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.