“You’re No Bargain”

December 27, 2023

By Dave Bushy, PCC

A long time ago one of my favorite newspaper columnists* wrote a piece about a conversation she had with a relative celebrating an anniversary after many years of marriage.

She had inquired about how the relationship could survive so long.  The answer that I paraphrase here was amazingly simple: “Walk into the bathroom in the morning, take a look in the mirror and say ‘You’re no bargain!’”

I confess that I’ve referenced this Ellen Goodman column a number of times to clients as they spoke about their teams. In coaching, I seldom offer advice, but I keep the column in my repertoire for use in helping clients gain clarity and insights into their own development.

What I’ve learned is that some leaders feel that displaying any level of vulnerability is counterproductive to leading.  That they may have come to the conclusion that those who report to them look for them to be accomplished, capable and fully-developed, without apparent leadership shortcomings or developmental needs.

And yet paradoxically, the senior clients with whom I work are very open with me in confidential sessions about their own significant vulnerabilities and desires to become something more.  I often ask how they would like to share their coaching journey with others to model a behavior that shows others that they believe in lifelong learning and developmental growth through coaching.

“Well, I just wouldn’t be comfortable with telling them I’m working with someone.  They need to see me as strong and fully capable.”

Sometimes I smile and ask “Who in the world is ever fully developed as a leader?”

A smile back: “I guess no one.”

“And when we encounter the development needs in others, how can we use ourselves to model that understanding?”

A reflective pause can ensue, followed with: “By being willing to say that I’m not perfect and that something like coaching can help me.”

And then I tell them about Ellen Goodman and her salient column. 

We can all learn a lesson from Ms. Goodman’s thoughts – especially those of us who are provided the opportunity to be leaders.  None of us is a bargain.  By that I mean we are far from perfect.  We have our own foibles and inconsistencies and areas where we can inevitably expand our range and grow. 

It is not uncommon for a senior leader to lose some perspective as they progress up the leadership ladder—I know it happened to me more than once when I was a senior vice president for a Fortune 50 company. We push hard for the development of our direct reports wanting them to fix their foibles and weaknesses without taking the time for our own deep reflection. But our willingness to be open to our teams about our own challenges and resulting behavior, provides a springboard for those we lead to do the same work.

Remember, you’re no bargain.  And neither am I.

*Ellen Goodman – “The Secret of Enduring Love,” published in The Boston Globe

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC).  Dave is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

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