A leader who nearly lost his way
“If only I were an ISTJ instead of an ENFP, then I would be able to do this job”. A 40-something man, brilliant and charismatic, recently appointed to a very public role was referring to his Myers Briggs type which he felt was wrong. He believed there is a right way to be a leader and he must adapt to this Procrustean bed to be successful – rather than find his own unique way of doing the job. His fear of failure and insecurities about how his staff viewed him were causing pain in the organisation – to himself, his staff and the work. He was unable to sleep and had become fractious and anxious. Through our reflection together on his way of living and approaching this role he realised he was in danger of becoming alienated from himself, his talents and potential, and paradoxically making failure more likely. This insight led him to accept his responsibility to himself and freed him to live more authentically and succeed in this high profile role.
An entrepreneur who could not look back
A creative, talented and successful businesswoman ‘hit the buffers’ when her father died suddenly. She felt her carefully controlled and constructed life to be unravelling and in danger of imminent financial and personal disaster. She fell out with her key business partners and was generally ‘at odds’ with everyone. As we explored her way of relating to others it emerged that she harboured a deep sense of shame about her childhood and events which she kept secret for fear of rejection if people found out. Through our discussions she started to see that these things could also be viewed as a source of pride – difficulties overcome. Gradually she began to accept herself and in turn found she became less critical and more accepting of others. She not only re-built her damaged relationships but gained inner harmony that led to her feeling more alive and better than she had ever felt before. After this her business career flourished afresh.
A woman who held herself back
A 40 year old executive identified by her organisation as a ‘rising star’ was concerned about how she was perceived by her colleagues: nearly all men and older. It became apparent that she had two personas at work: one a very confident adult the other a child wanting to be indulged and taken care of by ‘older and wiser’ people. Our work drew attention to this internal conflict and helped her to acknowledge and discuss her ambivalence towards responsibility. Through this she became clearer about the source of her dilemmas and paradoxical behaviour and in turn her self-confidence and interpersonal relationships improved.
A man who could not make mistakes
A 45 year old successful professional liked by his clients but in conflict with his peers. He told me that he had not made a mistake at any time during his career and was very proud of this. We explored the definition of ‘mistake’ and in whose eyes something would be perceived as such. Through our work he realised that he was in a paradoxical situation: he believed he did not make mistakes and yet felt his whole life to be a mistake. He was deeply unhappy and lived in terror of getting anything wrong as this would mean to him that he was himself a bad person. Consequently he defended against feedback that would help him to grow. Realising the truth of his predicament enabled him to embark on the changes necessary to relieve himself of it.
A woman who was ‘drowning not waving’
A successful health professional working in a highly pressured situation was no longer coping with her job. She was grieving over the death of her younger sister and experiencing a profound sense of meaninglessness. At the centre of her world was a secret battle with bulimia and an inability to take proper care of herself. Technically brilliant but without a strong centre she could not summon the resources to manage the ‘people’ aspects key to her role – dealing with difficult staff members and truculent patients’ relatives – which impacted everyone. We focused together on her beliefs about the world, her place in it and her responsibilities to herself and others. Although in a senior position she felt powerless. Through gaining a more truthful view of her situation, her limitations and possibilities, she was able to engage with her freedom, potency and wishes for herself. By re-connecting with her ‘self’ she re-discovered meaning, purpose and optimism, and found the resolution necessary to stay in her job and deal with her issues.