Recently I was asked by an organisation to coach one of its senior leaders. A man who was consistently exceeding financial results, but whose team was suffering under the pressure and his unrelenting expectations.
This man saw himself as a passionate, dedicated and determined leader, paving the way for his team to achieve anything. He desperately wanted to believe in his people, but was often caught out by his need to control the process.
This was how he’d achieved his own career success – being ruthless with himself and his standards, competitive in every sense. His leadership strategy was a combination of experience, expertise and a learned communication style – a vehicle that had brought him accolades but was quickly speeding toward its limit.
Reflecting on how he’d been operating, he could see the negative impact his dogged drive was having on others, why it was hurting them and how it was affecting their performance.
– Directing rather than empowering
– Judging rather than engaging
– Micro-managing rather than trusting.
In his mind failure was never an option, but everyone was suffering trying to do it his way.
“No matter what a leader’s strategy or vision may be, it can only be achieved through the combined efforts of everyone involved – never by the leader alone. The leader needs to communicate, inspire, listen, dialogue, motivate. And all those require emotional intelligence.” – Daniel Goleman.
This leader was getting restless with himself and everyone around him, but without a clear and what he considered worthy alternative, he kept driving everyone the only way he knew how.
It’s common for a driven man to never really feel free,
and yet never really feel loved.
What I’ve learned about men over my years of coaching, is that what drives many so vehemently toward their goals, is not only the need to triumph, but also an insatiable need to feel free.
What complicates and confuses a man’s world, though, is that at the same time, he has a deep and sometimes overwhelming need for real connection.
It’s complicating and confusing because a man rarely learns how to experience the two (freedom and connection) in a healthy, mutually inclusive way. The two can seem very much at opposing ends of any relationship continuum.
Connection can become something to be wary of, an ever-present risk to his freedom as those who are dependent upon him look to him to fulfil their need for connection. He may clip his wings a little to feel appreciated, accepted and even loved, but will pour himself into his chosen quest as a way to hold onto the freedom he seeks.
As he pushes himself, he also pushes those around him, so it’s very common for a successful man to never really feel free, and yet never really feel appreciated and loved.
John Wineland, facilitator, speaker and teacher, known for his ground-breaking work with men, says “there are no modern day initiation rituals in the West that teach men to stay open in the face of discomfort.”
But it’s this very ability to stay open, or in other words connected, in the face of discomfort that will transform a man’s life – in leadership and in love.
– The ability to stay open and connected when his team aren’t performing and deadlines are looming.
– To stay open and connected when no-one’s owning the problem.
– To stay open and connected when the bravado feels much more familiar and powerful.
If a man can stay open when he’d rather fight or flee, he will build a powerhouse of trust with his people that will inspire them to invest so much more of themselves.
To evolve from being a ‘win at all costs’ leader to one who leads people to their own greatness, a man must turn his focus inward and get to know his own true greatness first.
Asking new questions of himself is a perfect place to begin a process of self reflection.
Who am I as a man? A father? A husband? A leader?
Who do I want to be?
What’s my predictable future if I don’t make any changes?
What does my future self, the man and leader I want to be, need from me today?
The answers to these questions will help him shift his focus from…
“People need to do more” to… “What do my people need from me to perform?”
“People aren’t taking ownership” to… “How can I learn to trust my people so they feel safe to take responsibility?”
“People need to collaborate” to… “What’s going on for people that they don’t want to talk to each other?”
This is the bridge a driven man will cross as he navigates his way through his internal rumblings, into being the leader his heart is asking him to be.
It’s tough work for brave men, but like the leader in this story, it can change the past and create a deeply fulfilling future. Not only for himself but for those he cares about the most.
The irony is that this courageous path is also the path to true freedom. A freedom that goes far beyond triumph and is nourished and nurtured by real and loving connection.
In support of our great and courageous driven men.