Leader: “Things are very tough.”
[The very eloquent and articulate leader gives a strongly analytical and robust description of the impossible situation he is in.]
Coach: “Wow, the stakeholders REALLY ARE that stuck in their ways/slow?”
Leader: “Yes, I’ve tried everything. And you would not believe how dysfunctional they are.”
Coach: “Have you tried challenging them directly?”
Leader: “Yes, and they just didn’t get it”
Coach: “What about focussing on what is within your control and taking action there?”
Leader: “Yes, I’ve made a very clear plan and I’ve tasked people etc etc…”
[The conversation continues and the leader “wins” every argument: “WE HAVE ALREADY TRIED EVERYTHING that you have/might/could suggest.”]
In this conversation, the coach is of no service when they continue to serve up ideas, solutions and challenges that the leader is posed to bat back with grace and rational conviction. This risk is even greater when this game starts in group or team coaching. The leader can get validation from peers of (a) the enormity of the challenge and (b) their victim/survivor/martyr status (which is intoxicating and addictive).
Consider, if the coach intervenes?
“OK, it’s bad, what then? All we can do is fight it, quit, stop caring, or follow what I don’t believe in? Are we hell bent on proving our utter disempowerment?”
An intervention like this, can allow leaders to enter an entirely different framework for leadership.
That’s what this blog is about.
Prove, Defy, Generate
When you have ambitions to step up and lead, but find yourself in a situation that feels in some way disempowering, it can be tempting to focus on what you are enduring.
We are not in any way invalidating the scale of the difficulties of operating when you're in some way disempowered or marginalized, or even just not included and feeling like an insider. But this article isn’t about the (very valid and important) analysis of discrimination, bias and undermining, that happens all the time in the workplace.
This article is about taking back control and going beyond survival when it’s happening to you.
Make that difference.
And there are three levels at which we can operate, the key is choosing where you want to play, and when. No one else determines this but you:
The first level we call ‘’Prove’.
This can be really effective. This is when you prove the difficulty of the situation. By making sure that people shift their understanding of what is really going on, you prove that there is a problem, that things are not working.
If you think about it, this is what a lot of really effective campaigners do to raise awareness of issues, or to get people to really understand and see their blind spots; so they can recognize how hard things really are. And this can be really effective.
But let's move on to level two. This level we call ‘Defy’.
Now, this is when you don't only make people aware of what the situation is like, but you overcome the odds. And we can think, again, of really successful people who have defied the odds, and have made things happen. Despite the circumstances, they have fought and bought a huge amount of energy to overcome challenges and to make things happen as a leader, despite the difficulties that are going on.
And this is really effective, and can deliver hugely impactful results for you.
But we want to move on to consider the third level, which we call ‘Generate’.
This is when you really change the game. And if you think about these kinds of leaders, they go beyond proving there's a problem, they go beyond beating the odds and defying and they actually transform by generating. Leaders at level three can transform people's perceptions by generating an entirely new space. They increase people's self awareness and willingness to adapt, change and try new things. They broaden what's possible, they inspire, they create new ideas. They help people to see an entirely new value in difference, not merely to tolerate or to accept it, but to really go beyond where they began, and to collaborate, connect and achieve amazing things together.
Of course, generating a completely different space is really tricky, especially when you're coming from a disempowered position yourself. And the reality is, that not all of us can operate, all of the time, in the Generate space. We mean, maybe there are a few people in the world who do it most of the time, but it’s doubtful.
It is about identifying what being in the Generate leadership space looks like for you; enabling you to generate the impact to change the results and deploy your energy where it really matters.