Tuesday, December 10, 2019

“It’s Not About Me”

St. Joseph’s College
Health Administration Blog Post
October 2019
“It’s Not About Me”

Delivering the desired outcomes to stakeholder is one leader’s definition of effectiveness.  While debriefing her 360-leadership assessment and helping her identify a developmental area for the coming year she described herself as driven, bold, likes to take risks and gets things done.
I asked if she had an idea of what might be an area for her to develop as a leader in the coming year. She commented, “This is not related to my effectiveness, but something I struggle with is getting buy-in from my staff.” She elaborated, “sometimes their questions and comments I’ve already thought through and know won’t work so I move the conversation forward explaining what needs to be accomplished.  I sense a negative response from them and lack of buy-in which slows us down.” 
Curious about her definition of effectiveness I asked if we could do an exercise called mapping a polarity. Although you may never have mapped a polarity, you know intrinsically what a polarity is.  A polarity is a duality that exists as contradictory interrelated elements that persist over time.  Alone each element is logical but juxtaposed may seem irrational, like flexibility and control for example.  An either/or mindset used in decision making creates a dilemma that makes us want to choose one over the other to reach our goals. However, when the elements are interrelated any choice between them is a false choice and will only be a temporary solution.  A natural tension exists in a polarity and learning how to navigate and leverage the tension with a both/and mindset ultimately leads to effectiveness.  Examples of leadership polarities include candor and diplomacy, hold accountable and give freedom, self-assured and humble to name a few. 
The leader agreed to mapping the polarity of task and relationships.  We drew a diagram with four quadrants adding plus signs to the top two quadrants and negative signs to the bottom two quadrants.  On the left side of the horizontal line we wrote task, on the right-side relationships.  She identified the positive outcomes she has experienced by focusing her energy on tasks. The list came easy for her.  She reiterated her story of being an effective leader because she delivers desired performance outcomes for stakeholders, meets her organization’s goals and feels valued by her leaders.
Identifying the positive outcomes when focusing on relationships required more contemplation. The tone in her voice added a question mark with each thought; “there is more collaboration and idea sharing? The work environment is healthier? People feel valued for their contribution?” (pause) I asked whether she thought these outcomes contribute to effective leadership.   
Noticing her take a deep breath, I sensed her sinking into her body connecting to a new awareness as she shook her head yes.  “We’re not done yet though” I said. Now we need to look at what happens to the energy when we over focus on one to the neglect of the other.  What happens when we over focus on task to the neglect of relationships?  “I DON’T GET BUY-IN!” (pause) There’s not an opportunity for my staff to develop and they don’t feel valued.  This can create a negative work environment.  (a longer pause)
 “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME” she declared. This was the new awareness she was connecting to within. She put her head in her hands and again stated, “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.”  A moment later and with an energetic tone in her voice she stated, “I’m a leader; I need to help my staff grow, contribute, and also become leaders.”  We took a moment to savor this awareness and then completed the map.
What happens when we over focus on relationships to the neglect of task?  “I don’t deliver the outcomes the stakeholders need and want from me.” “My supervisor may not see me as a valuable contributor.” “The organization’s goals are not being met.”  She expressed that these are her fears and that is in part why she is so driven and gets things done. She continued, “But what I’m experiencing right now is really the downside of an over focus on tasks.”  “If I’m really honest, my team is stuck right now in not having buy-in and not feeling valued.” (another ah-ha moment)
The infinity loop is used in a Polarity Map to illustrate how energy oscillates between the elements of a polarity.  Creating action steps helps ensure that when the energy dips into the downside of a polarity we have a plan to leverage the positive outcomes of both elements and can move the energy toward our greater purpose.  This leader decided her development plan for the coming year would include learning to leverage task and relationships.  

Illustration of Task and Relationship Polarity Map
(Adapted from Dr. Barry Johnson Polarity Mapping)

Oval: 1. I value this.<Handwritten content>

              This illustration of a Polarity Map demonstrates the dynamic experience of leaning toward one element we value most in an interrelated duality. Understanding how we lean has the potential to reveal our biases. (1. Above) We work hard to achieve these positive outcomes and mitigate the fears that exist if we don’t. (2.) Because of this, we miss out on the values of the interrelated elements (3) and as this leader is experiencing, eventually end up in the downside (fears and negative outcomes) (4) of the element we over focus on.
In the process of mapping the task and relationship polarity this leader demonstrated what Dr. Robert Kegan, professor at Harvard University describes as a subject – object move.  He explains that when we are subject to an idea, thought or belief, “It has us.”  It drives our behaviors and decision making. In this case, the leader was subject to the belief that effective leadership was dependent on delivering performance outcomes which requires focusing on tasks.  When subject becomes object, “We have it.” We can see it, reflect on it and discern our decisions from broader perspectives.
IT’S NOT ABOUT ME” awareness for this leader demonstrates the shift from subject to object and the potential growth in one’s inner capacity to hold space that allows energy to flow naturally between two opposing and contradictory elements that need each other over time.  Leadership effectiveness is about delivering desired outcomes to stakeholders AND it is about creating caring connections, providing mentoring, support and collaboration.

Danine Casper, MHA
Instructor, HA511 Leadership in Health Administration
Certified in Polarity Mastery – Polarity Partnerships
Leadership Coach – Transitions Coaching llc

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