I was on the phone with a client the other day, planning for our next coaching session which will be our last coaching session. In general, we have a process we take clients through to help them “solidify” and hold onto all the things they’ve learned and changes they’ve made from the coaching engagement.
My client was talking about how his greatest learning is actually his need to go a bit slower, be a bit gentler with himself and others, and make specific time to think creatively and strategically. “It’s so hard to do all this,” he exclaimed. “Changing this is harder than learning any new management or leadership skills.”
My first response was to acknowledge how hard he’s worked at something that is challenging for many of us. And my second response was to remind him that he might want to phrase things differently. There’s a huge difference between “It’s so hard. I can’t do this.” and “This has been hard, but I’m getting better and I just haven’t done it all the way yet.”
Experience has taught me, over and over, that we often get what we think about and what we say to ourselves about ourselves. If I remind myself that something is hard for me, it generally remains hard for me. If I say to myself, “I haven’t done that” or “I haven’t done that well,” those sentences are more judging, punitive, and limiting than “I haven’t done that yet” or “I haven’t done that well yet.”
I don’t think we have to worry about giving ourselves a pass at not having done something yet, and then, therefore, maybe not doing it at all. I have very few clients who, left to their own devices, will drop deadlines or projects. I also have very few clients who, left to their own devices, will applaud themselves undeservedly or who will give themselves the benefit of the doubt when they’ve done a less than stellar job at something (at least not without a bunch of coaching and support). I have many clients who, left to their own devices, will call out all their shortcomings and focus only on the “negative” feedback in their 360° feedback report. This makes sense. Our brains have evolved to be “Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.”
But this gets in our way. Judging ourselves harshly and focusing mainly – or only – on what we haven’t done or what we haven’t done well keeps us in a vicious cycle. It’s hard to do well when our attention is on what we’ve done poorly.
And that, again, is the beauty and leadership power of “not yet.” “I haven’t done it yet” gives us a sense that we’re moving toward our goal, a bit of space to learn and grow on the way to our goal. It’s also self-compassion – which, I believe, is something we all need more of.
The next time you’re about to call out what you – or your team – haven’t done or haven’t learned, give yourself the beauty, power, and space of “not yet.” Watch what possibilities it opens for you.
How have you used “not yet” to learn and grow?
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