In a post I wrote last week, I discussed the concept of our internal board of directors which is responsible for the self-critical internal chatter that most of us experience. The main message of the post is that there are techniques we can employ that will increase our self-awareness of how these internal critics influence our behaviors and how we, with practice can use that self-awareness to modify those behaviors to something that will serve us better in the future.
Understanding this dynamic within myself was a liberating discovery. It isn’t that the internal board are now completely silent, but I am now quite skilled at managing them, meaning they take much less of my time and energy, and have a much smaller role in how I engage on an ongoing basis.
The next step in the process was to understand more clearly how I wanted to engage going forward … to install a new internal board of directors if you will. If I no longer had to prove myself to the old internal board (for example, prove to the internal critic that tells me I’m not good enough by doing more and doing it all perfectly), how would I use my energies to provide a greater contribution to my organization and community? And most importantly, a greater, more rewarding contribution to myself?
The tone of the original internal board is always “I’m not enough!”. The focus of the restructured internal board is about what roles I am truly passionate about playing. I want to restructure the board to say to me “I am!”
My new internal board keeps me focused on this. What I now know about myself is:
I am a facilitator.
I am a builder.
If I stay focused on facilitating progress for others or on building new solutions / strategies / concepts, all kinds of good things tend to happen for me. I am more collaborative, I am a better listener, I am a much better learner and I am more aware of the interests of others.
Interestingly enough, when I’m in sync with this new internal board they also help me remember what I’m not. I am a builder, but I am not a fixer. Building energizes me. Fixing drains me. They seem very similar, but they impact me so differently. Similarly, I am a facilitator but I am not an organizer.
How do we figure out what we are and what we aren’t? Sometimes it isn’t an easy exercise as we can judge ourselves as being self-centered. But I don’t think there is a more important thing for us to know about ourselves.
My suggested starting place for this work is based on Marcus Buckingham’s work on strengths. In his book “GO: Put Your Strengths To Work“, he describes a simple process by which we can start to gather information about our strengths. The key here is his definition of a strength as something that makes you stronger, something that energizes you. Conversely a weakness is described as something that make you weaker or drains you.
Marcus suggests a process through which we monitor our energy level when we have completed a task or piece of work. How do we feel? Are we pumped up? Happy? Full of vigor? Then write that task down on a green sticky note and put it on your wall. Are we tired? Grumpy? Drained? Write that task down on a red sticky note and put it on your wall as well.
At the end of a week or two gather all of the notes and start to sort them together into groups, looking for patterns. If you come up with something like “I love spreadsheets” from the green sticky notes, go a little deeper. What is it that you love about it specifically? Do you love building them? Do you love research? Problem solving? Bring it up as high as you can … each of us probably has two to three of these big themes that really drive us.
Same thing for the red sticky notes. We want to know those basic categories of activity that bring us down as well so we can do our best to avoid them.
So back to the restructuring of our internal board. How do we make that a reality? Let’s follow an example through. One of my old board members likes to tell me I’m not good enough. So when I hear that voice I will ask “what’s happening here?” The voice might say “Nobody is asking you to work on this really important project … they don’t think you are good enough to participate”.
Instead of reacting by pushing to be involved, I can instead ask myself “are any of my strengths needed here”? It might be that others are equally able to act as the builder on this project so I’m not needed in that way, but it might be that the team needs a facilitator so I can make the offer to help in that way. If it is accepted, I’m happy because I get to deploy a strength. If it is not accepted, then that’s okay because I most want to find opportunities to work to my strengths.
In the end, this is all about creating new habits. We recognize the pattern of the old internal board and we interrupt the reactive approach that is associated with them. Once we are good at interrupting, we can make a conscious choice about how to engage our new internal board to the benefit of the team AND ourselves.
How does this resonate with you? Can you name your core strengths? Those activities that energize you no matter where you deploy them (at work, at home, in the community)?
As a leader, can you think of times where team members are reacting because of the internal chatter of their “old internal board”? How might you coach them to restructure their internal board to better serve their true strengths?