“What do I need to do to fix this” = the wrong question

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

You CAN stop the train wreck: Lead, don’t execute.

“You know, I feel like I keep being treated like the guy to execute. And I really want to be the guy in CHARGE.” 

Luis felt frustrated that he was still in the role of “doer” instead of the role of “leader,” despite being one of his business’ co founders. 

The crux of the problem? We’d been working together for a few months, so Luis already had an inkling. A moment later, he admitted:

I can see it’s not helpful, but I default to the operational.”

“Something happens to me when I’m under pressure. It’s just easier for me to do things myself.”

In other words, Luis was showing up as the guy to execute, especially when the going got tough and he felt stressed or anxious.

And, he was treating this old habit, one that he clearly wanted to change, like a train.

That—once it leaves the station—there’s no stopping.

Maybe you can relate?

Taking things you’ve delegated back onto your plate, just to “get them done” when a deadline loomed or pressure increased from your higher-ups… 

Not quite trusting the team member in charge of a project, so being more “hands-on” in your involvement than someone in your role should be…

… Your people might call this “micro-managing”—not to your face, of course.

When under stress and anxiety, we go to the places that feel familiar.

And it can feel satisfying, at first, to be “back in control” of the deliverable. It is definitely more in our comfort zone.

It’s something that almost every leader contends with, especially if they came up through the ranks and used to be in (and excelled at!) that individual contributor or manager role, responsible for the deliverable.

Executing well was thus a behavior that got us to be successful. So not only is it comfortable and familiar, we have plenty of past validation that it’s the right thing to do.

This old patterning served us once, but it isn’t serving us anymore.

Being in operational mode is NOT a sustainable approach for a senior leader.

The coaching we do at MettaWorks is that your work at this level is about your relationships. 

You work through others. Or:

Your people are your deliverable—not the deliverable itself. 

Pro tip: Make that your new mantra. “My people are my deliverable.”

But before we can even shift the conversation, we need to shift the default behavior: in this case, executing, rather than leading.

The thing about our defaults or established patterns is that, for many of us, once we start operating in our default mode, we give up. 

We look on powerlessly as the runaway train heads toward an inevitable collision. As if we can’t help ourselves.

Like Luis said, “something just happens.”

AND. In reality, we aren’t helpless. We CAN stop the train wreck.

So how do you do it?

Just like a real train, we have to catch when we’ve switched to our default early enough to identify what’s happening, put on the brakes, and course-correct.

Step 1: Identify when it’s starting to happen.

Ask: What are some of those early indicators?

Notice those initial feelings of anxiety. Pay attention to signals from your body that you’re anxious or stressed: 

  • Is your breath becoming more shallow?
  • Is your pulse quickening?
  • Are you sweating, or clenching your fists?
  • Are your shoulders tense?
  • Do you feel a tightness in your body, particularly your chest, throat, or jaw?

When you become familiar with how it feels in your body, you can begin noticing those sensations at the moment and breathe. Pause. 

This gives you the time and awareness you need to STOP the “automatic” default to old patterns of behavior.

How do we shift the anxiety and create a different behavior?

Step 2: Ask what’s driving it? 

One of the areas where MettaWorks really helps shift is in that specific moment: I see this isn’t working

Why isn’t this working?

What could be triggering the stress or anxiety? Here are some of the scenarios we see:

  • When we don’t have visibility into the project plan—the internal milestones, whether things are on track…  
  • When we start to lose sight of the big picture.
  • When a high-level stakeholder asks, “What is happening with this project??”

All this can trigger stress and anxiety.

When we feel backed into a corner, in order to feel in control, we immediately go to the operational

Step 3: Manage the relationship.

When we take on tasks that really belong to others on our team… there’s always a relationship to be managed. (I would argue that just about any issue that crops up at this level has its root cause in a relationship.) 

Delegating and relinquishing control over the deliverables are a matter of trust.

And if we don’t totally trust our people, it’s either them, because they’re not delivering, or it’s us, because we don’t know how to let go

Some questions you can ask yourself around this are:

  • How am I setting my people up for success? 
  • How do I make this stakeholder feel seen and heard right now, trusted and confident? 
  • How do I go into my team and help get from them what I need? 
  • How can I make them feel supported so that they can deliver effectively for me? 
  • How do I make my expectations clear? 

As a senior leader at the top of the organization, instead of leaping into the operational and asking, “What do I need to DO to fix this?” this must become the FIRST question: 

What relationship do I need to tend right now? Your people are your deliverables. For most leaders, this is such a different mindset from the one that got them to their level of success. It requires awareness and practice, awareness and practice, rinse and repeat—which is where the guidance of a good coach in your corner can help. Schedule a complimentary discovery call to learn more today.

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Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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