“If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting somebody else down – show me by lifting somebody else up” – Obama.
It was while watching a video of Obama recently where he was talking about the work he is doing to develop young men that I heard him talk about strength in this way – and it really resonated with me.
It reminded me in particular about a principle that learnt while working as a peace monitor in South Africa during the fight for freedom in the early 1980s. We were taught that it is critical when you find yourself in a situation where you need individuals or groups to take different actions or make different choices, that the most powerful way to do this is to allow their ego the space to reverse.
This is an extremely simple principle but one that can be extraordinarily difficult to follow. What does it mean and how does it work? There are 2 simple steps to follow
The starting point is to get really clear in your own mind about what the desired outcome is that you are trying to achieve. In our case our focus was on trying to ensure that no-one got hurt or killed. In the organisational work I do now it tends to be things like helping someone to see that they need to behave in a different way or move from their current areas of responsibility or possibly move on from the organisation itself. The reason we need to be so clear on the outcome is that unfortunately we have a strong tendency to focus on another outcome over-riding outcome which at the time is less evident to us – and that is the outcome of proving we are right! (and preferably showing them just how wrong they are). If you get fixated with being right then the result is that you drive people into a defensive corner and there is no-where left for their ego to go other than attack and defend.
If you are able to get clear on the outcome and move beyond your own ego, then the next step is to explore sufficient alternative narratives to explain the current status. Again this is what we sometimes find so difficult because we think that to be authentic people we need to work with the truth and the facts. In reality there is seldom one truth and there are always multiple perspectives on the facts. I had a recent example of this where a team of 13 people all had a different narrative for how well or otherwise their business had done in the previous year. None of them were intentionally being deceptive, they were simply seeing the situation through their lens. It takes true strength to help people to see that there are multiple realities and there is no need for one of those to be more real than the others. This creates the space for people to come to their own understandings of the current context and frees them up to act differently going forward.
So when next you find yourself in a situation where it is in the best interests of all that an individual or group take a different action or make a different choice – think about the ego’s you are dealing with (including your own) and ask yourself
Am I showing my strength by lifting those around me up?