the need to know what comes next
the limits of rationality, certainty, and being right
There are ideas I share because they seem impressive, and there are ideas I share because they consume my waking hours.
The “impressive” ideas want to convey mastery, that I uniquely know what’s coming next, and how you, my dear friend, should see things this way, too!
The “consuming” ideas are precisely those that freak the shit out of me. That’s why they consume me. They exist in the space of the unknown, where I simply have no clue what comes next and what is to become of me.
So in keeping with the spirit of the latter, today I’ll share some incisive quotes from a book I’m revisiting (Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up). Re-reading this book, I feel totally exposed.
The Pursuit of Knowing What to Do
When we start our leadership journey together, my clients frequently assume that the hardest part of their job will be figuring out what to do, what strategies to deploy, what business models to operationalize.
Like so many, they have been seduced by the notion that being a leader means having all the answers, solving all the problems, and telling everyone else what to do.
“You seem to want to know that you’re making progress,” I offered. “That there’s a path and that you’re on it.” He nodded with relief.
“It’s curious,” I continued. “We’re all so desperate to move up and to the right. We’re convinced that any motion that isn’t straight, direct, up and to the right is somehow not part of the path.” What if being lost is part of the path?"
The Actor vs. The Artist
Learning to lead ourselves is hard because in the pursuit of love, safety, and belonging, we lose sight of our basic goodness and twist ourselves into what we think others want us to be.
We move away from the source of our strengths—our core beliefs, the values we hold dear, the hard-earned wisdom of life—and toward an imagined playbook listing the right way to be.
In the Heat of Battle
Learning to lead yourself is hard because we are wired to look outward. We feel pain and we look up and out to see who’s hurt us. We feel loss, and the hurt gives rise to anger as we look for someone to blame.
“If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” If there’s an outsized reaction—negative or positive—chances are you’re operating from your shadow. Or, even more precisely, grabbing an attribute out of the long black bag and flinging it onto the people in your life and blaming them for your internal discontent.
Surrender to Becoming
To open to the reality of life as it is—this is the greatest challenge of all.
Or, put more clearly, the call is to stand still and do the work of self-inquiry.
Remember who you are, what you believe about the world, and then, risks be damned, lead from that place of broken-open-hearted warriorship.
I received a powerful lesson in facing reality when something is failing, in trusting the team, and in holding oneself steady. I learned the power of the warrior pose.
The only answer, the only balm against the inevitable, existential pain of becoming the leaders we were born to be is to see the lessons implicit in the practice of becoming.
Strong, but also … exposed.
Situation: A misunderstanding arises at work. My chest tightens, my jaw clenches. “Fuckin’ Robbie, man. He always does this shit,” I think.
I scramble to make sure Robbie knows it’s his fault. I’m a deranged cuckoo. My attention narrows to a single point: FUCK YOU, ROBBIE! Nothing else matters but making it clear I am not to blame. Of course, all of this done with a warm smile and good cheer.
My frustration and sadness at the situation has nothing to teach me, because it’s Robbie’s damn fault. See, this is why I just want to be left alone to do my work. People keep screwing things up and I have to clean up after them. So incompetent. Maybe I should respond to that recruiter from Google. I don’t belong here.
By the time my chest and jaw relax, I’ve lost a magical moment to learn something about the stories I tell myself.
I have lost the opportunity to really see why life is “crazy”, “busy”, “stressful”, “soul-sucking”, “devastating” for not just myself, but for my peers, closest friends, and loved ones.
I’m protecting who I think I am. I’m the expert who swoops in and saves the day, the whiz kid who makes things happen, the kind soul who gets to the heart of things. I reinforce this story every time I enter the scene.
I’m not the vulnerable, unsure, searching, brooding, fragile, inconsistent person that appears in uncomfortable situations. I repress this story every time it appears, because I don’t want to open up to what it has to teach me. And because Robbie is a big dumb idiot.
I wonder who I would be, what I would do, how I would live and see the world, if I stopped always needing to be myself, always needing to know what’s next, always needing to save face.
These are the types of thoughts Jerry Colonna’s book draw out of me. Highly recommend it if anything above resonated.