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Making things harder than they need to be

Average reading time – 4 minutes

I understand more than ever that one of the most significant things affecting our sense of “busyness” at work is us. And when I say us, I don’t me the collective. I’m not talking about our team, colleagues, friends and family.

I mean us as the individual. What I think and my subsequent actions have an impact upon my “busyness” and stress levels.

What you think and do is the most significant thing affecting your productivity and the impact that you have as a leader. It also has a huge impact on your enjoyment of life.

So far, so obvious I hear you say.

I read a phrase around 18 months ago which has been burned into my brain ever since. It spoke to me so deeply that I have it as one of the guiding principles that I strive to live into.

“What part am I playing in creating the situation that I say I do not want?”

The short yet hard answer to this question is that I am always playing a part in creating that which I say I do not want.

There is of course a longer, easier answer to this question. This is the story we tell ourselves, and all those around us, when we are operating in victim or villain mode. This is the narrative that says it’s all them, it’s not me and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

However, when we are in leader mode, when we are operating from a position of truth and honesty with a genuine growth mind-set, we can see that much of what we don’t want is in fact generated by us

Let’s look at a familiar work situation…

Imagine there is a colleague called Sarah and for whatever reason, you have decided that you really don’t like her. Perhaps you have made some judgements about Sarah based on your previous interactions with her. Maybe Sarah did or said something to you or one of your team and you’ve created your own meaning from this (which of course may or may not be true).

Now imagine that Sarah has asked you to do something for her. Because you do not like the messenger, it’s likely that you’ll react in a certain way. You may point blank refuse to help; you may consciously take an opposing position and go to great lengths and efforts to persuade her to approach the task in a different way. Worse still, you may go into passive-aggressive mode and do as she asks, but doing the bare minimum and doing it as slowly as you possibly can.

But the thing is, what she is asking may be entirely reasonable. It may be a brilliant idea. But because you dislike the messenger, you dig in for a protracted war of attrition.

Sarah’s response to this is predictable, if not emotionally driven and perhaps irrational. She retaliates by not doing something you’ve previously asked of her or de-prioritising it. Next time you need something from her, she responds in exactly the same way that you responded to her request.

And so the cycle continues. Until that is, we stop and ask the question:

“What part am I playing in creating the situation that I say I do not want?”

Once again, we can operate from victim mode and tell ourselves that it’s not our fault and that they started it. They are the one that needs to change!

Or, we can operate from villain mode, adopting a win/lose mind-set. We can continue to seek to make ourselves look good whilst making the other person look bad.

Whichever of these positions we adopt, one thing is certain. We are making things harder than they need to be. We are depleting our energy reserves and that of those around us. We are creating a counter-productive and toxic culture that according to Emotional Contagion theory, spreads as rapidly as the common cold virus.

The alternative is to be the hero and respond in leader mode. We can accept that we are in fact playing a part in creating the very situation that we are complaining about.

We can choose to be a leader, being true to our values and understanding the impact that our actions have. We can choose to focus on the ideal outcome that we want and refuse to let our ego and pride dictate our response.

The Stoic’s called this Kathekon and the direct translation is “Simple appropriate actions on the path to virtue”.

Or to put it another way, it is about the appropriate behaviours or befitting actions (of a leader).

So, next time you slip into victim or villain mode simply ask yourself;

“What part am I playing in creating the situation that I say I do not want?”…

…and then strive to live-into to the principle of Kathekon.


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