One of the biggest requirements of moving forward effectively is our ability to manage change. Managing change isn’t something most of us do well without first acquiring and practising the skills to do so on a regular basis. Managing change requires active decision-making, which involves risk – exactly what our human brains are programmed to protect us against.
I’ve written previously about the role and effect of ego on our ability to lead, to be decent team members, to achieve growth and contribution and to generally maintain healthy relationships. The struggle to get out of our own way is real. Quoting an earlier article entitled “For Us or Against Us” which discusses how our ego works in more depth,
“You cannot lead from a position of ego. You can only manage and direct. To build a team that can support and trust you, you must lead rather than manage. Leadership comes from a place of authenticity and truth. Strangely, the fallibility and humanness of that position is exactly what connects your team to you and makes your bond stronger.”
We cannot lead others from a position of ego; nor can we lead ourselves. As much as we’d like to step forward with the confidence of self-leadership, often it feels as if all we can do is manage and direct ourselves. Feeling muddled, uncertain, lacklustre and worse, apathetic is often a sign that we need to get out of our own way. So is procrastination, perfectionism and being “busy”. These signs that our ego is too involved should be the flags that allow us to pause and reconsider our position.
Reconsidering our position requires gathering ourselves which can be difficult to do when our ego is involved. Because our ego’s primary job is to protect us, it can get quite het up trying to be effective. It can cause our minds to act at great pace, even without any definitive direction, in the belief that some action is better than no action. Like trying to stop a spinning top, or a bolting horse, trying to stop any internal process we may have going that’s been allowed to gather momentum can feel like wrestling or being knocked off balance. Often, gathering ourselves to reconsider our position means first allowing ourselves to come to rest. Giving ourselves permission to stop so that the momentum dies, which seems counterintuitive to the ego that is busy trying to “do” effective.
When we give ourselves permission to stop, we achieve a very powerful position – one of momentary quiet. If stopping isn’t something we’ve practised a great deal, then the first voice to rush into that space will be our ego. It will bring with it all its concerns and want to get moving again, which allows us as the “adult” to ask a very important question: “What am I afraid of?”.
There are a million deeply individual answers to this question. We may be afraid of being ineffectual, of what comes next, or of not knowing what comes next. We may be afraid of losing a job, a project, a relationship. We may be afraid of uncertainty, of unpredictability. We may be afraid of failure. Whatever the answer is for you, I can guarantee you one thing – fear is not solved from the type of whirl-pool energy that ego creates when it’s trying to be effective. Fear is solved with the defined action that self-leadership creates. The kind of definitive forward movement that accepts that you must take the only step that you can currently see, and then reassess the outcome before taking the next.
Requiring a strategy for effective self-leadership is not a new thing. It’s a process that humans have been trying to get a handle on for aeons. John Boyd, a great military strategist, described it as an OODA Loop – (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). Boyd argued that “while the randomness of the outside world plays a large role in our uncertainty, our inability to properly make sense of our changing reality is the bigger hindrance. When our circumstances change, we often fail to shift our perspective and instead continue to try to see the world as we feel it should be.” You can read more in-depth on Boyd’s OODA Loop here, but let’s look for now at the simplicity it offers us.
If we’re prepared to allow ourselves to stop for a moment, we create space to ask the question “what am I afraid of?”. The reason it’s worth asking is that it often provides not only interesting answers but pinpoint accuracy on problems that we could otherwise go the scenic route trying to solve. If we’re prepared to examine what we’re trying to avoid, then we can start to build a strategy based on awareness. Boyd’s first point is “observe”, which is exactly what you’re doing when you create that momentary quiet for yourself and then watch to see what the first thing your ego arrives with is. It also gives us a moment to look up and to focus better on the circumstances, pieces and players that surround us. To observe all the information we need to take in so that we can build a fresh, full perspective with which to move forward.
Once we’ve allowed ourselves this, the next step is “Orient”. This means taking a look at all the pieces and consider what they may mean and how they may fit together. As we become more practised at cycling through this OODA Loop, we learn not to make assumptions about what we think we know, see, feel or expect. You know what they say about assumptions…. One of the most strategically important parts of self-leadership is the discipline to observe and orient with full clarity and open-mindedness; not curtailing ourselves to only what we want to see and believe, but open to wherever and whatever comes next. It is practising this openness without judgement that allows our egos to calm and sit.
From this position of calmer, fuller perspective, we can weigh up our possible next steps. Perhaps there are a variety of options. Perhaps there is only one. Whichever is the case, it’s only possible to take one full step forward at a time. Often, our hesitation (and the reason for our ego’s creation of the previous ineffective flurry) is not having a guarantee that we’re taking the right step, nor a guarantee of the outcome. You’ll be pleased to know it’s not just you – THIS is exactly why Boyd created a LOOP!
Once you’ve decided which step you’ll take first, Boyd reminds us that it’s not enough just to make the decision – we must ACT! We must act with the definition that self-leadership and decision making builds, and with the knowledge that, as we act, we set in motion the next loop…
As we act, we must be ready to go back to Step One and observe. We must re-orient by the information taking that next step presents; reassessing what the next decision and step need to be; and once we’ve decided, we must act again. One step at a time. One decision at a time. Maintaining the relative calm that knowing we can readjust with each next step brings, compared to the ego-driven lack of direction that “busy” and “striving” without clarity causes.
Stop. Observe, orient, decide – act. And then do it again.
by Christen Killick
April 26th, 2021