“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something – I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.
As leaders it is our job to move people forward, to influence them to get their job done – not to do the work for them. When we run up against people who are stuck in place, how can we as leaders help them get out of the box they sometimes put themselves in?
As a team leader and a coach I have experimented with many ways to help people get unstuck or move out of their own way. What I have discovered is that for the most part people are unable to move forward for two reasons. Sometimes people focus entirely on the future and worry about what might happen or whether they will be good enough to achieve what it is they are aiming for in the future. Other times people get stuck in the past possibly because of regrets or guilt or some other emotion that holds them hostage.
It is interesting that no matter what the situation, the common denominator to helping people get out of their own way is to guide people into focusing on the now. Let me clarify by sharing a couple examples with you.
Fear of the Future
Sometimes when we look into our future there are so many options available that we have trouble landing on the one that will work best in a given situation. We may skip from one option to another without ever really making a decision or we may stop ourselves from making a move forward all together. One of the biggest fears for a person in this position is the fear of making the wrong choice and being stuck with that choice. It sounds a bit funny but, people often get stuck worrying about getting stuck.
For instance consider my client (I’ll call her Lauren) who spent the last year getting her MBA. When she contacted me she was looking for career direction. Lauren has a degree in marketing. She knew that she had lots of options available to her for a career including a PR position, recruiting, sales, research, event coordinator, and social media expert. She was confused and not making much progress.
My question to guide her into the now was;
* “What do you need ‘now’ in order to make a decision?”
Lauren was able to respond that she didn’t have much sense of what each of these persons did on a day to day basis. What she needed to know ‘now’ is what each of the jobs would entail so she could choose a direction with some certainty that she would thrive in the work.
Because her focus shifted from what might happen in the future to what she needed now, she was immediately ready and able to take some action. It became a simple task of answering my follow up question,
* “How can you get that information?”
Together we brainstormed a list of people she could talk with including professors and people both of us know in marketing and she is moving forward with finding her answers.
Living in the Past
Another situation where people sometimes box themselves in is when they get stuck focusing on something that has happened in the past. Sometimes as leaders we have to help people to not only see that the door has closed behind them but also to help them mentally nail a board over the door that says, “Access Denied”.
A couple of years ago I was coaching a leader whose company had lost out on a big contract. The company had to lay off some great talent and management had to take pay cuts. When she told me that it was difficult I had to agree. It is very natural to feel discouraged when something doesn’t go right and that can stop us from wanting to move forward.
After acknowledging and validating her pain the first question I asked in order to move her forward was;
* “How is focusing on what is in the past serving you now?”
Notice that I included the word “now” at the end of the question. The reason for including the word ‘now’ is that when they lost out on the contract it might have helped my client to grieve the loss or to assuage any quilt she might have felt for having to lay off people. By including the word ‘now’ I continued to acknowledged and validated her feelings about the past and at the same time moved her into the present.
Being the thoughtful leader she quickly realized that the answer was, “It isn’t serving me now.” Then I was able to ask,
* “When do you want to shut the door on that situation?”
Happily my client decided to shut the door immediately and started moving forward again.
Getting People Through the Door
Even the best questions don’t always manage to guide people into the ‘now’. Sometimes as leaders we have to pull or push people through the door. That may sound a bit harsh but I know this to be true from personal experience.
For years I had wanted to sky dive. Finally I made the decision. I was very excited until we were on our way up into the clouds in a small two seater airplane.
Mind you I wasn’t doing this jump on my own. I had a very experienced tandem diver who was walking me through all of the instructions. He said that when it was our turn to jump we would put our feet over the edge of the open door, he would count to three and we would jump.
I’m sure that he knew from experience and looking at my face that I was having second and third thoughts about the jump so when we it was our turn he counted ‘one’…and then he pulled us out of the plane. The effect was that I immediately went from worrying about what might happen to being in the now.
It was without a doubt one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences of my life. Today, I still look at clouds differently and I am grateful to this leader who pulled me through the door.
A Powerful Leader
It has been said that a powerful leader has the ability to influence people to make a commitment and take action. Do you have a team member who could use your leadership to get unstuck so they can move forward? If this is true for you and you’re not sure of the best questions to guide them (or yourself) I hope that you will reach out to me so we can have a conversation about how you can
connect to your power,
Last modified: April 6, 2021