Dialogue on Leadership in Uncertain Times - Session 6

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Last year my client, JFM, went through the searing experience of being fired from her role as president of a medium-sized company. After a full year of unemployment she came into our last session confident that she was on the brink of securing a challenging position within an innovative brand in her industry. Although there was palpable relief at seeing "light at the end of the tunnel," she was, at the same time, wistful about the past year.

JFM: I look back at this past year with a certain kind of yearning. I was aware throughout this ordeal that I was going through something painful but special. Sometimes I wonder why I had to suffer so much in order to learn a lesson. But at the same time it is clear that, for the most part, I needed this wake-up call in order to change. I mean, who wants to change, really?

The biggest challenge of losing my job was having the patience and trust to sit in the uncertainty. It took discipline to not jump on the first job offer that came along or to do something to create structure, such as going to graduate school. But I wanted to wake up. I wanted to understand how I wound up being caught so completely off-guard. Looking back, I was in a situation where what I had to offer - my leadership - couldn't be received. I was unconscious of this at the time. I am not about to choose unconsciousness again. Going forward, I can sense that I am going to do things differently.

Jan: Yes, no doubt. Do you have a sense of why you were unconscious in the first place?

JFM: Because my situation was, in many ways, untenable and I did not want to face this.

Jan: What made your situation untenable?

JFM: I was filling a void for my Creative Partner. I was the only person whom he trusted; he was emotionally dependent on me in a certain way. At the same time, I was trying to be the president of the company and run his business. This was impossible because these roles were intrinsically contradictory.

Jan: What made these roles contradictory?

JFM: In my role as caretaker I saw his sadness, his vulnerability. In my role as president of the company I recognized that he was highly creative, but that he lacked certain critical skills to grow his brand. On the one hand, he trusted me enough to show me his vulnerability. But on the other hand, in business, he saw himself as all-powerful. He knew that I had skills he did not have, and he wanted my guidance, but at the same time he resented this, and so he pushed my guidance away. I would try and work around this resistance but this was cumbersome, and limited. So we were never aligned, and I now recognize that we would never have been aligned.

Jan: And so what, specifically, was the blindspot that prevented you from seeing this clearly at that time?

JFM: I stopped watching out for my own needs and focused on taking care of him. I kept thinking he needs me. When he wouldn't accept my help I would think, I'll just try harder, I'll try something different. Underneath this was a lack of self-confidence.

Jan: Yes, a lack of self-confidence that seemed to be expressed in a kind of arrogance: If I work hard enough I can change him, plow through his resistance.

JFM: Yes. I was fired for arrogance. This was never said directly, but it was implied. There were opportunities to collaborate with the board, which would have increased my effectiveness. But I wouldn't ask questions because I didn't want to appear to not know the answers.

Jan: Arrogance is a symptom of a lack of confidence; it is meant to draw our attention away from underlying feelings of inadequacy, much like the bravado of the wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Insiduously, we tend to seduce ourselves as well as those around us. Awakening to that underlying sense of inadequacy is essential in order to not go back to sleep.

JFM: Yes, my lack of self-confidence looked like arrogance, but at the time I realized this in only a vague way. This is what has changed. The entire meaning of what it means to 'be awake' has also changed for me; it is a huge undertaking. I have become acutely aware of how 'awake' we have to be in order to see what we are up to.

Jan: Yes, and when we begin to see what we are truly up to, humility naturally arises. Effective leadership is based on an accurate apprehension of the world around us, day in and day out. Our blindspots inhibit our capacity to perceive reality clearly; relative to our blindspots our perceptions become fixed. It is impossible to have an inaccurate self- image and perceive the external world accurately. Your arrogance - an inaccurate self- image - interrupted your ability to see how unsustainable your situation was.

We see the world with greater accuracy when we are able to monitor both what is happening within us and what is happening in the world around us, at the same time. This requires a broad field of awareness. It will be important in your new job to observe your lack of confidence - the way that it drives you and the symptoms that it creates. The awareness does two things - it gives you the option of not acting from this place, freeing you from behavior that is based on habit. And it begins to provide spaciousness around your lack of confidence so that this 'construct' about the self can begin to move and shift. The most powerful tool that we have for change is where we place our attention. By ignoring your feelings of inadequacy you actually locked them into a state of rigidity and contraction. Gently laying your attention on whatever is arising within you, without identifying too strongly with it, over time, invites change.