“The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself. The other problem is that our hang-ups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.”
– Pema Chodron, The Wisdom of No Escape
Mary is an excellent CEO: Visionary, calm in a crisis, great strategic thinker, courageous, inspiring. She is deeply committed to a participative leadership style, resulting from a desire to not be arrogant and a core belief that participation leads to commitment, innovation and brand advocacy on the part of employees. Her style has served her well in a time of relative industry and firm prosperity. More recently, a looming industry crisis has challenged Mary to become more directive and more forceful about holding her team accountable for achieving planned results. While she intellectually understands the need to change, it doesn’t come naturally. Acting forcefully is requiring her to behave in ways contrary to her core beliefs and feels very uncomfortable.
Deepak has succeeded in turning around a company struggling with poor quality and weak financial results. He has replaced nearly all the members of the leadership team he inherited and has taken a very directive, hands on approach to turning the company around. Deepak has been criticized at times for being a micro-manager, but the results speak for themselves. The challenge for Deepak, now that the firm is growing again, is offering the autonomy his high performing executives need without putting the gains that have been made at risk. The letting go process is a difficult but necessary transition.
Pema Chodron’s quote offers both a warning and a path forward. Mary and Deepak have been successful because of the “wealth” inherent in their personalities and leadership styles. Trying to change their fundamental make-up will create internal resistance and make change difficult or impossible. On the other hand, persisting in using their natural preferred style puts them at risk of failure.
What is required of Mary and Deepak is leadership versatility, the ability to intentionally modify one’s leadership style to meet the needs of the situation. Versatility does not mean giving up one’s preferred style. Instead, it requires overcoming internal fears (in this case of being arrogant or weak) and persisting with learning new behaviors even when it feels “wrong”.
Becoming more versatile requires recalibrating a leader’s internal leadership “tachometer”. A leader who is fearful of being arrogant will “red line” when she starts to act more forcefully, even when her behavior is objectively well within acceptable parameters. Similarly, a forceful leader “red lines” his threat tachometer when he risks giving up control even when close supervision is no longer required. In both cases, change requires Mary and Deepak to learn that their internal tachometer is over-sensitive and to consciously become skeptical of the feedback it is offering.
If improving your leadership versatility as a CEO is a priority, a Bailey Group (TBG) CEO Advisor or Executive Coach is a must! Your TBG Advisor will help identify the situations when versatility is required and the necessary new behaviors. And, your coach will help you to hold yourself accountable for the behavior change (without beating yourself up). Set up a free consultation now!