For the last several years I’ve had the privilege of working with a rising leader with a bright future. Anna had a successful job and was doing pretty well—and she had hit a wall in her career.
During our first conversation she explained where she wanted to go, and that she wasn’t able to create forward momentum. As we talked more and more, she told me she wanted to grow into being a CEO. More than that, she wanted to learn new things, manage larger groups within her company, and acquire more responsibility. These were great goals, nothing wrong with that.
Getting There however, was proving to be very, very difficult.
When we began she knew that she could be more than she was and it wasn’t happening. Anna did not know how to get from Here to There.
In her mind, she had a very clear picture of her There. She could describe it in great detail, almost like a movie playing. Yet, she could not get to it or even move toward it.
We knew what her Here was- senior executive of a fairly large company, doing good work and wanting more. In talking more about where she was at that moment, I remember asking a very specific question—“What’s keeping you here?”
Anna sat back and reflected on that for a few minutes. She looked up at the ceiling as her eyes searched for an answer.
She said, “I know where I want to be and I know, generally, the things that I need to do to get there.”
After moment of pondering Anna realized that she could not answer my question. She could not figure out why she was not taking the steps and doing the things that she needed to do to get from here to there.
What’s keeping you Here?
As we talked further, I asked Anna to reflect back on her past. Where did she grow up? What was home like as a child? Who were her parents? What did they do?
In Anna’s case she grew up in a very stable household. Mom and dad both had solid jobs. She’d lived in the same place for her whole life. She went to school with the same people her entire life.
And as Anna’s retelling this, what jumps out at me is how very little things changed for her. She had a stable family, stable life, stable world around her. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. Anna’s story may sound like the story of a lot of others as they grew up. Why was it so important for me to learn this about Anna?
While Anna had no problem in telling me her From, she was quite candid in telling me that she saw no value in talking about this stuff. It had nothing to do with where she was at that moment in time. All it did was show that she had a good upbringing and a good family.
As we moved from her From to her There, it became evident that the world she grew up in was built around one word- stability.
Releasing the Brake
Stability itself is not a bad thing. In fact, we all crave stability in our lives to some degree. In Anna’s case it had become an impediment to her. Everything around her was so stable that she was afraid of making change. She didn’t want to deal with things that created instability. Avoiding these things had done more than just maintain stability, they’d created fear.
Her fear grew and grew until the feet of Anna’s business career were encased in concrete.
By answering these questions, Anna was able to see pretty quickly that stability was actually holding her back. When that happened she was able to take her feet out of the concrete.
Or to use a better metaphor, Anna took her foot off the brake and put it on the accelerator.
Anna’s discovery was not enough to turn her career around overnight. This is a process and while she discovered why she was inadvertently keeping the brakes on her career she still needed a roadmap, an action plan. Since that discovery, Anna’s career has been taking leaps and bounds forward. She’s not There yet, however she’s much closer than she was a year ago.
One step at a time.
From Comes First
When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s easy to think you know exactly where to take people—they just need to listen to you.
That is a flawed approach.
Our job as leaders—whether in business, in family, or in life—is to take people From Here to There.
Before we can take them There we must first know where they’ve come From. Once we understand that, then we can learn how they got Here. Only then can we help them get to their There. This takes self-reflection and answering questions similar to what I asked Anna. While you may understand what it is holding them back, they need to discover it for themselves.
If there’s one thing to take away from Anna’s story it’s this: When you lead, you are a facilitator of self-discovery.
There’s an enormous amount of information people choose not to process and deal with in their own life. We’ve been taught to not reflect back on our past. We've been told to keep moving forward—do not look back at all.
This thinking is so wrong because there’s so much there. There is so much within our past that connects the dots from who we were, where we came from to who we are and how we are today.
Take time to understand your From. If not, you won’t be able to identify what’s keeping you Here. You will not get There. You will not be able to lead others There.
Once you understand someone’s From and how they got Here, then you can create a roadmap with them to There.