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Harville Hendrix (PhD) and LaKelly Hunt (PhD) originated Imago Relationship Therapy through the 80s and 90s. One of the features of this fine work is the introduction of the idea that our relationships can be based on conscious or unconscious patterns. They argue people are drawn unconsciously to a partner who in some way resonates with echoes of their childhood wounds. This may be an abusive element, such as being totally ignored or criticised harshly.

This means, according to Hendrix, that after the initial attraction wears thin, these issues surface. Each partner finds themselves tangled with a range of powerful and difficult feelings, seemingly grounded in the behaviour of the partner. A partner whose fault it soon conveniently becomes. This can be a symptom of an unconscious relationship.

Becoming conscious can be a process with a coach/therapist to identify these dynamics for what they truly are: childhood-based and individual. In this way, people discover a more conscious way of relating with their partner and children. All based on a clearer sense of who each other really is. In other words, we deal with the essential reality of the person without the projection of our own negative traits and expectations.

In my own experience, toxic behaviour can thwart well intentioned efforts to achieve success. Most of us have suffered under bad leaders at some time in childhood (e.g., parents, teachers).  We have wounds that can surface when we find ourselves under pressure. People sometimes don’t know why their feelings, moods and behaviours are triggered in ways that are not helpful or healthy when the pressure is on.

The extent to which these patterns affect us as leaders or team members depends on each person and on the prevailing organisational climate. There is the potential for our past to undermine our success as a leader, our team and the whole organisation.

What can we do be more conscious?

  1. Avoid Knee-Jerk Judgement and Reactions. Being decisive is great, but if ego, fear, a rush to judgement, personal bias or just fear/stress-induced over-reaction are in play, then our unconscious-compulsive actions can take over, and damage can be done. The key here is to be aware of our own emotions, and to make sure we know when to take a brief time-out before reacting.
  2. Get on the Balcony. Dr Ron Heifitz talks about the value of being able to be both in the game as well as on the pitch in the team as well as in the crowd using a sporting metaphor. This enables is to watch how the dynamics of a team play out. We can then identify and acknowledge the deeper interests and motivations of people and then decide on a plan to improve. This may mean we need to use powerful questions and listen.
  3. Live Your Purpose and Values. In Jim Collins’ great research Built to Last with Gerry Porras, a group of values-driven organisations outpaced (by a factor of over 7x on shareholder returns) a group of comparison rivals over a 60-year period. The conclusion is that having a core ideology that is lived “down to your toes” is key.  The research also concludes the importance of creating positive challenge through some big goals and design thinking-level activity.
  4. Be Present. We can use a lot of energy re-thinking past events and worrying about what the future holds. By bringing people together and focusing on doing great work in the now and not wasting energy focusing on wider issues, you can help carry your team successfully through any challenge. You may need to work on focusing people on things they can control and influence.
  5. Know Your People. The old maxim, “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” is only true if you communicate in a style that others respond to. Many behavioural research pieces show we need to adapt to different styles with people if we’re to get the best from them. Different people will respond differently to how we prefer to communicate. By appreciating how others work, we can better connect with and lead people more effectively.
  6. Challenge People to Lead with Real Support.  Leaders are often promoted to be leaders as result of their talent for grasping a vision and making it practical. This means being able to go at issues with high energy, resolve and persistence. A downside of this quality can be we create dependency in the team for the leader’s say-so for all issues. As Daniel Goleman discovered, a balance of leadership styles that include coaching, being consultative/democratic and affiliative, often gets much better results in today’s VUCA world than being a one trick pony.

I also refer to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a lot in my work. His concept of flow happens when our skill level and challenge level meet in a happy tension. This principle informs us to give people challenges that extend them sufficiently to require them to adapt, learn and grow. This practice requires conscious consideration and planned action in coaching performance at individual and team levels.

Leading and living consciously may mean creating specific opportunities for people to make decisions and giving them space to try…and even to fail. This doesn’t mean we get lazy and leave them to it completely. We’ll soon lose the benefits as they think we’re no longer interested. Challenge people, but consciously plan to provide real, ongoing support by showing interest and providing support through critical resources.

By leading and living more consciously, we can drive a business with soul.