The Trap of Over-activity
The sun hasn’t yet risen as I awake to embrace another morning in another hotel in another city other than where I reside. On Friday morning, it occurred to me that I have been home for exactly 3 weeks since November 30. You do the math; it’s a lot of time to be away. And I board yet another plane this afternoon after a brief 24-hour hiatus at home.
Friday morning. I had just finished my sunrise meditation. Sitting at the edge of the king-sized bed at the Hyatt Regency Houston, I took another deep breath as I began to contemplate my schedule for the day when I looked down to the right and there beside me was Joseph Jaworski’s book, Synchronicity: The Inner Path to Leadership (First Edition). I had placed the book at the bottom of the bed earlier that morning so as not to forget to re-pack it into my briefcase.
I picked up the book, examining its cover as if I was seeing it for the first time. I decided to open the paperback and laughed out loud as I discovered where I had landed amongst its wisdom-filled chapters. The first page I turned to was Page 127. And right there — in the middle of that page — were these words: “The Trap of Over-activity”.
Smiling with gratitude, I read the passage for probably the hundredth time, knowing this wasn’t some chance occurrence. In that moment, these paragraphs were meant for me – a reminder, underscoring a lesson I have too often set aside because…
For the reason that I’m “too busy”…
In this passage, Joseph shares with us the third major trap he encountered when forming the American Leadership Forum. Operating on all four cylinders, he writes about how he became “more bogged down in detail” with management decisions – logistics, hiring people, firing people, meeting payroll – juggling all of the little details that come with a growing organization. Being forced to operate at a pace he felt to be uncomfortable, Joseph felt the pressure to produce. And this came with a great deal of anxiety and restriction – unlike the freedom he had felt from the clarity of purpose he had experienced in the earlier days when ALF had not yet become a reality.
When we are too busy – when over-activity prevails and multitasking becomes the norm – when our pace becomes chaotic — we become less clear and cohesive. As Jaworski puts it, the trap of over-activity “can manifest most painfully in having people in the organization who are not aligned with the dream, resulting in deep incoherence.”
As I considered these words, I was immediately brought to the principles of Generative Dialogue. Individuals coming together to create an environment where the cadence is slowed. Where there is room for silence. And pauses. Where there is space to listen in a way that words are both felt and understood – a mindful setting where you notice your internal reactions to others’ statements and through that suspend your own judgments and expectations.
Slow. Pause. Suspend. Listen.
Each and every one is counter-intuitive to over-activity. And great reminders to all of us (myself included) about how to build coherence and balance between your external world and your internal purpose.
- So hit that pause button every once in a while.
- Slow down and take a moment (or two) for yourself.
- Suspend your inclination to schedule back-to-back “anything’s”.
- And Listen to your heart; it already knows what to do.
The key to overcoming the trap of over-activity is to do your inner work. If you don’t have the discipline to stay anchored, you will eventually lose your flow (coherence). That’s why the practice of Dialogue is so important; it is the practice of bridging the outside world to your internal purpose. Over and above that, taking time to come together in Dialogue on a regular basis gives people an opportunity to maintain a reflective space where they can continue to be re-nurtured and reminded of what lies within their hearts.
Part 2 – The Trap of Dependency
You’ve defined your organizational purpose. You have a plan. You’ve convened your team. Things have been going great; everyone’s enrolled in the project and working together in harmony. Then — all of a sudden — with seemingly no warning at all — your top person announces she is leaving the firm.
While your star employee has a very reasonable explanation for why she is joining the competition, whether you are conscious of it or not, uncertainty sets in. Why is she really leaving? Having been in the company for more than a decade, she was completely engaged and committed to the cause. Did I do something to offend her? Are other people going to leave?
Fearful that other key players may also depart, you begin to compromise. You don’t call things as they really are; you’re not as straightforward with people for worry that you will upset them. You tend to walk on egg shells instead of speaking from your center. You’ve become stuck in the belief that you need this particular person for your project (and your company) to survive.
This is the trap of dependency and it can stop us cold if we’re not careful. Like a string of lights, you believe that if your brightest bulb burns out, the whole string will fail, leaving a dark gaping hole in the center of your dream.
The trap of dependency stems from feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. In any relationship – business or otherwise – we become dependent upon certain people, feeling as if we cannot survive without them; especially when we have been in long-term and meaningful relationships with that person. Instead of being flexible and looking for new alternatives, we remain fixated on the original plan, holding on to the idea that nothing can move forward if that person is not involved. And the longer you hold on to this fixation, the harder it becomes to shift direction.
When we are in the process of creating something, we must have the flexibility of mind to move with what needs to be done. But in what way do we overcome this inflexibility? By recognizing our attachment to the how. Remaining stuck to how we thought things would happen is exactly what holds us back from the very thing we are trying to create. As Joseph Jaworski states in Synchronicity, “It’s a little bit like sailing. If you’re focused on your course rather than your destination, you’re in big trouble. If you were to be blown off course, you would never simply return to the course you were on. Rather you would focus on the destination and set a new course. But that’s not how we live our lives. We get attached to our assumptions about how things should get done and we lose sight of what we’re trying to create.”
The Value of Suspending Assumptions
In Generative Dialogue, when you suspend your assumptions, you honor the passion that underlies every other participant’s perspective. No one is asked to give up his views nor is anyone imposing her views on to another. No one is requested to remain silent or asked to suppress emotional reactions in a moment of heated disagreement. The assumptions simply “hang” in the middle of the room available for everyone to question and explore as if suspended on a string right in front of them.
Suspending assumptions begins with awareness of what those assumptions are. Once realized, suspending them is a difficult stance to learn because of that fact that they are so closely tied to your deepest beliefs and values. When challenged, the feelings closest to our heart are being confronted; and our immediate response is to defend them. In this, we tend to protect our assumptions from examination because of the identity we ascribe to them.
The key is to see difference as an opportunity – as David Bohm would say, discover the difference that makes the difference. If you can do this, you will also understand that inherent in the willingness to suspend assumptions comes with it a sense of sureness. If your deepest beliefs are worthwhile, they will withstand thoughtful inquiry. If they are not — with continued practice — you’ll become open enough to re-examine them.
Part 3 – The Trap of Responsibility
Miriam Webster’s Dictionary describes responsibility as a duty, an obligation, or a burden. And being a good leader comes with a strong sense of responsibility; right? Yet by mere definition, this can create a trap.
I believe it was Yeats who said, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” I consider this to be true because with dreams comes unlimited possibilities — new realities – and in that place the seed of responsibility begins to take root. This is what I imagine Yeats meant by his words. And yet I believe that perhaps many of us see things a bit differently.
In Joseph Jaworski’s book, Synchronicity, he speaks of the first trap he fell into when he was founding the American Leadership Forum. At one point early on, Joseph came to the realization that his dream had become a reality. And with that realization, it hit him – all these people who had been drawn to ALF – to this dream – were depending upon Joseph, giving him a tremendous sense of responsibility for everyone involved. This became a focus. And that focus later became a fear, leading to obsessive worry and sweat-filled panic attacks in the middle of the night.
As I reflect upon Joseph’s vulnerable sharing in Synchronicity, I am brought to my own thoughts over the years about what it means to be responsible in my personal life and in my professional life. As a parent. And as a leader.
In terms of business, it’s true that leaders need to be responsible for setting the ethics and patterns that govern the behavior of the people in their organization. But this starts from within and involves willingness. It is from that willingness that leaders then expand upon what they have set by communicating a sense of purpose for the organization; by articulating their moral points of view; and by demonstrating and reinforcing appropriate behaviors.
The responsibility a leader is therefore first to himself. It involves a willingness to accept and through that acceptance, a commitment to develop his inner state so as to become a living example for his organization, encouraging and supporting his people to become the best they can be.
At some point in our life, each and every one of us comes to the same understanding: that we need to accept full and total responsibility for our thoughts and actions – everything we have done. And everything we have not done.
That’s where accountability comes in.
Again, referring to the Miriam Webster Dictionary, accountability means a willingness to accept responsibility. And while some may suggest I’m getting caught up in semantics, the nuanced difference between responsibility and accountability sets them worlds apart for me.
I can truly understand how we can tend to get stuck in the trap of responsibility where our duties and obligations become burdens. We’re so focused on what’s outside of us that we neglect to pay attention to what is inside. You need to meet payroll. You have stakeholders to satisfy. The people who work for you have mortgages to pay and families to feed. Everything is dependent upon you, weighing down your shoulders, causing you to feel overwhelmed, overworked and overstressed – things which can then lead to anger, blame and misery.
But here’s the real difference. Responsibility is externally-focused. Accountability is internal because it is linked directly to will. Responsibility can be shared. You can seek guidance from outside experts. You can delegate tasks and activities to staff members.
But accountability comes from within.
The way to take responsibility for your people as a leader is to make the commitment to take personal accountability for yourself and in that, set the standard of behavior for them to do the same. Accountability turns pain into power. It is the life-giver that fills the heart with esteem; creates freedom and becomes the glue that ties commitment to results.