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I was coaching a client this week and he got emotional when talking about why he does the work that he does. He had forgotten why his work mattered to him. He had been phoning it in for a long time and getting back in touch with his reason for being moved him.
Just the session before we had discussed how he wasn’t happy and something was off. He was jumping from one responsibility to the next without fully diving in. He took whatever work was offered as long as the money was good. He was overwhelmed, spread too thin, and dropping the ball. I could see on his face that he was unraveled. I didn’t even know him that well and it was clear he wasn’t himself.
Between that painful session and the one we had this week he worked through some exercises that helped him get back in touch with some of his core values and his vision for himself. He then made critical choices about what to drop, what to walk away from and what to grasp more tightly. He got in touch with what mattered to him and saw that many of the projects he was working on, clients he was doing work for, and ways he was spending his time didn’t match up with what mattered to him and what he wanted. So he ditched all that stuff. He found his way again.
Unfortunately, too many professionals are in this same position. They have been on the hampster wheel so long that they have forgotten why they got into their career to begin with.
We schedule time to get our teeth cleaned, our cars serviced, and our hair cut, but when was the last time you sat down and mapped out the vision you have for yourself and whether the life you are living is in synch? Turning autopilot off and taking inventory instead is a worthwhile endeavor.
This summer I traveled with my kids to Weaverville, NC – technically we went to see my folks who have a house in Leicester, but I spent a large part of each day in Weaverville. That part of America is truly God’s Own Country in July and while I basked in the splendor that summer in the mountains brings, it was the reunion that I had with my best self that I most enjoyed and left the most lasting impression.
In Weaverville, I was a free as a bird, Grateful Dead listening, country road traveling, lattee sipping, fiction writing GODESS. I was carefree again as I traveled the winding mountain roads listening to The Dead, 10.23.80, New York, NY. I was cool again and spent my days developing characters and designing plot points at a local coffee spot. I was happy knowing that my suburban-city hybrid kids were busy with the business of being kids – breathing fresh air and getting their hands dirty at our local farm.
It was a much needed gift, but the experience did leave me wondering why I had to travel so far from home to access that side of myself. Why is it that at home I carry tension in my shoulders, need silence in the car, opt for the shortest route to my destination, get in line at the closest chain coffee drive thru, and struggle for creative inspiration? I am not alone in this. My husband is in his full glory sitting on his surfboard waiting for a wave. I have a friend in Boston who I witnessed surrender his daily preoccupations and hop around with enthusiasm only at an outdoor installation art-music festival. I see clients every day who access their kindest, most generous insightful selves only behind the closed doors of their offices in deep conversation during coaching sessions with me. On my way out the door I glimpse them reenter the common areas of their office with their business armor back on ready to correct errors, penalize mistakes, and reprimand with sarcasm. It is impossible for them to reveal their best self to their employees, clients, and colleagues.
I am determined to shed my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona. My hope is to integrate the divergent parts of my personality. Weaverville will always be there waiting for me, but It must be possible to go about the business of my life and also hold onto the parts of me that I like best right here at home. I know that maintaining my Alexa-ness makes me a better leader, coach, and entrepreneur. I imagine all of us are at our most impactful, profitable, and powerful when we bring our whole self into the world.
I was reminded recently of something I learned many years ago in an art history class as an undergrad. Our professor explained that in art women were most often depicted as either the Madonna or the whore. Time and time again women were painted as one or the other. Artist rarely exhibit women as something in between.
This dichotomy in art brought to mind all of the extremes that exist in the business world – how so many professionals don’t live in the wide swath of gray but rather hang out on the margins. Leaders are either too forgiving or too punitive. Managers are either too focused on the bottom of line or too worried about being friends with everyone. While the margins are to our detriment, we gravitate to them nonetheless. They are easy places to hang out. Trying to be moderate is hard. It doesn’t come to us naturally. Rather than challenge ourselves to do better – to make more of an impact, we retreat to our corners.
The Jewish holidays are upon us. This time of year is an opportunity for Jewish people to repent for our sins. This got me thinking about apologizing in the business context. Some leaders never say, “I am sorry.” Whereas others take ownership for all of the ills of the world. Both approaches fail. Effective, memorable leaders are able to apologize when the circumstances call for it, but are able to recognize when they are not to blame.
When it comes to apologizing (and to most other important business skills) successful people are tightrope walkers, suspended in the gray space where work that matters happens. It is an extraordinary event to witness, breathtaking and memorable, but rare indeed.
Conventional wisdom dictates that leadership consists of commanding (attracting the respect and attention of) those people from whom you seek compliance. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that leadership means telling (ordering, directing) the minions what to do and how to do it with no regard for the input or feelings of others.
Hugh McLeod recently and brilliantly wrote, “The thing about conventional wisdom is that it’s often the lowest common denominator.” Why mention that here? While the masses may agree that a commanding leadership style is the hallmark of a powerful leader, the masses have missed the mark.
Parents, generals, and Greek gods likely can get away with a commanding approach on occasion. However, when employed by mere mortals like us, the “do it because I say so” approach ends in passive resistance, rebellion, or exodus. If this seems worth considering, read on here.
*As this post applies to all professionals, substitute the word “professional” for all references to “lawyer” and remove the phrase “in the legal profession.” That should do the trick!
Humans have the ability to draw conclusions and make associations at lighting fast speeds. And, a smart professional like you likely excels at shortcutting the thinking process. At this stage of your life, you have a treasure trove of information stashed away. You regularly tap into this arsenal of data to determine quickly which end is up.
Sounds great, right? Throughout your life you amass information. Later you can turn to these life lessons to streamline your methods of analysis and decision making when needed. Very efficient, very smart, what’s wrong with that? EVERYTHING.
To move ahead professionally, it is critical that you regain your ability to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. The know it all, seen it all, done it all approach limits you. If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, read on here.
*Please note that while this post was originally written for attorneys, it does in fact apply to all professionals. Simply substitute the word “professional” for all references to “legal”, “attorney,” and “lawyer.” That should do the trick!
As it turns out we are neither the most discerning judge of our own character nor the most reliable arbiter of the facts. The truth is that we do not see ourselves accurately and are much more likely to point out the flaws of others and assign blame. This tendency amounts to a professional dead-end.
The first step on the path of self-improvement and limitless success is a solitary one. The only relevant inquiry is along the lines of, “What did I do wrong?” and “How can I improve?” If this line of reasoning resonates for you, read on here. *
*Please note that while this post was originally written for attorneys, it does in fact apply to all professionals. Simply substitute the word “professional” for all references to “counselor”, “attorney,” and “lawyer.” That should do the trick!