January 6, 2020

Before Making New Year’s Resolutions, Explore Your Unconscious Commitments

It’s the dawn of a new year – heck, it’s the dawn of a new decade – so new year’s resolutions will be in full force.

Yoga classes will get more crowded, there will be a line for treadmills at the gym, thrift shops and libraries will exhaust their supplies of old magazines as vision boards are built, and my usual complement of friends on cleanses will spike. 

I’ve been anti-resolution for quite some time. In part, I find these resolutions constricting and a bit self-judgmental. In addition, with some of the recent events happening in my life, my main intention is simply to be here, smiling, engaged, alive (in every sense).

My conscious leadership executive coaching clients get a feel for the disservice of resolutions fairly early on in their immersion in the principles of conscious leadership. As we’ve shared before, and one of my teachers and partners, Kaley Klemp, shared in her brilliant TEDx Talk: the most critical step in shifting or growing through a core pattern is acknowledging our unconscious commitments to the behaviors and results we’ve been creating.

The best way to know what you’re actually “resolved” to do or be is to look at exactly what you are and who you’re being right now.

In order to shift these core elements of our personal operating systems we need to understand them better in both broad strokes and the day-to-day details. Our friends at the Conscious Leadership Group call this concept of unconscious commitments our “hidden icebergs.”

Lately, I’ve had two clients get really clear on how committed they’ve been – unconsciously – to one of their core patterns.

Client 1: A recipe for an unconscious commitment to be deferential

This client, a head of product for a fast-growing tech company, and I have been working together on his unconscious commitment to being deferential. To give him more understanding of how this shows up for him day to day, I asked him to give me a quick lesson on how to become a master deferential leader in just the way he does it. The goal of this exercise is to increase awareness, to see the shady motivations show up in a core pattern, and to gain more choice over how one appears in leadership with more awareness of how a core pattern can become undermining.

When we acknowledge unconscious commitments and dig in deeper to get clear on all the ways we solidify and reinforce our unconscious commitments, we gain the ability to spot ourselves in the less-productive aspects of our pattern in the smallest details. We see our unconscious commitment in practice and gain a greater facility to interrupt it by noticing the minutiae that underlies it.

My client did that deep dive and now, for your pleasure and edification, here’s how you can become a master deferrer in exactly the way my client does it. Some of these may sound familiar to you: 

  • If anyone calls out a deficiency or something you did wrong, immediately deflect with a joke.
  • If someone comes to you with a tough question, immediately tell them to ask who you think should make the call (and not you).
  • When asked about something you have not planned, do not lead with your instinct but deflect to make a plan and get others’ opinions first.
  • Any time a revenue-facing item comes up, do not evaluate its size or importance. Drop everything and work it.
  • When entering a foreign place (somewhere with people you don’t know), hold back to observe.
  • If you have a plan that is going to rock the boat, first shop it around to people and get them on board.
  • If someone pushes back too strongly, don’t challenge. Assume they have done more prep and go with their recommendation.
  • If arguments occur, don’t let them continue. Look for mutual ground to bring consensus and closure as quickly as possible to stem confrontation and find the quickest path to resolution.
  • If you get a phone call from a C-Suite or anyone in sales, interrupt whatever you are doing – no matter what it is –  in order to answer as quickly as possible so you can help.
  • When the business needs trump your personal career path needs, always put your personal plans to the side to serve the business.  Business success always trumps personal success.
  • If parts of your role are given to others, don’t challenge or ask for better training so you can do them, ask yourself why they were given away and then learn from whomever they were given to.
  • When you are in a conflict situation or a new place and you have the choice to either adapt to the situation or push for change, always adapt!  
  • Hold your opinions loosely – everyone else’s are more important than yours.
  • If you miss a deadline, immediately think of all the ways you could have given up more of your personal time to achieve it, beat yourself up over it, and push harder next time.
  • If someone else misses a deadline, immediately think of all the ways their personal life could have caused them to fail to achieve it and empathize with them.

Client #2: A full understanding of all the benefits of holding the value of inclusivity as sacred

I asked another client to do a similar exercise. She’s a newly minted CEO of a growing company, and set an intention to be more inclusive. She built the concept into her company’s core values. Although her personality is forceful and execution-focused, she made a conscious commitment to succeed in this new role, in large part by being more inclusive. As her coach, I noticed something that caused me to pause: I found that her focus on inclusivity and the extent of it might be holding her and her company back from extremely ambitious growth goals. This focus also felt a little out of alignment with her greatest strengths as a leader.

I broached this observation with my client, and she got it right away. As we do in conscious leadership, I asked her to dig into her commitment to being an extremely inclusive leader so she could understand that commitment from all sides – the positive and the negative aspects. She understood that she was getting benefits in her role from being inclusive, but she also saw quickly that any value taken beyond its useful extent can become a liability to a leader.

To really get the costs of a potentially over-rotated commitment to inclusion, I asked her to share all the benefits she gets from being an inclusive CEO. This is no easy exercise, but as you’ll see, my client nailed it with a smile, a bit of irony, and a spirit of play instead of self-flagellation.  

What I get from being inclusive:

  • I get to feel like a good person
  • I get to not be the “mean girl”
  • I get to be included myself
  • I get to point to “shared decisions” if something goes sideways
  • I get to feel good about giving people opportunities to grow
  • I get to benefit from broader points of view
  • I get to “stay on top of” what’s going on
  • I get to feel heard
  • I get to expect people to share their thinking
  • I can be nosy while feeling morally superior
  • I can leave people to “figure it out themselves” under the guise of giving them leadership opportunities
  • I can tell people what to do while having the cover of having gathered input
  • I can put off tough calls because I haven’t turned over every rock yet
  • I can always schedule another meeting to learn more

This is stellar work. You’ll see some really beautiful benefits. My favorite is that by being inclusive, my client gets to be included. You’ll also see some sneaky shadow-side benefits like delaying decisions as well as being both nosy and morally superior at once. 

Now that my client knows the potential pitfalls of inclusivity, she can hold the concept more lightly. Inclusion continues to be a core value for her and the company, but she is holding it more loosely. It’s an ideal, not a sacred cow. She is making the value of inclusion as applied to specific circumstances more a matter of choice than a moral imperative.

Now, these two clients might be facing the question of their resolutions for 2020. They may be ready to set intentions to be more aware of the prevalence of their tendency to defer and their over-rotation toward inclusivity. In my world, they would not be credibly ready to shift those patterns without understanding and accepting them for making them the leaders they are and for, at times, limiting their growth.

Ready to set your 2020 intention? Before you do, take a look at something you’ve been unconsciously mastering in order to fully understand the costs, benefits, and persistence of the sneaky underbelly of your positive intent.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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