Lynn Schoener 

January 10th, 2013
Lynn Schoener
Happy New Year, Coaches!

Jeff Meyer loves this, and so do I, and we hope you will too. Try it and share your experiences! Your comments and questions are most welcome!


A Simple Exercise to Help You Get Unstuck 
by Teresa Norton

Winston Leung came into my office a tense and frustrated fellow. He knew he needed to do things differently but he didn't want to change who he was. He was visibly relieved to hear that the goal of our work together was just that - to adjust the 'do' not the 'who'.


He had been recently moved into a position that had been held for almost 20 years by a much older man who, upon retiring, had left what Winston and others in the company perceived as enormous shoes to fill. This former boss had been a strong, charismatic father figure to the team that Winston inherited and was a no-nonsense negotiator with internal clients who perceived as Winston 'too nice'.   


Winston was an interesting dichotomy - conflict averse and overly eager to 'get along' with those he perceived as his superiors while dictatorial and unable or unwilling to address the needs of his overworked team. He was seen as both a pushover and a detached and demanding taskmaster depending on which end of the corporate ladder he was being viewed.   


Our work together was to get him to own his status and stand his ground while developing a leadership style that demonstrated respect for his staff, enabling them to feel connected and cared for.   


At our first session I had him list words he would use to describe himself and then make a list of words he believed others would use to describe him. There were some big gaps in perception! His feeling was that they didn't 'get' him.


The next week he came in with a pretty significant insight. "I always thought that the problem was with other people and their expectations but I think the person that needs to change is me".


We used a story spine to help identify what changes he could make while living truthfully and how that change in might impact his work relationships. The Story Spine is a tool developed by Ken Adams as a way for improvisers (actors who work without a script) to build a classic story. The basic structure is:


Once there was...
And every day...
Until one day...
And because of that...
And because of that...
And because of that...
Until finally...
And so...


Winston's story spine went something like this: Once there was a leader who struggled in his new role because of his predecessor's talent in dealing with staff and internal clients. And every day he became more frustrated at his inability to be more like his former boss. Until one day he decided to start developing his own leadership style, that was very different from the previous boss' and because of that he was able to focus on changing his mindset about what natural gifts he brought to his role and because of that he was able to feel more comfortable to own and share his opinions with clients and listen with more caring to his team and because of that clients developed more respect for him and his staff felt more respected by him. Until finally he gained a reputation as someone who was determined, fair and caring. And so he learned that there are many different kinds of leaders and the secret is not to try and fit in someone else's shoes but to walk into work each day being honest with yourself about the gifts you bring and mindful of where you need to improve.   


Over months of working with Winston I have been privileged to see his desire and resolve to retain the 'who' and adjust the 'do' paying off. The feedback is that he is better at holding his ground in meetings with clients and he has been taking more time both in and out of meetings to encourage his staff, getting to know more about what interests them and sharing more of himself.   


The story continues to unfold. Every issue solved makes way for a new challenge so while it may be three steps forward, one step back, they are taken in shoes that Winston has cobbled for himself.


Teresa Norton, "A Simple Exercise to Help You Get Unstuck," Harvard Business Review Blog Network, 25 July 2012.  


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