It's a good idea. Why haven't I done it yet?
I’ve been spending a lot of time this week trying to help my colleagues bridge a really difficult gap.
It’s the gap between what you rationally, academically know is a worthwhile thing to do and the REALLY hard step of actually changing behaviour. At work, it often takes the form of “We should really delegate out the ownership and responsibility of this work to a bigger group of people, but it’s too important/I’m the only one that can do it/time is too tight/it’s too nuanced for us to distribute this power.
A more common example of this is the advice to Be Authentic. Rationally, we know this is valuable. We know others will appreciate authenticity and actually gravitate towards authentic people. We know it will feel good for our sense of self and our own well-being. We know that if we aren’t authentic, we’re conforming. If we’re conforming, we’re unremarkable. If we’re unremarkable, we’re replaceable.
We know it’s good and it’s in our best interest to Be Authentic.
And it’s still hard to do.
Quite a few years ago, I was unhappy in my job. I was the boss of others. My job was to have even better answers than others around me. I had one of those magic titles that requires others to seek my approval and consent. I was also one of the approval-seekers when we looked up the chain. I didn’t agree with the system. I was certain that we were better if everyone’s judgement was accessible. However, I wasn’t speaking that truth. I wasn’t being authentic.
Here are some of the reasons it wasn’t easy to Be Authentic:
It wasn’t what I represented to get the job in the first place
A significant part of my identity and sense of worth came from The Current System
My bosses, peers and staff weren’t saying something was broken… why would I fix it?
My Mom said “why can’t you just be happy, like your brother?”
And horror of horrors, someone might say, “what’s gotten in to you?”
It took a while to fight those irrational defenses. One painful evening I finally convinced myself: “They’ll give you at least two warnings before they fire you.” [Spoiler: My satisfaction, contribution and value grew. I never did get one of these mythical warnings.]
From there, I started changing the operating rules for myself and in the interactions where I had influence. For example, instead of saying I had the right answer, I shifted expectations so that my staff were responsible for the right (and definitely better) answer. My role was coaching and support. I think more details about the changing relationship with my boss, my staff and myself are a different post. The point here is, taking the scary, notable, outward action to actually change your actions is hard. It’s worth isolating that challenge and defeating it.
I still get caught hesitating even though I know a valuable action. For example, I’ve intended to write this post for days and you’re only seeing it now. I don’t think the hesitation ever goes away. We can, however, get better at overcoming it. How?
Challenge our predicted negative outcomes, then challenge them some more. If that really unlikely thing actually DID happen, then what?
Negotiate with yourself to find a step, any step. Not taking any action is unacceptable. (This was originally supposed to be a video, but fraidy-cat Nevin and rational Nevin found a compromise.)
Remind yourself of the benefits. Not only do you know it’s the right thing to do, you also really want to get to an outcome. You don’t choose to Be Authentic because it’s theoretically good. You choose to Be Authentic [or insert your behaviour here] because you see it as an important, necessary shift towards some more meaningful outcome.
Do it for the data. Whatever stories we’re telling ourselves about what will happen, good or bad, will be much more accurate and informed after we have some practice and outcomes to work from.
Speaking of which, your feedback is valuable data for me. Good, bad or indifferent, I’d love to hear your response.