Being in business, regardless of the position or title, brings us face to face with choice points. It’s nonstop! Exploring what it is that has us choose what we choose gets us closer to what it is that motivates us to be who we be and do what we do. It clarifies why our professional and personal life is what it is and not something different. It explains why, regardless of our ambition, education and experience, we just aren’t getting ahead.
If there was only one thing I’d like to get across to all of my corporate clients it’s that the personal is the professional and the professional is the personal. How we be in our personhood, our humanity and life in general is how we be in our professional world as well – always and everywhere.
Within any organization’s walls, how one chooses what they choose to choose is most likely how they choose to choose in every other context of their lives. Though the content may be different the process by which they choose is consistent across the board.
We choose based on some fundamental principles, though these principles will differ from person to person. We choose based on:
- “This is how it’s always been done so that’s what I’m choosing to choose now.” Limiting parameters limit our ability to choose to think outside the box. We can’t choose differently because we don’t know that there is something else to choose; that there is a box to think ourselves out of.
- What we are afraid others may find out or decide about us. More people than you can imagine operate from this principle. We source our identity from a decision we made a long time ago – perhaps when we were only four years old, when we found ourselves inadequate to bring about conditions we saw necessary, given the context of our little lives. With this assessment of our limitations comes the fear that we will be found unworthy and unlovable, humiliated and rejected. At this point, we begin cultivating survival strategies that have us avoid being humiliated or rejected by listening for what other people want and need. Based on our own interpretations (as a four year old) we go about fulfilling those needs and wants. Again, more people than you can imagine limit their professional development because they are operating from an immature emotional guidance system, which keeps them choosing based on fear. People with greater degrees of emotional intelligence choose based on the needs of the organizations, not based on fear.
If I continue to choose from a fear-based model, which I developed when I was four years old, I know I’ll remain safe and invulnerable to attack. The consequence of this choice is that I also can’t have what I want, because I’m limiting how I will choose to choose what I choose. If I choose differently I open myself up to vulnerability; however, I’m more likely to cultivate the capacity to be with attacks – not being devastated by them, as I always imagined it to be. I can’t grow myself professionally and I can’t grow the company if I continue to operate from a belief that I made up as a child.
- It’s all about me! It’s not uncommon to hear clients say: “Though I said I was a team player and joined this company to further its growth, I’m really only in it for my own personal gain. I choose to choose based on what will bring about the highest visibility of my efforts and will get me the promotions I’m seeking.”
- I choose to be a team player, listening for what others want. I don’t contribute any new ideas for fear of being found out that I’m inadequate. I hate to be ridiculed, so I avoid any possibility for that happening, even if it means not getting promoted.
Frankly, we are all in it for personal gain; however, this can mean different things to different people. Personal gain can be related to security, stability and safety, to gaining recognition and rewards, to gaining freedom, fun and flexibility. We never know until we begin to distinguish what it is we are wanting from our life in general and our professional life, specifically.
- What’s in the best interest of the organization? A client may say: “I can see my own limitations and inadequacies, and based on the fear of being found out I can hide out in other peoples vision, and limit the fulfillment of my personal and professional vision. Inevitably, I limit the fulfillment of the organization’s vision. At the same time I know that there are ways of being that will advance the initiatives I believe in. In alignment with those initiatives I ‘m willing to be open to possibility, though this may mean being open to ridicule; I will be assertive with my opinions and ideas, though this may mean someone asserting that I’m inadequate; I’m willing to be expansive in cultivating my repertoire of possibility, though this may lead to being found out as silly, ungrounded and unstable.
What needs to be in place in order to support a breakthrough of this dilemma? Trust!
Trust is foundational to any change process. If you don’t trust the organization, your execs and managers, even those who are your peers, you won’t choose to choose differently – it’s too risky! If you don’t trust yourself to have what it takes – an adequate amount of skills, experience, knowledge, and most importantly, self-trust, you won’t take even baby steps toward your desired goal.
Just as an experiment, notice where there is a similar choice making process occurring in your personal life and professional life. Perhaps, for example, you’ll notice that how you speak to your direct reports is the same way you speak to your children or your partner. This can be a fascinating exploration; one that will contribute to your capacity to choose differently and more in alignment with what you really want.
—This article is contributed by Dr. Rosie Kuhn, founder of the Paradigm Shifts Coaching Group, author of Self-Empowerment 101, and creator and facilitator of the Transformational Coaching Training Program. She is a life and business coach to individuals, corporations and executives.