Carol came to that coaching session with an agenda. See, she was smack dab in the middle of a hairy situation at work – full contact office politics played at the master level by professionalsseasoned at the game. And Carol (you know that’s not her real name, right?) found herself caught up in it. Big time.
It seemed that a silent war was being waged and while Carol was aware of the tensions, she wasn’t really sure who was on which side. All she knew was that her old SVP had left and a new SVP had come in and somehow Carol’s VP life had gotten a whole lot harder.
She was getting “feedback” which felt more like threats. She was excluded from meetings she had previously led. There were new restrictions on her travel. She felt like people were just waiting for her to screw up today so she could be beat up on even more thoroughly tomorrow.
In fact, she was at the point where getting fired might be a mercy – but the SVP didn’t appeart to be the merciful sort. More the type who enjoys pulling the wings off ladybugs, Carol said.
So Carol came to her coaching session armed with some specific tactics she could use to defend herself, and a couple that could also do a little damage. “Balance things out a bit,” she said, with a bright gleam in her eye.
It’s hard to be where Carol is – suddenly the ground shifts below your feet and you don’t know what the rules are any more. What worked in the past no longer works. All relationships are up in the air. You begin to doubt yourself, and wonder what the hell is wrong with you/with them/with the cosmos.
You start a downward spiral, punctuated with bouts of real anger. But mostly, your self-esteem takes a hit.
You feel powerless.
Lower than low.
Like you’re nothing.
I took a deep breath, let it out, and said to Carol, “So, who do you want to be through this?”
No doubt this felt like a total non sequitur to Carol. She thought the two of us would be doing battle strategy so she could win the war.
Instead, I called her to another mission – the mission of being true to herself.
I repeated, “Who do you want to be? How can you conduct yourself so that, a year from now, you can be proud of the way you acted in the face of this challenge?”
Because ultimately, that’s really all that matters.
Jobs come, and jobs go. People come, and people go. Days, months, years – they all come and go.
You, however, get to live with yourself every moment of your life. So, “how do I want to be?” turns out to be one of the most important questions you can ask.
Especially when things get hard, and when people are attempting to get you to be something they’d like you to be. But you know that to be that way would suck the very soul from your body.
“As I remember, you told me that your integrity was one of your key values,” I said to Carol. “Is that right?”
She nodded, thinking.
“So,” I went on, “what does your integrity tell you to do right now, in this situation?”
Carol smiled. Shook her head. Said, “That’s absolutely right. My integrity is the thing every single person I’ve ever worked with has said is best about me. This SVP is basically challenging my integrity – pushing me to be something that I’m not – that’s really the problem.”
“Right,” I said. “And you have the power to decide if you’re going to let that happen. Are you going to?”
“Not on your life,” Carol said, with resolve. “Integrity always wins. I am going to be a person of integrity and let the chips fall where they may. And a year from now, I can be proud of staying true to myself.”
Yep, she surely will. And, I’ll bet you that when Carol disengages with the war and re-engages with her own knowledge of who she is at her best, then that cranky SVP will simply move on to another target. And, ultimately, will probably leave the organization with a wide trail of destruction in her wake.
And who will be ready, willing and able to step into the breach, with her integrity and reputation intact and whole?
You know what? I call that person “Carol”.