Wissam Adib
Coaching for Change

Blog

On Change

Firsts

Do you know that feeling you have when you are exposed to a brand new environment and you have no prior experience to fall back on? It might have been when you started university, or your first job.

During these times, your senses are on alert. You’re watching carefully what is happening around you, and trying to quickly learn the right behavior to succeed in the new environment.

The second job is not the same, even if it’s with a new company.  You now have some experience to fall back on, and you’re thinking about what’s different rather than building new behaviors.

Those times when everything is new make you sensitive to imprinting: building beliefs and behaviors that last for the rest of your life. Imprints layer one on top of the other, and you never really get rid of them.

Your first job, your first romantic relationship, your first child, your first big failure. Your story is a story of firsts. Everything else is forgettable.

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Where resistance is born

One person, thinking about changing, is undecided. They hold both options in their mind at the same time.

Another person enters the picture. They pressure the first to choose one path. The first person, still undecided, resists. 

We blame the first person for resisting, when it was the second who created it. 

 

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Telling the truth

My nightstand always has on it more books than I can read at once, documents that should have been filed long before, and whatever trinkets found their way into my pockets during the day. Every once in a while my wife draws my attention to the deteriorating state of my nightstand. And every time she does, my reaction is always the same: "it's fine! It's not that messy."

It's not fine. 

The ability to make the right decisions starts with telling the truth. And telling the truth starts with telling the truth to yourself.

You're not spontaneous, you need to learn impulse control. You're not overloaded, you have bad time management habits. He's not over-sensitive, you were insensitive.

Dig past the false explanations.

 

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The anxiety of learning

Being successful depends on always learning and growing in anything that we do. This is as true for individuals as it is for organizations. If we don't learn, someone else will come who is better, faster, smarter, and we don't survive.

Learning itself, though, produces anxiety. When we are learning, we have to move away from the familiar. When we are learning, we might make mistakes, and we might look foolish.

What is scarier for you at this moment, the anxiety of survival or the anxiety of learning?

The answer to that question determines your next step. 

 

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The power of being vulnerable

Leaders want to feel worthy of their position. After all, they are the leaders because they are the best, right? Just in case, and to make sure others know they are the best, they start playing the part.

Everything they say or do says to others: "I am the leader. I am perfect. You on the other hand, are in need of improvement."

Followers know this isn't true. No one is perfect. But they want the recognition and the rewards, so they play along.  "You are perfect. We are blessed to be in your presence."

Soon, "I am perfect" turns into "I am above the rules", and "you are perfect" turns into "you have all the answers and we have none."

It's a hop, skip and jump from there to disaster. 

Contrast this with the farewell memo Dara Khosrowshahi sent to the staff at Expedia where he was CEO for 12 years. Talking about his new role as CEO of Uber, he says: "I have to tell you I am scared."

Now, instead of followers who cling on to him to be dragged forward, he's going to be welcomed by supporters who are working to push him, and the rest of the company, to success.

 

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Wishes unfulfilled

Every once in a while we have an interaction with someone that leaves us feeling frustrated and unfulfilled,  and where we didn't get what we most wished for. Here's how one of these interactions might play out:

You're talking with one of your team members about the best way to solve a customer problem. You offer a few suggestions but he doesn't seem to be taking them very seriously. A wish is born: to have your opinion respected, to have your voice heard.

But wishes are always born twins. Together with this wish comes another thought: your expectation on how the other person will respond to your wish. In our earlier scenario, you might expect that if you asserted yourself you will be looked down upon. So instead of doing that, you quickly end the conversation and walk away feeling frustrated and defeated.

That pattern: your wish, how you expect others to respond to your wish, and what you end up doing instead, is different for each person. 

But for each person, it's always the same. 

We're each taught a single script that we play out all of our life. And we've learned it so well we don't even realize we're playing it out.

Step 1, as always, is awareness. 

 

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Suspending judgement

We are judgemental by nature. Someone makes a statement and immediately we want to decide "is it true?" Even agreement is a form of judgement.

When we judge, we introduce a new element into the conversation: our ego. Now we have a position to defend. If someone has a different perspective, they are not debating the issue, they are opposing us personally. 

And defend that position we will. We bend the truth, exaggerate the facts, and insist on seemingly life-long beliefs that were formed only seconds earlier.

Avoiding the rabbit hole of judgement is easy. Just wait. Next time someone says something, keep listening.

 

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Do you feel like a fake?

Many talented, high achieving and hard working men and women feel that they don't deserve the success that they have. The higher they move in their organization the more they feel that they are impostors, and that at any moment they are going to be discovered for the fakes that they are.

This symptom is actually quite common. One reason: we are all constantly pressured to act in ways that do not reflect our true selves.

Another reason: being raised by parents who focus too much on achievement while providing little emotional warmth. And if you want an extra dose of imposture, be the first born, and have your parents' heightened expectations of your future success thrown on your shoulders.

If you're a high achiever, it's likely you experience this. And so do many of your team members. As with many things the solution is simple but not easy: go easy on yourself. Don't be a perfectionist, and see criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve rather than an attempt to expose you and doom your career.

There's no black or white, only shades of grey.

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Empathy is not sympathy

Empathy is the ability to see things from someone else's perspective.

You can empathize without sympathizing: I understand your frustration, but I don't feel the same way.

You can empathize without being nice: You're feeling angry right now, but don't you dare take that anger out on me.

You can empathize without agreeing: You feel that you were treated unfairly, but let's take a look at things from another perspective.

People feel much more validated, and open for change, when you empathize.

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The problem is not the problem

The Finance Department has a process for procurement that ensures we get the right service for the best price. The only problem is, nobody ever follows this process (this isn't really the problem), and they've asked the CEO to intervene.

Nobody follows the process because the purchase request is filed late. The problem is that management makes last minute decisions about the service they want to buy (this isn't the problem either).

Management makes last minute decisions because the scope of work is constantly changing. The problem is management bends over backwards to please customers (you guessed it, not the problem).

Management bends over backwards to please customers because the company prides itself at having excellent customers service (bingo!).

And that's why nobody will ever follow the procurement process.

The first problem is never the problem, it's just the symptom.

 

Wissam Adib