People talk about the “terrible twos”, but there was nothing terrible about “two” for our family. Two was easy. Jeremy would joyfully do whatever we asked. He would eat what we put in front of him. Pick up his toys without argument or complaint. We were his heroes. Then he started to develop free will.
It’s that free will that will get ya every time.
I remember when he was three, my husband was so proud of himself for teaching his son how to “negotiate”. “It’s a lifelong skill that will set him apart,” he exclaimed. (Can you tell that we were new parents?) Now, at nine, Jeremy is a master-negotiator (although I suspect that it’s more innate and less a result of my husband’s brilliant teaching) and things around here have become much more challenging. Now, instead of joyfully doing whatever we ask, we get, “In a minute….” or “I don’t like it…” or even an occasional, “I don’t want to…” Parenting is the ultimate training ground on the planet for influence.
It’s not often that I rant on Facebook, but a few weeks ago the overwhelming need to expel my disappointment took over. I had been waiting patiently at a red light when a police car on the other side of the intersection, drove up. He apparently didn’t want to wait like the rest of the population is required to do, as when he reached the light he paused, turned on his flashing lights and simply crossed. It was clear that he wasn’t off to some emergency as once he was safely across, he turned of his lights and went on his merry way at normal speed. I see it all the time here – the “do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do” behaviors. Police cars making U-turns in the middle of the block on Main street and parked in front of fire hydrants while they’re sitting in the diner having breakfast. It makes me crazy. Aren’t these the people who should be modeling good behavior? (If you’re a native New Yorker I suspect you’re LOL as you read my naivete’.) We have expectations of those in charge – our leaders. When they don’t model what they’re saying, we notice.
So when Jeremy exercises his free will and I get frustrated and start channeling parents from across history in my reaction (“You’ll do it because I said so!”), both my son and I take notice. He shuts down and I feel horrible. At that very moment when I abandon influence and seize control by command I may have won the battle, but I’ve lost something much more important. When you don’t model what you’re saying you’re about, people notice. When you’re not being the person you know yourself to be, you can’t escape it.
Now I suspect if I were to rally other parents for support, the vast majority would come to my aide to arm me with with justifications and excuses around why it’s okay as a parent to occasionally yell at your child. “Totally understandable. We’ve all been there!” And so we have. And yet, how do we move collectively away from the behaviors that we know are incongruent with how and who we want to be and start moving toward our better selves?
Beating ourselves up doesn’t work. Just pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t work. Numbing our feelings with chocolate (insert numbing-tool of your choice: or carbs, or work, or exercise, or vodka, or the internet, or…., or….) is but a momentary fix and unleashes a cascade of other, even less-fun, side-effects. So what are we humans to do?
Maybe in a society riddled with finger-pointing and blame-shifting it’s aspirational, but I think the only authentic remedy is found in responsibility. Owning it. Owning our reactions, our behaviors, our incongruencies – however icky they may be. Taking responsibility for our mess and cleaning it up. If we have any hope of restoring the trust with the others involved and restoring our integrity with ourselves, we cannot afford to hide.
And so it is within our organizations. When incongruencies with our company’s mission are showing up in our decisions, when we sacrifice corporate values to justify “getting it done”, or react in frustration with those we lead, people notice. We notice. And if we’re up to great things we cannot afford to let it slide. The price is too high. The cumulative effect kills relationships, cultures, and results. Because it kills belief. Belief that what we’re doing means something. That our organizations stand for something. That we as leaders are up to something worthy of giving it all we’ve got.
Influence is different from command – different from force or coercion – as it implies choice. People get to choose if they want to be a part of what you’re doing, if they want to give you their best, and that doesn’t happen without trust. What I know to be true is that nobody on the planet gives their best because they have to – they give their best because they want to. If we want to make sure that the people in our organizations – including us – are being and bringing their best we must protect that fragile want with all we’ve got.
In the theatre, they call it “drama” for a reason. The stakes are always high. Every character is fighting for something and there are always massive obstacles in their way. But that’s what commands attention – the actors’ ability to focus their attention in the face of all the obstacles in front of them, and take action that is congruent with the character’s internal need. Action that makes their purpose visible. Without the obstacles, it would be boring. Without congruency they wouldn’t be believable. Presence falls out of congruent action in the face of the obstacles. In the face of what feels hard. That’s what makes you want to believe.
“Free will” is a massive obstacle. Our ability to focus our attention and take consistent action that is congruent with what our organizations claim to be and what we stand for as human beings in the face of this obstacle, is what gives us the presence to lead. It is what keeps the want alive.
Stephen Covey once said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
How can you make sure that your actions are consistent with who you are – with what you stand for? What do you need to do, what conversations might you need to have, to take responsibility for your reactions or incongruencies that might jeopardize the very thing you need most? Trust.
To bring out their best. To be your best.
Goodness knows it won’t be easy (I’m quaking in my boots in anticipation of puberty). But there are some things in life that are worth fighting for.
©OnStage Leadership, 2014; Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.
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