Sunday 1 August 2010

When "Going for the Jugular" avoids a surgical strike!

I received a lovely phone call yesterday from Ian (not his real name), a Crohnie who took my Core Self © programme several years ago when it was far less refined than today. He rang to tell me that tomorrow he was starting his new role as European Operations Director. When we first met he would have found this role impossible to accept as it involves a lot of international travel. Ian has checked the accuracy of this article and I have his permission to publish it.

As in numerous of my cases of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, when Ian asked for my help I had no idea that he had Crohn’s Disease: the reason for undertaking the Core Self programme was not for his Crohn’s Disease but for leadership development: he was a VP of an international corporation and wanted to build better relationships at work. This is the story of our original meeting.

In the course of our initial in depth exploration of his current working relationships (to which he would later refer as my Inquisition) Ian reluctantly revealed that he had Crohn’s Colitis and explained the role that it played in his work and life: I had asked him about the results of his most recent 360 degree review and his reply confirmed my suspicions; it was clear from the remarks of his team members, peers and the directors to whom he reported that although he was seen as very intelligent, extremely knowledgeable and highly efficient, they felt that he was distant and remote, unappreciative and not very supportive. One person even said she felt he was rude, arrogant and dismissive. It was the latter comment that prompted his HR department to invite me in.

I explored with him the strategies that he had built in his work and life to deal with the bouts of severe pain and sudden urgent demands to find a toilet or be on his own. As you might expect, there was no shortage of torturous scenarios – spending as little time as possible in situations where there was no escape; making exits from conversations – sometimes very in depth ones, failing to attend meetings or leaving half way through. All his meetings were as short as possible. He seldom accepted lunch or dinner or drinks invitations with colleagues. Anything that required long, in depth meetings he would delegate ruthlessly so he could leave at any time. The list went on and on. With care, I went for the ‘jugular’ question: “What are the positive outcomes that these strategies have given you?” I always sit a safe distance whenever I ask these types questions - I’m never totally sure whether or not I will be treated to finely articluated anger. Despite the fact that Ian had probably mastered an expressionless face over several decades, I could still hear an arpeggio of emotions including incredulity, denial, pain, affront, anger and all the usual suspects indicating many of the limiting beliefs I had come to expect from this type of control. After all, how on earth could any of unbearable symptoms that STOP him doing the many normal things he wants to do have any benefit? After the restrained outburst, he relaxed into a knowing smile - there was one benefit. (I actually felt on pretty safe ground here as I had spotted several, as probably you have already). “Well, I have learnt to be an excellent delegator for the things that are a problem for me.”

When he realised I was waiting for more, the arpeggios returned before another "aha" smile as he talked about the incredible efficiency of having to hold short meetings and his reputation for getting to the point and “cutting the crap” (no pun intended, he said as we both laughed). His smile continued to widen as the examples started to flow faster than he could mention them and he stopped speaking for quite a while to scribble notes so he could recall them all. It was a wonderful moment of realisation. Suddenly remembering he had stopped in the middle of sharing these with me he continued to talk at a more measured pace about the skills he’d discounted just because he associated them with “cheating” - to avoid embarrassing himself or having to reveal his condition. The list continued apace: He avoided long journeys unless absolutely necessary which meant that those journeys he had to take, really counted. He wasted very little time and so could work less hours and achieve more than his colleagues. He was very definite about what he would and wouldn’t do in order to avoid compromising himself and so people seemed to respect his decisions and offer fewer challenges than others might receive. In order to do this he had to develop strong arguments to articulate what he meant clearly – and there was always a strong argument to support his decision, he didn’t just make up reasons for not doing them. Then I was ready to ask my second ‘jugular’ question, “So would you like to summarise how Crohn’s Disease has affected your career?” In summary he said, “I just realised I probably owe at least my three last promotions to the strategies, skills and other resources I have been forced to learn and apply, to work around my Crohn’s Disease.”

This is what I love. Here is one of the many occasions when two well timed, sensitively placed, “going for the jugular” questions really work - so long as I “get out of the way”, provide the space, and wait in silence for the answers I expect to emerge.

Ian's baptism of fire was complete and he was now ready for our work to begin: The severity of his Crohn's Disease symptoms would be the reflection of how well his programme was going, not the focus of the programme itself. I may tell you more about Ian's journey later, but this post is already too long and Ian is just one of many who managed to turn their life around by focusing on what's really going on with them, rather than on their own often retold story of what they think is going on.

I hope you have enjoyed Ian's story. As usual, please let me know what you think: There is always something for me to learn out of observations from your perspective .

Be well, be happy! Joy x

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