Stop trying to prove yourself!
We've all heard that we need to create a "Learning Organisation" and it's widely acknowledged that great leaders are voracious learners.
But if there's one thing that stops learning and your ability to change and adapt dead in its tracks. It's a mindset of proving yourself as opposed to improving yourself. Doesn't sound like much, but it's huge!
Let me give you an embarrassing recent example to demonstrate what I mean by that.
The H.I.P. Program
This year I booked into a skiing course called H.I.P. (High Intensity Program) for a week at Thredbo in the N.S.W. Alps. Skiing solid (with a few short breaks) from 9 till 3 each day for 5 days. I did it to improve myself. But guess what? As we were warming up and being assessed as to what class (level of expertise) to go into, I found I was comparing myself to the other skiers. "I'm better than him, wow she's great, oh my god he'll struggle." And so my focus was on showing others how great I was. Now maybe there's a time for that, but it's not while you're trying to learn.
Because as soon as judgement comes in with learning, you're pretty much stuffed.
What's the big deal with judgement?
As thinking increases, awareness decreases
Heightening awareness is vital to not only learning, but the joy you'll get from immersing yourself in the learning experience itself. If you are continually thinking whether you are "better" than others, your focus is taken away from the job at hand; developing awareness.
Let's draw on the work of Timothy Gallwey who's work includes "The Inner Game of Tennis", "Inner Skiing", "The Inner Game of Golf" and also "The Inner Game of Work". I love his simple model of awareness and learning. Here's what he says:
We have two selves, which he describes as "Self 1" and "Self 2" (funny about that).
Self One (First of course)
This is the part of you that tells you what to do, through that "little voice", an inner critic if you like. It's the analyser, the judger, and unless you're aware of it, it's never off, it can cripple you.
In sport for example, it's the part that says:
Golf - You should keep your head down
Tennis - You should follow through
Skiing - You should bend zee kneez
This is your inner wisdom part. The all-knowing, all-sensing part of you that just knows what to do. The part of you that doesn't judge or focus on what you should or shouldn't be doing.
I told you so!
Ever said that to yourself? The "I" in this sentence is Self One, the "You" is the Self Two you are telling. So your main job as a great learner is to...
Quieten the Voice of Self One (the one that keeps telling you what you ought to do)
Because its judgement and commands are just getting you down. And who is the "little voice" telling anyway? Well, it’s telling Self Two. And where do the criticisms come from? From yourself of course - Self One. So why does Self One tell Self Two something it already knows? (Best read that again.) Crazy, eh? Yet we do it all the time. A waste of energy and the start of an even bigger, more damaging vicious circle.
The need for external validation rather than intrinsic motivation.
Remember me on the slopes. My main problem was I needed others to see I was O.K. I needed them to tell me I was in the better group. I needed to be better than others (external validation) rather than...
Focussing on improving myself to my full potential. (Intrinsic Motivation)
This need for external validation is like a virus, it's everywhere.
The amount of energy in business that goes into people proving themselves is frankly quite sad and debilitating. Redoing PowerPoint presentations to look better than another individual, department or division; fudging the budget to look great compared to others; the emphasis people place on the need for acknowledgement by others (and I'm not just talking Gen X or Gen Y).
But surely, even if we are not aware, we will learn from our years of experience?
Well, unfortunately experience does not always equate to awareness and learning.
Years ago as a teacher I was introduced to a Principal who had been in the game for 40 years, but was disappointed at his unwillingness to challenge the status quo. As a new kid on the block I asked someone I trusted about the Principal and his somewhat entrenched attitude. Here's what he said: "Look, Tom's a great guy but he hasn't really had 40 years of experience, he's had 1 year of experience 40 times."
So doesn't experience count? Yes and no. You see, the quality of learning is in fact directly proportionate to the quality of feedback you get and the reflection you do, during and after the experience. And this requires, you guessed it, AWARENESS.
Because you can't change what you're not aware of
Is there any hope for me?
Absolutely! Here's a few awareness drills to work on that over time will dramatically improve your awareness and, as a consequence, your ability to learn and adapt, and your joy from life.
DRILL 1: "Just is"
Shakespeare really nailed it when he said "nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so". Be aware just how many times during the day you label "stuff", or reactions, or events as good or bad.
Want to take it further, become aware of how many times during the day you judge your own performance as "good" or "bad". And then look for more reasons to confirm your judgement. Because what gets in the way of awareness is thinking.
Thinking is the conceptualisation of awareness.
So just say to yourself "That's Interesting", no matter what happens, rather than judging is a great start.
DRILL 2: "Let go and let flow"
Have a goal, programme it into your mind, then let go of it and just focus on your performance, the process itself.
Say you're serving in tennis, don't TRY to hit it "in", you know you have to do that. (Self Two is a smartie.) Just hit the ball and have Self Two be aware of where the ball lands in relation to the target. (Yes, you'll need Drill #1 don't judge!)
DRILL 3: "1, 2, 3 it's as easy as ABC"
Back to skiing as an example. Say you wanted to be more “over your skis”, you could have “3” represent your shins pressing on the front of your ski boot, “2” represent over your skiis, and “1” represent the back of your calf on the boots. Once again no judgment, just an awareness of where you are in the moment, in the process and how it feels. (You can adapt this awareness drill for just about any routine in sport or business) And yes, singing ABC from the Jackson 5 really helps.
DRILL 4: "I'm a lumberjack and I'm all right"
Think less about your competition (external validation) and more about your own performance (intrinsic motivation).
Keep on comparing yourself to where you've been, where you are now, and what you, your team and your business are truly capable of. So what if you're beating your competition.
It's like being proud of your height in a tribe of pygmies.
DRILL 5: Look for the gold within
Stop trying to poach or hire your competitors. If they're available, or been let go, there's normally a damn good reason for it. Hiring your competition can (and I say can) sometimes indicate that you think the other guys/company have got their S#@% together more than you. It's the ultimate in External Validation. And you need them to show you the way rather than tapping into your own greatness and the joy of self improvement of your team (internal motivation) or as the Buddhists say; the change comes from within.*
*Call me about this, I've got the most wonderful joke about it, actually told to me by the great Robin Williams (how's that for external validation - bugger, there I go again.)
How aware are you as a leader?
Leading others requires a profound level of self-awareness. If you’re not aware of your values, beliefs and predisposed view of the world it can be difficult to divert your attention from proving yourself to others (and yourself) to improving yourself, your team and the business.
A leadership coach can be an incredible personal resource for increasing your self awareness, tapping into your strengths and strategically managing your vulnerabilities (everyone has them!).
The Human Enterprise offers a range of coaching options for the most senior leaders right through to those who find themselves stepping into a leadership role for the first time. Read more on our site or call us on (02) 9905 5535 to discuss your options with one of our leadership coaches.
So there we grow!
What a great day or evening you're going to have. Now every day is no longer going to be a day of Self-Proving, but a day (or perhaps even a lifetime) of "Self Improvement".
Never lose that childlike curiosity to learn new skills, do new stuff, meet new people, find new markets, discover new channels. As you and your team just get better and better and you remember just how great you really are! In fact, maybe the start of self improvement is "self remembering".
Don't forget to email me your feedback by replying to this email. The more responses, the more awareness I'll develop and the better these newsletters will get!
Yours in Transformational Leadership
P.S. Thanks Mum. My mum, who's almost 90 and carried the Olympic Torch in the 2000 Games, up until she broke her hip was recently learning to tap-dance. Thanks Mum for passing on a love of learning, it has been one of your greatest gifts to me and our children.