Over the years I’ve worked with many leaders who say they want to improve their skills and develop as people. Yet, I’ve often watched them struggle when creating, and especially implementing any list of behavioral action steps. Personal change, it seems, suddenly becomes reduced to a set of chores.
We all know about habit, comfort zones and private fears, but those perspectives can add up to one great big message about personal development, that it is always hard work. Always a matter of “accountability,” a forced discipline more than a natural unfolding, in essence a grind it’s hard to put one’s heart into.
Yet, and this has also been the case, especially when I’ve watched clients over a longer period of time — and watched myself in the same way, too, I guess — the shifts people make through their growth over time don’t go against the natural style of their personality so much as they open up or “resolve” those styles. This happens in a way that the person naturally has more capability in exactly the places he or she would most like to grow. I think of one client, for example, who has gradually learned to become better at standing up for his own perspectives and desires. In the beginning, his style turned off people more powerful than himself and also led to some failures in his work and challenges in his family life. But over time he has learned to take a more comfortable, open approach to presenting himself, and he’s become much more successful as a result. He continues to learn what he wants to learn and it helps him move ahead in the arenas he most values.
In a corresponding way, I also think of a client or two whose natural patterns of growth caused them to lose or withdraw from their jobs because their most natural learning curves were directed away from being a good fit in their current roles. These were folks who were told they had to change in some way that wasn’t actually congruent with their inner desires. Issues like sole performer versus manager, aggressive environment versus a politic one were involved.
If we took the perspective that we do have a natural, internal learning curve, then it seems that we ought to pay more attention to that than simply pushing ourselves for adaptation that’s not likely to hold anyway. If I’m not passionate, not excited about the changes, not feeling they somehow complete me or fulfill me in some way, why would I do it? And what chance would the action steps have to actually stick?
We have to go to another level. We have to know how we want to grow, not how we should. If I’m a senior leader, for example, and I’ve gotten a ton of feedback about needing to be a better delegator, but I don’t feel any energy really to learn to delegate other than to avoid losing my job, is that going to be a worthwhile learning effort? If there’s a sense of threat involved, it may not be a question of “Can I learn it?” so much as “Is this really me?” Tough question!
Not too long ago, I learned about a program to help oncologists talk to their seriously ill patients in ways that are more empowering for the patient and more empathic. It’s a great program, and when I asked more about the underlying learning model, what I found out from the principals is that the learning they designed deeply couples specific behavioral protocols to the feedback the doctors themselves ask for and want. And then the program goes a step further, to help the physicians link this learning to more fundamental and personal reasons they personally chose the profession. In other words, what the doctors learn in the program is what they actually wanted to learn not what they have to learn, and they also learn how to anchor it in their sense of personal purpose and passion for the profession they are in. I think that’s a pretty good model that builds on a positive assumption about the learners’ intentions rather than a negative one that builds resistance — for both the learners and those who are “teaching.”
It also calls out a responsibility to be scrupulously honest with ourselves. If the learning we need does not actually correspond with the learning we want, perhaps it’s time to go take a good long look at where our own inner passions really are and to ask ourselves, what am I excited about? If the answer is that it isn’t this learning, then there’s a need to unearth the real curve, the desired one, and perhaps begin to make a shift in circumstances, such as a change to a new job or profession.
That may sound a bit cold or naive, especially in this economy, or at odds with today’s institutional realities, but I’d like to believe it also opens up a question of self-empowerment and choice, things that transform fear of leaving a comfort zone into excitement, the kind that makes a good life — and a good society — truly possible.
Technorati Tags: Choices
Link to blog posting.
Link to Oestreich Associates website.
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