworsky’s and Peter Senge’s Synchronicity:  The Inner Path of Leadership.  It made me very squirmy.  What they said about slowing down, being aware of energy beyond themselver and the success and happiness they found when they let go was very foreign to me.

Not anymore – I’m no longer a ‘good corporate player.”  Nope,  I’m just not “good” in the sense of being too analytical nor am I corporate. However, I am still a dedicated player.   And I choose to play with intuition. What a cool place to play. Here are the challenges:  FIRST I have to discern the little voice. That’s a challenge because it can be just a “no, not that” twinge.  Then I have to pay attention.  I have to slow down –  a competency I’m working on – to even get the signal.  Finally, I have to believe that what I’ve just perceived is significant.  I don’t know about your little voice, but mine rarely offers more the tiniest view into what is coming.

Sometimes its clear that I will never know for  sure if it was my intuition and if it worked (like when the voice tells me to go a different road when I’m driving).  I do know I’ve had a time or two that the voice has said, “jump off here” that I didn’t and got stuck in traffic for a couple of hours – no kidding!   Well, I give intuition credit for knowing more than I do.  And its comforting to realize I’m not alone.  Not just that – that I’m not alone and the energy around me is actually on my side!!

So where is this taking us?  To a place of slowing down and having faith in something besides ourselves.  As leaders, we all know that slowing down helps us catch mistakes, separate the churn into definable streams and have enough energy to be up for the marathon of leadership.  It also gives us the opportunity to be aware of coincidence, intuition, or whatever you want to call it.  I find it amazing.  By the way, I still have to shush the corporate voice in my head.  She thinks its nonsense.  I believe she is wrong.

I CAN too throw a party!

Now that I’ve written about “limiting beliefs” they began to tumble around me like playful children. I was thinking about the “little do” that I threw last week when I had my book club in for dinner and discussion. I took the day off to prepare… I was so panicked I felt like I should have taken the whole week off! to get ready. I was so flustered I finally had to stop and ponder what was going on.

I realized that the critic in my head kept telling me that my house wasn’t big enough, clean enough or fancy enough… I live in a VERY nice

After all, what makes a misfit???

neighborhood. Then the voice started in on the food. “You haven’t created a theme. You’re not a very good cook. You don’t even know if people have food allergies!” You probably understand the “critical voice” drill. The hard I try, the louder it gets. It sure can get old.

Just for the record, the party went fine. The food was delightful, the conversation and friendship was fabulous. Mission accomplished. The limiting beliefs were wrong. HA! Even with that, I was giving the ole LB’s too much space.

Then it hit me. My limiting beliefs aren’t just about me. When I am consumed and designed by limiting beliefs, they have as big an impact on those around me as on me. Here’s where I’m going with this. Remember that I spent the hours prior to my party focused on how people were going to judge me and how hard it would be to live up to the expectations (that I was making up)! How welcoming is that? More than questioning my ability to be a hostess, I was coloring the character of my guests. From the smallness of my limiting beliefs I was seeing my friends as judgmental shrews who were simply coming to see what I had done wrong. If that were true, you’d have to question my taste in friends! And its NOT true, they are incredible women.

Oh, the power of limiting beliefs! When I look at life through the lens of limiting beliefs I play small and I see a world of scarcity.

So what’s to be done about it? This is simple – be ready for it. What’s to be done? Just notice. Notice when the energy inside you is tense, hard and unpleasant. That’s the time to stop and look inside: How am I seeing the world? What am I making up? What is showing up as a belief – a truth – that is powerful but limiting?

Here’s the caution. Limiting beliefs will try to convince you that they are true–that I’m a lousy cook,or that my house is dumpy – that I’m not good enough and no matter how hard I try I’ll probably fail.

The real truth here? Limiting beliefs are the critical voices in our heads that we can say “no” to.

I mentioned noticing the energy. Here is how it works. if you notice tension or churning – that negative energy that makes what you are doing “un-fun” that’s it. – you’ve pinpointed it.

Here’s the good news – Just noticing begins to take its power away. Follow that noticing by a deep breath or 2 and relax. Breathe the tension away so you can remember what is good – what had you busy in the first place. In the case of my party it was my friends. They weren’t coming to critique my cooking or my house. They were coming to be together, to share a meal and engage in meaningful conversation.

What are the implications in leadership? Limiting beliefs would have us play small. They would have us make assumptions and judge others. Not good as a leader. Our job is to notice, breathe and turn our attention to what is important and quit follow the energy of the critic!

And so I repaired the sprinkler system myself!

Not to worry, this blog is not about DIY or about how to keep a well running lawn sprinkler system. It’s about limiting beliefs. Funny, it’s a theme that has been showing up for the last week or so–I guess it wants to be written about!

So the limiting belief here–I noticed a sprinkler head laying on its side–the belief: I’ve got to find someone to fix it. Now there’s a $200 reaction. So since I’ve been playing with limiting beliefs I decided to steer the challenge in the face and repair it myself. To make a long story short and to get to the actual point I can wrap that part of the story up by telling you it was really a simple repair and I got it done in a matter of minutes.

The real story is what is the impact of limiting beliefs? The reaction that, “I can’t do it!”? And if that’s not bad enough, that reaction comes with a feeling of helplessness and inadequacy. A limiting belief has me play small and often scared. Okay, okay, fixing a sprinkler system isn’t a life altering event. I get it.

What does have the potential of being a life altering, is becoming aware of the forces that would design us if we allow them–the critical voices in our heads that say, “you can’t do that!” When that voice shows up, I find that I am no longer a choice, I’ve become a victim. Limiting beliefs. Beliefs. What is it in your life you want to believe in? What is possible, or what is limiting?