Friday, March 13, 2009

Are You Like Jack - In the Box?

I'm just re-reading a really important book right now called Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute and the first question that comes to my mind upon picking this up again is, who is reading this book?

In my experience as a leadership and communication consultant who is committed to personal and workplace transformation, I can think of lots of people who "should" read this book, including one of my first clients who hired me when I first started this gig to "fix" a few of his people.

As I worked with those people to develop personal coaching plans with them, it occurred to me that no one had ever really listened to them at work. As I spent time with them individually, the common denominator in their dissatisfaction was their leader, which we all know if we're even a little self-aware, indicates that that leader has a lot to teach each of those people about themselves.

So during my conversation with each of them, we developed an individual plan for them knowing full well that they couldn't change the leader, only themselves. I went back to the leader and asked him the same questions I had asked his employees about what he would like to do for his own development. His answer? Fix his people! According to what I'm reading in this book, he was really "in the box."

According to this book, "in the box" means having a problem I don't think I have - a problem I can't see. When I can see matters only from my own closed perspective, and feeling deeply resistant to any suggestion that the truth is otherwise, I end up in a box - cut off, closed up, blind.

Another way to say that is that I am deceiving myself - I am unable to see that I have a problem.

According to the story in this book, the fictional company Zagrum's top strategic initiative is to minimize individual and organizational self-deception.

Sounds like a great idea ... but, going back to the first question I asked here, who's reading this book? Probably not those who have the problem.

How is it that people wake up to the knowledge that whenever they have a problem in their lives, they are there for it? Any personal or organizational problems are the result of self-deception, which leads to justification, and eventually collusion, which keeps the cycle going.

So the first step is to recognize the distinction between what we DO in our lives, which varies tremendously from day to day and from person to person, and who we BE in our lives, which comes down to two ways only.

The first way of BEING is to see people as they are - as people. Seeing them as people, according to this book, I am responsive to their reality. As responsible adults, it would seem that this is the choice we make when we are able to respond to people's concern, hopes, needs, fears.

The other way of BEING is to see people as objects. If I see people as objects, I am resistant to their reality. Seeing people as less than they are, I am deceived about their reality.

The biggest challenge I see in getting this information into the world more quickly, is that traditionally in our workplaces, being "responsive" has meant being "soft," and being "resistant" has meant being "hard."

We even call these "soft skills" and "hard results." But if we really take a look at the RESULTS of each of these ways of being, it becomes evident rather quickly which way works best.

Seeing me as a person, someone compliments me. (SOFT) Seeing me as an object, someone compliments me. (HARD) Do the compliments feel the same to me? Or consider how different it feels to be corrected by someone who sees me as a person compared to someone who sees me as an object.

Whatever I DO on the surface, people respond to who I am BEING when I am doing it.

What is the BEING underneath the DOING in your own life? We are the ones we can change ... and, remarkably enough, we are probably the ones we have been waiting for!


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