Founding and growing a business can often feel like an adventure into the unknown with a bunch of trusting people following you. A journey that no length of leadership at other people’s organisations can prepare you for. Each week, a new pressure or sticky challenge emerges, and oftentimes it can feel like there’s no tried and tested playbook to refer to. So the question is—who leads the leaders?
Well, at Here I Am, Laura and Vi work with an executive coach named Mitch. He frequently supports Laura and Vi by providing an invaluable outside perspective and objective clarity on leading Here I Am—derived from Mitch’s dual experiences as a management consultant and a Buddhist monastic.
Today, Mitch shares some thoughts and ideas on how social impact leaders can self-reflect to better understand and overcome fears plus the challenges they may face as we look ahead at a brand new year.
Hi everyone. I'm Mitch.
I first met Laura in 2016. Back then, I was a nonprofit strategist. Since then, I've been a political organiser, a pedicab driver, a Buddhist monastic, and a mental health professional. These days I spend most of my time coaching social impact leaders like Vi and Laura. When I’m not doing that, I’m usually doing impressions of what I imagine my dog would sound like if she were a person.
Like many folks, I’ve spent a lot of time lately wondering how I might use ChatGPT to be better at my job (and how ChatGPT might replace me at my job). So when I was asked to write a short piece on how social sector leaders can be successful in their 2023 resolutions to change the way they work, of course I typed that exact phrase into ChatGPT. And then I watched in wonder as some omniscient robot somewhere casually typed out six thoughtful suggestions. The first suggestion was to "prioritise understanding the problem you're trying to solve." That’s actually good advice—I’ll come back to that.
I have the privilege of spending most of my week in intimate one-on-one conversation with fascinating, talented individuals who are deeply committed to justice and healing. They want to change the world and they know that starts with changing the one thing they can control: their behaviour.
Behaviour change is hard. Doing the right thing as a leader is hard. So our first instinct is usually to take a shortcut: An ask to, “Tell me what I should do.” This shows up a lot in my coaching sessions. For example:
A senior director at an INGO feels she is not getting enough leverage from her team. She asks me for “tips or tricks” to become a better delegator.
A public health researcher is frustrated by how "unproductive" they have been. They ask me for some time management hacks.
A manager at an education nonprofit complains that he just isn’t connecting with one of his direct reports. He asks me whether it’s time to consider letting that person go.
What do each of these examples have in common?
All three are just begging to be typed into ChatGPT. And ChatGPT couldn’t be more ready to synthesise the best advice the internet has to offer on delegating, productivity, and whether to fire somebody.
The omniscient robot gives pretty good advice to our questions. This is great! But it’s also not great, because we made the wrong ask.
Client #1 asked for delegation tips and tricks—but what she really needs is to confront her unconscious fear that she'll be perceived as incompetent if her team's work product isn't exactly what she envisions.
Client #2 asked for some habit formation worksheets—what they need is to relax their compulsive self-judgments and reconnect with whatever makes their work worthwhile and fun.
Client #3 asked for my opinion on whether to fire his direct report—what he needs is to get over his need to be liked so that he can see the situation more clearly for himself.
ChatGPT is only as useful as the search terms we feed it. And our efforts at personal change are only as fruitful as our understanding of the causes and conditions that keep our current patterns in place (i.e. our blind spots). Remember what ChatGPT told me when I asked it to write this post for me? Prioritise understanding the problem you're trying to solve.
If you opened this blog post at all, you’re probably a social sector leader. If you’re still reading now, something is probably resonant with you about what I’m saying. I submit to you that, whatever change you are trying to make, a fine place to start fresh on it is by earnestly asking:
"In what ways are my own beliefs or preferences obscuring my understanding of the problem or my possibilities for action?”
I fed that question to the omniscient machine. And I pasted its response below, lightly edited so that I can add a few suggestions and exercises.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. And thank you for your commitment to healing our outer and inner worlds. I’m grateful to be on this path with you.
Q: In what ways are my own beliefs or preferences obscuring my understanding of the problem or my possibilities for action?
A: Your beliefs and preferences can obstruct your understanding of a problem and your intuition for right action by biassing your perception of the facts. This can lead you to prioritise your own interests over a solution that may be objectively better, closing you off to new information or alternative perspectives, and making it difficult to evaluate the situation objectively. To overcome these obstructions, it's important to:
- Consider all the available information before making a decision. Here is a practice I offer to clients to help them uncover new insight into their own patterns.
Several times per day, step back from whatever you are doing and ask:
- When in the past few hours was I most X? Where X is the leadership quality that you are cultivating (e.g., “mission-conscious” or “engaged” or “tense).
- What causes and conditions resulted in me being this way?
- What were the effects of me being this way?
Regularly reflect and question your own beliefs. One of my favorite exercises for illuminating unconscious beliefs is sentence-completion. For example, complete the following sentence 5-10 times: “I cannot resolve this situation because…”
Seek out diverse perspectives. We are bad at asking for help. Text a friend/colleague saying, "There's an issue I'm totally stuck on... could you please set aside thirty minutes to just listen and help me process?" Better yet—ask a professional. Hire a coach. Most of us offer a free consultation. Take advantage of it!