1. Who would benefit most from working with LifeLine?
2. How do I know if I’m “stuck?”
3. Why do you choose to look at the past as well as the future?
4. How is what you do different from “therapy?”
5. Why don’t you call yourselves “coaches?”
6. How would the LifeLine approach work with a team?
There are two ways to answer this question. One is to look at those leaders who might feel especially pressured, given their job challenges and other peoples’ expectations for their performance. In this category, we might include leaders who are:
- “High potentials” being groomed for top jobs.
- In transition to an expanded role, a new job, or a new location.
- Underrepresented in an organization.
- Struggling to maintain a balance between their work and personal lives.
Then, from another perspective, the individual leaders who seem to get the most from working with LifeLine also share a common profile:
- They’re sick and tired of feeling overwhelmed or “stuck” — and they’re willing to admit it;
- They’re also curious, and they have an appetite to expand their self-understanding; and
- They have the courage to acknowledge and name their own contribution to the situation they’re struggling with.
So … they’re ready and willing to do some fast, deep work.
Generally, you’re “stuck” if you frequently find yourself in situations that feel both familiar and frustrating. That is, you feel like you’re starring in your own, personal “Groundhog Day,” the movie where Bill Murray was compelled to repeat the same day over and over. In this case, though, you find yourself having the same kind of overreactions, frustrations, or conflicts, again and again, regardless of the people or the situation — and you don’t see any way out. You can see the train wreck about to happen again, and you don’t see any way to avoid it. All you can do is think, with a sinking feeling, “Here we go again.”
What we do is take the past into account — we don’t dwell on it. And we take it into account for two reasons: first, we’ve found that since the present — and the future — are a consequence of the experiences, the decisions, and the choices we’ve made in the past, our personal biographies can quickly confirm both why we’re “stuck” and how we can extricate ourselves. Also, we’ve learned that if we ignore a leader’s past and concentrate only on setting goals for change in the future, often the process will be derailed because the leader can’t evade those very internal messages from the past that have created the situation in the first place — that current sense of “stuckness.” We’re simply acknowledging, at the personal level, the truth of that old adage, “those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.”
This is a very important distinction. For one thing, we’re not therapists, so we’re neither qualified nor experienced to do therapy. Fortunately, we also don’t want to do it. With LifeLine we’re very clear about our purpose — helping leaders maintain their vitality and build their resilience to confront intensifying pressure at work. In order to do that, though, we believe that we need to focus on the whole person, because surmounting this pressure requires us to access and use all our personal resources. So we do explore a leader’s personal biography, we do work to expand a leader’s emotional intelligence, we do ask questions about patterns in the past because we’ve learned that these steps help a leader make wiser choices about what to change and how to change. And, we’ve found, working deeper also lets us work faster.
Just as we’re not doing therapy, we’re also not doing what most people think of as “coaching.” Because our niche is building resilience to overwhelming pressure at work, we need to combine different levels of learning — adult education, leadership development, personal capacity building — into a package that is based on each leader’s particular challenges. We also engage with each person in a variety of roles — facilitator, guide, instructor, confidant — depending on that person’s style, needs, goals, and situation. Given the complicated issues that hold a leader hostage in an overwhelmed, “stuck” scenario, we’ve found that we need to provide more options than are typically available in a coaching relationship.
In addition to its individual focus, the LifeLine approach can also be extraordinarily effective with an intact work team. The key caveat is that every team member must be willing to confront both inner and outer change. Once a contract is established with an entire team, each team member now works at two levels simultaneously — developing self-understanding and building new patterns of behavior, and then learning how team members’ personal behavior patterns work together to either increase or decrease the pressure that the team as a whole experiences. The team learning process can often seem more powerful because each team member is able to use the same frame of reference to talk about personal experience, to build a shared understanding of the team’s dynamics, and to agree to change difficult patterns of group behavior that increase pressure for everyone. And when change occurs for an entire team, it’s usually much easier to sustain.