Leadership Coaching Tip: Steve March We Are Hardwired to Take Our Eye Off the Ball

August 2007 / Leadership Coaching Tips

In the Summer 2007 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, wrote about eight core concerns that we all have as human beings.

The Eight Worldly Concerns
Wanting to be praised …and not wanting to be criticized.
Wanting happiness …and not wanting suffering.
Wanting gain …and not wanting loss.
Wanting fame and approval …and not wanting rejection and disgrace.

These concerns are an inheritance of sorts from our families and cultures that we are born into and raised in. Generally speaking, each of us has all of these concerns. That is to say, we have embodied these concerns. They live deep within us and, as a result, often pop up when we least expect them.

I remember a change project that I was leading several years ago. At first, the project was small. As the change leader, I was working with a single team of six engineering managers. We all saw our efforts as pioneering a new and better way of working with our customers. The early indications were that we were really doing something innovative and it was working.

At the first major milestone, I gave a presentation to senior management about the progress to date. They were all very excited to see such progress. Following their excitement, they were all eager to adopt the changes within their own teams. Immediately, I was swept up into the assessment “They like my work. I’m doing a good job.” I thought I might get a promotion out of such a highly visible success. I was happy, very happy.

At this meeting the senior managers decided to adopt the new practices across the whole 400-person organization starting within a month. In retrospect, several months later, I realized that I should have put the breaks on this decision immediately. It was clear to me when the decision was made that our limited pilot didn’t allow us to fully test every case, the software infrastructure was still shaky, users still required lots of handholding, and there was a lot of learning to do. But I was too swept away with “worldly concerns” to face the tough reality that as much as the company needed the change, and management was behind it, we weren’t ready for a full deployment.

I hadn’t gone into the project with the aim to impress people, gain acclaim and get a promotion. I started the project because, along with many others, I was frustrated with our current practices and thought we could do better. Perhaps you have your own story of being swept up in worldly concerns.

When we get swept into worldly concerns it becomes far too easy (even automatic) to take our eye off the ball, so to speak, and not respond to what’s happening in our situation. Instead of attending to our situation, we attend to our self-image.

So what are we to do when this happens? Here is a self-observation and a re-centering practice. Use these practices to develop your capacity to lead more effectively.

Self-observation Exercise

Every day for the next month, stop once at the end of the morning and once at the end of the evening for 5 minutes to answer these questions.

  1. Which of the worldly concerns was present for me during this period?
  2. How did this concern show up? In shifts in my body? Mood? Emotions? Focus of attention?
  3. As a result, what actions did I take?
  4. As a result, what was happening that I wasn’t responding to?
  5. What actions will I take based on what I am learning through this exercise?

Taking on this self-observation practice will develop your ability to observe the concerns that shape your attention, thoughts, emotions, moods, relationships and behavior.

I invite you to do this self-observation in the mood of curiosity. You are in the midst of an inquiry looking to see what you’ll discover about yourself. This is not the place for self-criticism. If self-criticism shows up, do the self-observation and notice which of the worldly concerns is present.

Practice for Re-centering After Being Triggered by a Worldly Concern (for Self-image)

Here is a simple and portable practice that you can do to re-center and re-focus when you get triggered by a worldly concern.

  1. Notice that you’ve been swept into a worldly concern.
  2. Pause, take a deep breath, and on the exhalation let go of the concern.
  3. Notice what is happening that you must respond to in your situation.
  4. Take action by responding.

Using the above self-observation will strengthen your ability to perform the first, and probably most important, step in this practice.

In summary, we all have these eight worldly concerns. And when we get swept into them our attention goes toward managing our self-image. This can and often will derail our leadership efforts. By developing our ability to observe when we’ve been triggered and re-center we can expand our leadership effectiveness.

About the Author

Steve March is an entrepreneur, leadership coach, and author of the blog On Living, Leading, Designing, and Coaching. He is currently Vice President of Leadership Programs for Integral Leadership, LLC, in San Francisco, California. He also teaches Integral CoachingSM at New Ventures West, a leading coach training school. He can be reached by e-mail at steve@newventureswest.com.