I was awestruck by this New York Times picture of the rubble of a home destroyed in a recent California wildfire. The charred sculpture seems a haunting symbol of our collective impotence to address the challenges we face.
Today’s Conversation explores how unrecognized fears undermine the courage necessary to act in our own best interest.
Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel, Siddhartha, portrays Siddhartha’s journey from spiritual seeker to businessman and back. The story provides insight into challenges that derail effectiveness.
After leaving his life as a samana (spiritual mendicant), Siddhartha entered business because he had fallen in love with an elegant courtesan who required expensive gifts.
In his first job interview, Siddhartha was asked how he could possibly manage Kamaswami’s vast estate without any previous business experience. Siddhartha enigmatically replied,
- “I can think,
- I can wait, and
- I can fast.”
Taken in the story’s context, Siddhartha’s reply referred to his confidence that he could conduct business flawlessly because he was free of greed, hatred, and delusion. Siddhartha’s charisma dispelled doubt of his competence and he was hired on the spot. As Siddhartha predicted, his dispassionate mindset led to a steady expansion of the business and its reputation.
Initially his previous experience as a spiritual seeker seemed to protect Siddhartha from the self-indulgence of his new life. Over time, his protective detachment from his pastimes of drinking and gambling broke down and he became increasingly entangled in his dissipation. One night he became completely disgusted with himself and attempted suicide.
Despite preparing Siddhartha for initial success in business, his time as a spiritual seeker had failed to fully prepare him to reengage in the world. I turn to an insightful book on courage to answer, “Why not?”
Gus Lee, in his book Courage, The Backbone of Leadership, suggests that when analyzing the reasons for poor outcomes, one should look for one’s underlying fears as a cause for suboptimal performance. Then, by acting with better awareness of those fears, one can confront these situations more effectively.
In Siddhartha’s case, he had a fear of not being “unique enough” which decreased his effectiveness:
- He left his father never to return because of his father’s “conventional” Brahman beliefs which Siddhartha chose not to follow.
- After meeting the Buddha, Siddhartha justified relinquishing the Buddha’s teachings because of the “need to find his own way”.
- Being good at business didn’t satisfy his need to be “different” either, so he just “played” at it.
His need to be unique also made him susceptible to the charms of a courtesan’s compartmentalized love.
This “need to be unique” caused Siddhartha to undervalue the importance of knowledge already gained. This inability to consolidate wisdom as he encountered it led his life to spiral out of control.
Gus Lee outlined three steps to uncover the hidden fears that may be sabotaging our effectiveness:
- Identify a specific area(s) in which one is underperforming,
- Sort out your fears that may be undermining better results and choose which fear seems fundamental, and
- Decide whether the fear indeed justifies a change in one’s approach to the situation.
This exercise is powerful because we naturally exaggerate the potential negative consequences of our under-recognized fears.
Here’s an example of these three steps in an area of underperformance in my own career:
- For decades I had accepted my strength in mentoring “stars” and my weakness in mentoring “average” employees. My acceptance guaranteed that I would continue to be a less than stellar boss for those I assessed to be average performers. Was there a fear underlying my ineffectiveness? Yes.
- My fear arose from the extreme embarrassment that I imagined I would personally feel if I were less than a stellar employee myself. This led to my exaggeration of how uncomfortable others would feel when routine performance issues were addressed.
- My own fears made me insensitive to the reality that employees want to grow and appreciate skillful counsel when they aren’t doing their best work.
Recognizing and addressing such fears can greatly improve one’s effectiveness.
Tomorrow’s Fix Today™,
Switch Healthcare designs solutions for self-insured employers that are dissatisfied with the high cost and poor health of the healthcare status quo.
Edition 1 – Solving a Well-Entrenched Problem
Edition 2 – A Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Edition 3 – Best marketing tagline of all time?
Edition 4 – Post-Truth Killed a President
Edition 5 – What’s an employer to do?
Edition 6 – Profiting From the Opioid Epidemic
Edition 7 – The Keys to Unlocking Better Decisions
Edition 8 – When Difficult Things Need to be Done Well
Edition 9 – Fixing Healthcare
Edition 10 – Beware of a Singing Cow
Edition 11 – Wise Reflections
Edition 12 – Warning: Reader Discretion Advised
Edition 13 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 1)
Edition 14 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 2)
Edition 15 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 3)
Edition 16 – Embracing Reality to Improve Healthcare
Edition 17 – Everything I Needed To Know…
Edition 18 – The Eighth Circle of Hell
Edition 19 – So… What’s Our Solution?
Edition 20 – Protecting Integrity as a Core Strategy
Edition 21 – An Unadorned Legacy
Edition 22 – Time to Grow Up
Edition 23 – Against All Odds
Edition 24 – When Everyone Has Stopped Listening
Edition 25 – Focusing on What’s Important
Edition 26 – Don’t Give Up Your Shot
Edition 27 – Join the Goodhood
Edition 28 – Fixing Healthcare (Recycled)
Edition 29 – Taming the Healthcare Beast
Edition 30 – Leadership
Edition 31 – Better Health Requires Good Sense
Edition 32 – Little Decisions With Big Consequences
Edition 33 – Transformational Courage
Edition 34 – Transformational Courage – Part 2
Guest Post – Happy Thanksgiving! By Jeff Novick, RD
Edition 35 – Transformational Courage – Part 3