Someone once told me, “A fundamental truth is that life moves towards pleasure and away from pain.”
When I see leaders continue down a path they claim isn’t in their best interest, I ask myself, what’s the subconscious reward they are receiving? In the animal kingdom, it’s simple. Animals move towards pleasure and away from pain, but as humans, the power of the subconscious mind is actually driving our conscious behaviors (Learn more about understanding behaviors at the workplace from my blog “How Understanding Human Behavior Generates Business Results”). What looks on the surface to be causing pain is often causing subconscious pleasure.
The Power of the Subconscious Mind
Let’s take the example of a leader who acts as the hub of the company’s operations. During a coaching session, she complained that her office had become a revolving door of employees coming and going all day long. Decisions, large and small, always seemed to include her.
She shared her frustration at not having the time to get her own responsibilities done, especially as her role was changing due to the company’s exponential growth. Her role now required a shift from operations to strategic thinking and planning, with less focus on maintaining day-to-day operations. She complained that she tried to coach the staff to not come to her for things they could solve themselves, but inevitably old patterns reemerged. In our coaching session, she asked me to help her figure out how to create new boundaries for herself and her staff.
She expected our conversation to start with questions like, “what tactics have you tried in the past,” but instead I asked her to brainstorm what emotional rewards (pleasure) she received from being “the hub.” She listed off several positives, such as feeling needed, important, and competent because she knew the answers to staff questions, feeling safe because her role was critical, etc. Then we processed the feelings associated with letting go of being “the hub”. She realized she had fears (pain) around her role shifting into areas she wasn’t sure she was good at or if she even liked. She shared fears that her role might not be needed as the company changed, and she expressed concern that if she wasn’t involved in everything, she might lose control of operations all together.
As we continued to process her fears, it became clear to her that her subconscious mind was sabotaging her efforts to not be “the hub.” This was the root of the reason everyone kept her in the hub role when she insisted she didn’t want to be—she subconsciously still wanted to be.
Once this was clear, we moved on to a tactical conversation of things she could do to empower her staff and move out of needing to be the hub. She gained clarity on the fears she needed to discuss with her supervisor that related with the shift in her role, so she increased her awareness of self-sabotaging behaviors and partnered with him to support her on this transition.
As leaders, we need to challenge ourselves to look beyond the surface. This is the perfect time to go deeper and discover what the unconscious motivators are in something that superficially should be easy to solve. Go deep—I guarantee you will discover gems that will aid in change.
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