The Leadership Tool Most Leaders Are Scared to Use…

The author says that allowing yourself to sometimes be pulled instead of pushing in a direction can be a valuable skill for leaders to use.

As a Leadership Engineer and full time federal employee, I live in the same world as the people I most want to serve and support.  And for the past few weeks, it has been a real challenge.

For those of you who are familiar with my work, you know that I focus on the idea that when you are doing the work that you are ideally suited to do, the work that takes advantage of your highest “Gifts,” (the sum total of your skills, abilities, talents, experiences, desires, likes, dislikes, quirks, and so-called flaws) your unique natural leadership abilities will come out on their own to be gently tweaked and refined according to the needs of your role and your mission.

Well, I confess, recently I was having a hard time believing what I teach. In one instance I’d worked for hours on a project only to have it completely ignored. When I approached my supervisor to ask if he had questions or concerns, he simply said, “it isn’t on my priority list right now.”

About the same time I learned that my organization had recently changed their policy on tour extensions (something they frequently do but usually provide some generous loopholes), and this time there would be no consideration for extensions and no opportunity for discussion. These highlights were cherries on top of a new unit chief who was “in the shorts” of the first line managers to the point that they were refusing to exercise any initiative without specific instruction for fear of being reprimanded or second-guessed.  (Does this sound familiar?)

At the same time that I am feeling all of the frustration, disappointment, anger, physical fatigue, headache and muscle tension of working in that situation, I was also coaching clients.  Specifically encouraging them to notice how they were feeling (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually) because those feelings were indicators of alignment and clues to their best next steps.  Yet I couldn’t seem to do it for myself.   I felt like a hypocrite, a liar, and a fraud.  (Not a really good operating place for a leader, an employee, or a coach.)

That said, there are a few things I know without question:

  1. Life, especially the Conscious Leader’s life, is not a flat road.  Frankly, it is a road through the Himalayas. There are awe-inspiring peaks and deep, dark, cold valleys.  You can’t have one without the other.
  2. Every truly successful leader has a coach through whom the leader has committed to invest in himself. Sometimes the coach GUIDES the leader through the Himalayas, and sometimes the coach ALLOWS the leader to find her own way.
  3. Not every problem can or should be FIXED.  Some problems, much like a virus, just need to run their course.

My coach was deliberately “allowing” me to find my own way through an unrelated problem when I suddenly realized that I had the solution to both problems.  The solution was the one leadership tool that most leaders are scared…absolutely terrified…to use. The tool is called Stop Pushing.  Just stop.

Throughout our careers we’ve been taught that influencing others and having an impact on the mission is the hallmark of our success.  We go to classes to learn to set goals and develop action plans to achieve those goals.  We then take additional classes to learn to manage our time and increase our productivity.

In a different venue we learn that we should be happy and positive all the time so when we don’t feel that way, we push ourselves to “fix our attitude.”  We learn to push and push and PUSH.  The one thing that we don’t learn is WHEN TO STOP PUSHING!  What is astounding is that when we strategically learn to STOP PUSHING and allow ourselves to be PULLED, potentially in a direction that we might have initially judged as inappropriate, we see opportunities that never existed before.  Instead of resisting our efforts, exactly the right people become our partners, and everything that was impossible before becomes easy.

I should warn you that this is an advanced level tool.  That’s why most leaders are too scared to use it.  There is a big difference between abdicating your responsibility or “selling your soul to the devil” and strategically choosing to allow yourself to be pulled.  The art comes in knowing exactly what that difference is and when to use the tool.  These past few weeks were the reminder that I needed to take my own medicine and STOP PUSHING.

Some of you are wondering, “Exactly how do I allow myself to be pulled appropriately?”  Here are 5 questions to get you started:

  1. Is my vision, the change I want to see in the world, in the highest and best good of the world?  (You may define “world” in whatever way seems appropriate to you.)
  2. How has the world changed since I originally conceived my vision?
  3. Who do I have to become in order for my vision to become real?
  4. Am I willing to become that?
  5. Why or why not?

As you allow yourself to be pulled toward your answers to these questions, you will begin to notice opportunities, ideas, and resources that were not apparent to you before.  And, your unique Gifts will automatically rise to the surface.

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.