It’s almost painful to watch: Mitt Romney crossing the stage. His gait totters to hold a torso too stiff. His upright carriage looks nearly crackable as the questions come zinging in and he repeats what he thinks is the right answer – for this audience. I like Mitt Romney; his father was the governor of Michigan while I was growing up, so I think of him as a neighbor. I also share many of his personality traits. If you know anything about the 4 energy patterns of personality, you’ll know what I mean when I say we’re both Organizers: it’s important to us to do the right thing and do things right. But, for a good example of what getting in one’s own way looks like, look to Mitt Romney.
And I’m not even talking politics, though his awkward stances to appeal to the far right and repeal his earlier positions, policies and op ed pieces, are good examples of how we confuse others when we get in our own way. We’re not clear. We don’t clearly articulate a vision. We’re so concerned with being correct in the eyes of others, that we take our cues from popular opinion, lose our sense of direction, and spiral into a set of concerns that, if we’d stop to look at them, we’d realize are all about… ME! What do you think of me? Am I good enough in your eyes? If I say xyz, will you vote for me?
Even if we’re not running for office, it’s easy for us to get in our own way. Because we’re built with a stack of human needs for such things as security, affection, power, self actualization, which you may recognize as Maslow’s hierarchy. We also grow up through stages of development, where our earliest ego concept is definitely all about ME – a stage we call narcissism, and one we can all regress to, especially when we’re afraid our needs won’t be met. When our needs do get met, the physical need to eat is a good example, we feel a little jolt of pleasure that becomes a paired association, a self-reinforcing habit that may lead us to overdo it. We see how these greedy circuits play out in the need to eat: 2/3’s of Americans are either overweight or obese. While less visible and less conscious, the same self-reinforcing loops play out around being safe enough, loved enough, strong enough, smart enough, good enough, or whatever “enough” we fear we’re not. Scratch the surface of high need achievers and people of great ambition and you’ll often find them driven by the need to be something enough. For Mitt Romney – who knows? – it might be the need to be responsible enough, or big and important enough. But surely something is stuck.
How to flip that around? It’s so simple, but it’s not easy: focus on other people. Focus on the value you want to create for the sake of other people. And work with your own needs enough that you start using them as useful motivation, rather than your needs using you to insatiably feed. It’s a complete flip in perspective from focusing outside in – what does this person think of me? How do I get what I want from that person? – to what Kevin Cashman calls leading from the inside out, where “I“ disappears and the focus shifts to the value I create for others. Here the thinking flips to how can I serve others? What future is worth creating and, if you believe this with me, how do we build it together?
Our human needs do not go away so long as we’re alive, but we can use eating as a metaphor and “eat just enough” to satisfy any of our Maslow hierarchical needs. We can then pour the rest of our energy into serving those around us, whereby we flip from getting in our own needy way to being a boundless source in service to others – what I call realizing the Zen leader in us. Releasing the grip of needing to be this way or that, we naturally relax; centered and grounded, our legs support us, our vision is clear, and our answers are truly our answers. Win or lose, we are our authentic selves, which is the only job we are truly called to, and no one can take from us. Mitt Romney: are you listening?
How have you seen leaders get in their own way? And what are examples of leaders getting out of their own way? Is it even possible in political life?