In our first exchange of the day, John shared how leadership was lacking in his organization.
When I invited him to tell me the story behind it he described the situation by naming a range of problems. I used some of them to ask for a detailed description. That’s when he came to share his concern.
The first interaction was there to vent his frustration. The story helped him describe what he wanted to talk about. It was with his detailed description that we started to see where our work could take place.
People want to be useful.
In the professional world, they have learned that competence is a way to show how to be useful. In the past leadership has been about providing answers, it taught people to prove their competence by explaining what needs to be done.
In doing so, people focus on providing solutions or conclusions.
This can work when it is the moment to act.
It doesn’t work well when the task is to understand where and how to act. By slowly working back from the solution John was seeing to the space where he could name his concern we removed the layers of conclusions and automatic answers he had built up in his frustration.
It helped see what had led to his concern. But it also showed his exasperation that things were not working out as he had hoped for.
By naming problems and needs he was naming his frustration. By naming solutions he was hoping to get rid of his frustration. His anger had served him well as it was telling him that it was time to act.
But it was understanding his concern that helped us see where to act. His fear had helped him collect the information he needed to see his options.
The challenge in such a situation is to contain the frustration long enough to avoid being hooked by it and to use it to assess the situation until the real problem emerges. It’s not easy as fear and anger both are emotions people find hard to stay with. They invite a fight or flight reaction.