You’ve probably heard the phrase “the cobbler’s children have no shoes,” which is used to describe the phenomenon where professionals are so busy with work for their own customers or clients that they neglect using their skills to help themselves or those closest to them. I recently had an experience that reminded me of this adage and brought the concept home in a powerful way.
As a measurement professional, I’m often tasked with ensuring that my clients are asking themselves the right questions – tough questions – about their organizations, about their programs and services, and about themselves. I help them collect data so they can find answers, and then hopefully take action to support their goals. Measurement and program evaluation work are important in that way, as they give conscious attention to determining where we are and identifying the opportunities for improvement that every organization possesses.
Examining the core underpinnings and twisty edges of issues that are hard to grasp is a fundamental piece of my skill set. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching the proverbial light bulb go off over the head of a client when I share a critical piece of data that we’ve uncovered or open their eyes to a new way of seeing things. And yet, when it comes to self-exploration, that’s a whole different thing altogether. I avoid it. It’s uncomfortable. It feels a little bit selfish. I’d rather spend time helping my clients than focusing on myself.
But avoiding our truths – be they strengths, challenges, or the way we engage with others – is never a good strategy. I believe this fully. I’ve seen many individuals and organizations blindsided, sometimes fatally, by a problem they could have easily tackled head-on if only they had been receptive to discovering and acknowledging it. And there’s no glory in denial when you’re running a nonprofit, government agency or business. Those issues that loom below the surface cost your organization every day in terms of staff energy, productivity, efficiency, and results. Even though you don’t see them, or perhaps choose not to see them, they still have an impact.
So, a few weeks ago, in the dead of winter and amidst a glorious snowstorm in Connecticut, I attended the Bregman Leadership Intensive. For three days, I had the opportunity – no, wait – I took the opportunity to immerse myself in a process of self-discovery. The Leadership Intensive was designed and led by Peter Bregman, who is the CEO of his own global management consulting firm (www.peterbregman.com) as well as a thought leader in his field. Some of you know that I’m a big fan of Peter’s work, so I was excited to attend one of his sessions. Once there, I found myself surrounded by a small group of amazing people from around the globe who came there for the same reason. We wanted to discover something about ourselves, something about the way we approached our work and our lives, and find the courage to use that knowledge moving forward to be better leaders.
Gratefully, we had come to the right place. Instead of lecturing, Peter asked us those tough questions. He expertly guided, mentored, and supported us on how to tap into our own revelations, from within. Additionally, he and his team helped us inspect and recognize both attitudes and behaviors that we hadn’t seen before. Some were founded on unrealistic expectations and others were deep-seated fears, but all were eye opening.
Now, I’m not going to candy-coat this next part. This was not an easy journey for me. You may similarly find that looking at yourself and your organization, and especially being amenable to the notion that everything may not be perfect, is difficult. I had to be open to acknowledging realities and learning new things. I also needed encouragement from others who understood my challenges, possessed expertise, and pushed me to see new perspectives.
However, the benefits that I gained from the experience were invaluable. Here are just a few:
• Clarity on what I want to accomplish,
• A sense of direction for how to get there,
• Ideas for changes that may better enable me to reach those goals,
• And last but certainly not least, ongoing support from talented, incredible people.
In other words, I guess you could say that my own light bulb clicked on. How cool is that?
Introspection isn’t easy…but it’s certainly worth the effort. No matter how hard it may seem at first glance, it’s critical to stop, look, and listen to what’s happening around and within you. Take small steps, if needed. Be aware of the true realities, as well as the possibilities that emerge from learning and embracing new roadmaps. And above all, find the support that can help you make it happen.
You’ll find that you can turn on your light bulb too.
(By the way, if you’re not familiar with Peter’s writings or presentations, jump on his email list. You won’t regret it.)