Earlier this week we were on the west coast of Vancouver Island enjoying the amazing wild beauty of Pacific Rim National Park and some incredible fall weather that left us feeling completely spoiled by Mother Nature. In such a remote environment it also goes without saying that good listening on the radio is hard to come by so we had Sirius / XM tuned to the Classic Vinyl station listening to classic rock and roll as we drove to and from the area.
Kendra had been wishing that they would play some Jethro Tull, and sure enough we found ourselves listening to “Bungle In The Jungle”. There’s a line in that song that I’d never really heard before that was the inspiration (and the title) for this post.
One of the reasons this resonated with me was at a metaphorical level in real time. I mentioned the beauty of the environment we were in, but at the same time we were staying in a town that was suffering through a tragedy where five tourists had drowned in a whale watching accident that same day and there was a feeling of sadness for all of those lost plus the town people who were the crew on the boat. I wanted to mention this to send my condolences to the families of the people lost as well as my support to the crew of the MV Leviathan II who must be struggling to make sense of what happened.
The other reason it intrigued me was as an insight into how we might show up in life ourselves and the old adage that often our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness. Are we aware of the light and dark, the yin and yang, the kitten and snake of this within ourselves? What do I mean by this? Here are a few examples I’ve encountered along the way. Do any seem familiar?
- Someone is known as a person who always “gets things done” and is valued for that, but sometimes doesn’t take note of who gets hurt along the way.
- Someone is a very accommodating individual and if you are sitting with them they will help you to the best of their ability right then and there. But if you aren’t in front of them your request might never get responded to because they are busy satisfying the needs of whoever is in front of them next.
- Someone is always willing to stand up and volunteer and no situation is too big for them to step up and own. But when they aren’t invited to participate they feel left out and may cause interference with the project.
- Someone is both highly accomplished and has a strong desire to help others, but may start helping without being invited and thereby not acknowledge the good work that had already been done.
- Someone is known as a great source of information as they are always learning and studying, but as a result have a hard time listening when others already have the answer.
I could keep going but I think you get the picture. There can be a dark side to our strength that comes out when we aren’t aware that even exists and when we aren’t actively managing its impact on others.
The first example is one I live with many days. I have always been the get things done guy. If I had something on my plate I was driven to get it done and indeed that was a big part of why I was valued. But as I took on progressively senior positions there were more and more people who had a stake in what I was doing and I didn’t always take that interest into account as I engaged in the work.
It was a challenge that I addressed working with my coach, Kerry Parsons. My coach took me through a learning process that I have incorporated into my toolkit as a coach today. The steps are as follows:
- Understand the driving force behind your strength. Most of us have one or more self-limiting beliefs or “old tapes” that live within our subconscious. That inner belief isn’t comfortable so we have developed a strategy to counter it. In my case there is something in me that tells me I’m not always good enough, and in order to counter that I’ve developed this “get things done” capability that demonstrates my capabilities. It usually follows this structure. Some inner gremlin tells us “I’m not […] enough” and we have designed a strategy to show that isn’t true in order to feel good about ourselves.
- Learn how to identify when that driving force is at work. This might be the trickiest step in the process where we catch the inner forces starting up. The usual first part of this is to start to notice occurrences after the fact. When we are made aware that our dark side has showed up we go look for the trigger. We try to identify two things about the trigger … what thoughts went through our mind and what somatic or physical clues did our body give us? In my case, I notice a quickening of my thought patterns and a sensation that the center of my existence is in the middle of my brain.
- Learn how to take control of the force. When we get comfortable with the first two steps and can quickly identify that the driving force is at play we can take charge. We first affirm for ourselves that we know “I am […] enough”, and because I am enough I can choose how to engage. The second part of this process is to acknowledge that the light side of our driving force truly is a strength … it has helped us achieve everything we already have on our resume. With this confidence we can face the dark side more easily.
- Substitute a conscious behavior for the dark side. We can now exercise the choice to allow our strength to go to work while ensuring that we don’t let the dark side come with it, or we can choose a new method of engagement. In my case, my drive to get things done didn’t mesh well with my position as a senior leader. Sometimes when I caught myself heading in that direction, I could stop myself, confirm that a big part of my job was to enable the contributions of others and let go of doing anything myself. In this case my dark side never came into play. In other cases, I might still realize that I am the right person to do the work and consciously enter into the work watching for how I am impacting others and making adjustments as I go so that there wouldn’t be any “collateral damage”.
How about you? What’s your greatest strength? Does it ever appear as a weakness for you? What do you know about the relationship between the two?