August 24, 2023
By Dave Bushy, PCC
The movie “Austin Powers” has a memorable quote: “Allow myself to introduce myself.”
The quote came to mind the other day in a coaching session as a client was exploring his capabilities and strengths. One of the most powerful strengths he appreciates about himself is a strong sense of ownership and a feeling of responsibility and obligation to others.
This “well-developed” part of my client has allowed him to succeed and to be a true servant leader. He has progressed in his career and made meaningful contributions to his company and to his community.
And yet it has also cost him personally, as his own tendencies push him to work even harder to be there for others. He experiences exhaustion and a continuing decline in his energy and a loss of enthusiasm. Paradoxically, he pushes himself harder when this occurs, causing a whirlpool of pain and angst for him – especially in his personal life.
In the session, he innocently asked, “How do I protect myself from myself?”
We both blurted out at the same time, “Sounds like Austin Powers,” and chuckled. Then we sat in silence as we processed the power of his question – and the challenge he faced. Here was a person whose very strengths were helping him and costing him at the same time. He knew he was at the point that he wanted to change.
I could sense a shift in my client. A coach is reticent to provide answers and this was a case where I knew we needed to explore his feelings.
“Please tell me how it makes you feel to have a sense of obligation – I’d like to know some examples,” I said.
“I answer emails within minutes and I never fail to meet with my people when they ask. And I always abide by my obligation to meet one-on-one with them. I’m always the first to volunteer for projects at senior staff meetings – I am always the person who gives of himself.”
“And what does that do for you?”
“It connects me with my people and they know that I am there to support them. They are more committed to me as a leader and to the company. I help make things better. I want to be a servant leader – those are the best leaders.”
“I don’t imagine you’d ever want to lose that,” I commented.
“No, but gosh, it’s taking a toll on me.”
“It’s a bit of a paradox*, isn’t it,” I said, adding, “You can’t do something different until you fully recognize who you are and fully appreciate yourself.”
“You’re right, and I know I never want to lose that desire to serve.”
“So, tell me what you need to recognize before you can make different choices.”
My client thought for a long time and then said, “I am a great servant leader, I know that. And to continue to be able to serve, I need to recognize when my capabilities and attributes cost me so much they hinder my ability to serve others.”
“Knowledge is power, I think I just heard you say.”
“Exactly. Be aware of when I am overusing my strengths and make different choices.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Maybe recognize when I am using my strengths – I guess, know myself to protect me from myself, without losing myself in the process.”
We both smiled again and explored his thoughts in detail – this time with intention and a knowledge of both his well-developed attributes and those he was choosing to develop. My client had made a powerful discovery and was using it for his own development.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). The *“Paradoxical Theory of Change” is a core Gestalt concept taught at the center. Dave is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.