Like anyone reading this blog, there have been times in my life where I found myself at a crossroad where I knew the path I wanted to take, yet felt blocked by the negative consequences that were seemingly unavoidable.
Many years ago, I was just a few months into a new job and leading a high visibility / high impact initiative. The CEO invited me and our external consultant to present the results of that work to him. To my shock, the head of HR and the Chief HR Officer told me to “fudge the data a little” (OK, they outright directed me to lie about the results). Lying was simply not an option in my values system. Not lying, I thought, was likely to result in my termination. Not to mention that the veracity of the consultant’s work would be completely debased.
Another time, at a different employer, a colleague advised me of something that stopped me in my tracks. She told me that a senior leader in our management team felt threatened by the influence he perceived me to have with the CEO. To secure his position and undermine mine, he was spreading damaging rumors about me. This executive was in a key role, equally close to the CEO, and it was essential for us to work together effectively. Confronting him felt like poking the bear, yet doing nothing wasn’t an option. For a time, I found myself locked in a no-win situation.
In both circumstances, I ultimately operated from a mantra that I wasn’t even aware of at the time, but have since learned to live by:
BE COMMITTED, NOT ATTACHED.
Let me explain.
When we’re attached, there’s an emotional component that clouds our judgment and places limits on the possibilities we see for ourselves. Our choices feel layered with meaning and speculation: If I do or say what I really want to, what I know I should do, it’s not going to end well at all. We may fear the impact on our reputation, credibility, relationships or career path.
And so we become attached … invested in achieving a particular outcome or avoiding imminent doom. Logic and objectivity tip slightly out of balance. Decision-making becomes muddled. We may ignore that gut feeling, hoping to just survive the situation and get on to something else. Exhausted, our energy is consumed with the pursuit of that goal or with circumnavigating the perceived pothole.
Most of the time, the reality is nowhere near as dramatic as it feels in the moment. But when we’re attached, there’s an intensity present that can make it pretty tough to step back, take stock and see through our fog of apprehension.
On the flip side, when we’re committed, there’s an ease and a clarity to balancing the WHAT with the HOW. Our choices are grounded in responsibility and integrity, versus emotion and fear. The desired outcome is just that – an outcome. We know that other, equally attractive options will always be available to us because we trust ourselves and what we bring to the table. Net-net, being committed means coming from a place of confidence – an inner assurance that we are going to be just fine when we take responsible action that moves us in the direction of our goal, yet always in alignment with our values.
So how did my crossroad scenarios play out?
After getting over my indignation and self-righteousness (two forms of attachment), clarity returned to me: Who cares if I lose this job – there are others. No job is worth compromising my ethics. And so I advised my boss and the CHRO that I would not alter the results and I declined to deliver the presentation. The CEO specifically requested that I present and so I did … with my deck of fully accurate metrics. My boss and the CHRO brought their version. As you might imagine, a lively discussion ensued in which myself and our consultant stood by the data. I excused myself from the meeting when it became totally fruitless for me to be there and I drafted my letter of resignation. And I was just fine – a better job, with a better company was right around the corner.
In the second scenario, I decided that a direct, blanket approach was best. I met not just with the executive in question, but with every executive of our leadership team. I told each of them of the rumors I learned had been spread about me. Reactions varied – some laughed out loud at the stories, some sat silent and uncomfortable (probably wondering if there was a grain of truth to it all) and others displayed anger, shock or disappointment that one of our leaders would operate this way. Regardless of the reaction, I went on to tell them why these rumors were false. I genuinely wanted these leaders to know who I was, so I explained my values, my history, and my intent. And then I solicited their advice. Without exception, every single one of them – including the individual who was the source of these rumors – became my champion or at the very least, a collaborative, respectful business partner. Today, these are some of my most valued professional and personal relationships.
Had I lingered in a place of attachment in either scenario, I would have allowed myself to become disengaged and victimized by circumstances that felt (but were not) beyond my control.
The reality that I learned from these experiences, is that when we show up committed – responsible, authentic, sincere, looking people in the eye and saying what needs to be said – there’s actually very little risk. There’s only tremendous personal power.
Who you are becomes clear (or clearer) – to them and to you. Confidence builds from there. Where you want to be and the caliber of people you want to be surrounded by becomes unequivocal. And from that place, you have everything you need to determine your way forward.