Archive for March, 2011

Hoarding is Sometimes on the Inside…

Everyone has a guilty pleasure or two.  Without them I don’t think we’d be the people we are. Oh, there may be one or two people out there who claim to watch only Public Television (always said with capital letters) and to never eat at McDonald’s, but do we really believe them?  And don’t we think them a little odd?  No, guilty pleasures are everywhere.  My husband, for example, is debating whether to go see the Monkees on tour this summer.  And I have another good friend who seems to know far too much about Snookie….

So I’ll admit it:  I like “Hoarders.”

For those of you pretending not to know what I’m talking about, “Hoarders” is a show on the A&E Network, now in its 3rd season.  It has racked up over 40 episodes, all with essentially the same theme:  an otherwise very nice person has a terrible obsession: hoarding things.  Buying, boxing, hanging, crating, piling, cataloging and saving… things.  Things and more things.  For many it has led to divorce, loss of a business, even criminal charges.

Despite the “watching a train wreck” fascination of the show itself (I did say it was a guilty pleasure), each episode is about a real person, trapped.  And not just by the things around them, but by their own obsessions and habits and (in some cases) real illnesses.

But how much hoarding is more subtle, more amorphous?  How often do we collect and save, not physical things, but emotional ones? A grudge here, a slight there.  Impatience.  Failure to listen. Disrespect.  Now and then these things happen to everyone (and, by the way, now and then we do them ourselves).  When we’re healthy we deal with them through caring conversation, or, sometimes, by recognizing them for the accident they are and then just letting them go.  But not always.

Now with every client I meet, I look for this type of hoarding. I ask questions designed to help people unpack such behaviors and, when they find them, to uncover what might be packed behind those behaviors.  And I, as their coach, need to recognize those behaviors in myself, too, in order to be in the best service for my clients.  We should all be looking for those small piles of mental and emotional artifacts that get in the way of our being our best selves.  They’re always there, and we must always be working to find them, sift through them, and throw away what no longer works for us, what no longer matters, what only holds us back.


Leading Through Observation and Awareness

I recently returned to New England after a week visiting family and friends in California.  To no one’s surprise (and certainly not mine), I found that I had returned a few pounds heavier than when I left. Now I’m not weight obsessive, but like many people, I’ve slowly accumulated a bit more weight than I would like.  And so I was planning on dieting for a bit to drop the “California Five.”

Dieting is something I’m familiar with–as is my husband–and over the years we’ve tried a number of different ways to drop weight: The “No Carb (except for those pancakes) Diet,” the “Zone (but you better be good at math) Diet,” the “Best Life (according to whom?) Diet” and even “Weight Watchers” (and who are these people “watching” me, anyway?).  And then I came across this brilliant book: Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God.

In the book, Roth argues convincingly for changing the relationship we have with food from obsession (diets, binges, calorie counting, etc.) to one of observation and awareness.  She writes that “If you pay attention to when you are hungry, what your body wants, what you are eating, when you’ve had enough, you end the obsession because obsessions and awareness cannot coexist.”

For me, this was a very powerful statement.  And the more I thought about it, the more I came to the realization that coaching leaders is very much the same:  Too often our clients are obsessing about something:  “Am I a good enough manager?”  “Does my staff like me?”  “Where do I rate in my boss’s eyes?”  “Am I delivering what’s expected of me?”  These may certainly be legitimate questions for leaders–especially new leaders–but obsessing about it is clearly not productive.  And, if we agree with Roth’s statement that “obsessions and awareness cannot coexist,” then our clients can never achieve what they’ve set out to achieve.  Instead they end up on a series of “leadership diets,” moving from one interesting program to another, from one seminar to another, from one fad to another, rather than focusing on themselves by becoming more aware.

We must always be looking at how we can help our clients become more aware: of themselves, of those around them, of their environment.  Only with that awareness can we help our clients emerge from the Leadership “diet cycle” and truly grow.  As Roth also writes: “The more you pay attention, the more you fall in love with that which is not obsessed:  that which is blazing itself through you.”  Powerful words.  Powerful ideas.