The Power of Practice, Part III

17 Oct 2011 2:14 PM | Kathleen Loehr

You’ve reflected on what you care about, what commitment you are stretching towards. This week let’s talk about the nitty gritty of taking on intentional practices to actually help you achieve your commitment.

I’ll use my own example to reveal the pitfalls and power of intentional practices. Three years ago I made a commitment to be bolder in my leadership. I was told that I often showed up as a #2, making sure that THE leader was well supported and follow-up actions occurred toward goals. I knew I was capable of leading big organizations and complicated projects. However, what I had practiced over and over, from childhood through my career, was being #2. I was the 2nd child in my family and that shaped my actions up to that point. I knew really well how to manage up. I was rewarded early on for making life easy for those in positions of authority.

I designed specific practices to be bolder. For example, I practiced speaking first in meetings rather than waiting for others to speak and then fitting my opinions into what had already been said. I also began making clear and specific requests of my peers, rather than just responding. Outside of work, I took courses from the Strozzi Leadership Institute and learned many key practices to show up more fully in my leadership. One was a simple martial arts practice with a “jo”, a long wooden stick, to reveal to myself, immediately, when my body was holding back, or when I was leaning too far forward, eager to please. Practicing 31 moves with the jo over and over helped me solidify the behavior of standing tall in my own center as a leader in meetings and in making requests. I also started a sitting practice. Sitting 10-15 minutes at least four times a week built up my capacity to listen INTO myself, rather than what was swirling around me and in my constant stream of thoughts.

Sounds easy? Well, it wasn’t. It was HARD to be a beginner again. I knew my old way of being so well that it was easy to slip back into managing up. And others knew me in that old way too so they turned to me as a #2. I learned the hard way that taking on intentional practices revealed vividly all my resistance to change. I absolutely wanted to become a bolder leader, but I had to go through the overt and covert frustrations, denial, numbness, and daydreaming without action that continually showed up.

For instance, working with my jo was exciting at first. I liked the powerful moves and the power I felt stirred in me.  But then it waned – I began finding excuses for not practicing. I got impatient – I wanted new results NOW – so didn’t recognize the small shifts of increased strength and focus. I also liked getting kudos for managing up well and didn’t yet see similar internal or external recognition for taking on bolder, but possibly more vulnerable and lonely, leadership. Bottom line? I didn’t feel like “me” anymore. I knew I no longer wanted to do what I had done in the past, but I wasn’t yet the new me I was striving for.

What kept me going was my commitment. It was a siren call forward, despite the resistance, discomfort and ease of stepping back into what I knew. Reflect on your commitment this week. Is it compelling enough to carry you forward through the inevitable breakdowns that will occur as you practice new actions? Is it intellectually, emotionally and spiritually engaging enough to organize your choices over and over towards it, despite discomfort? Take time to feel into your chosen commitment towards YOUR leadership and sense if it has the power to mobilize you, even when the going gets tough, towards that future that you’ve boldly declared. Speak your commitment to others and ask for honest feedback to learn if the power of your commitment is palpable!

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