It is very common for business leaders to bring problems and challenges to their Executive Coach after they have “tried everything.” One of my favourite questions to ask a business leader is “how are you creating that?” It is often met with silence, and sometimes with denial – “but I’m not creating that.”
The reason I love the question is not simply for the answers, but for where it has the leader look. Often leaders are very familiar with the circumstances and the role other people are playing – but haven’t looked in the mirror to see what role they are playing.
As a leader, if you think you aren’t creating it, then you need to realize that it also means you’ve stopped leading. And if you aren’t leading, then you are a leader in title only.
The good news is you are creating it. The reason I say it is good news is because if you are creating it, then you need only change your own behaviour to create it differently. And it is much easier to change your own behaviour than the route many leaders default to – trying to change everyone else.
Often by the time a leader brings a situation to coaching it’s been going on for a while. So when they really look at how they are creating it, they usually discover a list of things they haven’t been doing. They always have a list of wonderful reasons (ie excuses) for why. If they are a successful leader, they typically don’t accept reasons/excuses from other people, but it’s amazing how quickly we accept our own reasons/excuses.
Even if they still believe they aren’t creating it, I invite them to take a look and see what they see. Initially they are resistant because they associate “creating it” with being to blame or at fault. Once they let go of that, they start to see things they hadn’t seen before. At this point, I keep asking “how else might you be creating it?” This is where the insights really start to flow.
The biggest shift with the question “how are you creating that?” is it moves them from being at the mercy of the circumstances to being a cause of what’s happening. When you are at the mercy of the situation, the reasons/excuses you created help you feel better – they are mentally soothing (and let you off the hook by deflecting responsibility) but don’t help you make progress. When you take responsibility as a cause of what’s happening, you see that you even created the reasons/excuses, and the only thing in your way is yourself – and the belief “I’m not creating that.”
When a leader makes the shift to being a cause, we both can see and feel it. It is usually quickly followed by “I think I’m good now, I know what to do.” That’s when I smile, because I always knew that they knew what to do – they simply forgot they were creating it. That’s how powerful a creator they are – they can even create that they aren’t creating it.
It becomes even more powerful for the entire business when their people come to them with challenges and the leader starts asking “how are you creating that?” They can really empathise with the silence, denial, and empowerment that comes with standing in the possibility of being a cause. And they have a similar smile when their people say “I think I’m good now, I know what to do.”
What are you creating?