I wrote on my model for personal development and coaching of setting your angel free based on Michelangelo’s answer on how he carved David out of a block of marble:
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.“
My model says that since we feel most natural and people are most attracted to us when we behave free of the constraints and motivations others impose on us, our most effective goal in personal growth isn’t to put more stuff on us but to free ourselves from society’s impediments.
(EDIT: I just referred to this page working with a client and realized I should things like internal insecurities, fears, anxieties, and thoughts of others expectations and judgments to what to free ourselves from. These internal encumbrances affect us as much and in the same way as impediments from society.)
It says that our inner motivations help others and appear normal, even beautiful, when uninhibited and undistorted. People who inhibit things they are ashamed of and try to impress others appear unnatural. Social institutions impose other motivations on us that distort us. Institutions like government, church, Madison Avenue, schools, and so on all sustain themselves by promoting behaviors that help them, which sometimes hurt us. Madison Avenue, for example, knows you want happiness, so it creates ads that suggest buying its products will make you happy. When they don’t they distort your motivations so that when you try to create happiness, you’ll inadvertently include their products where they don’t help. Sadly for you, somewhere there are advertisers gloating at bonuses they earned by getting you to confuse happiness with buying sugary water; politicians gloating at the votes they got from people whose lives they filled with fear; and so on.
The same model applies to helping and leading others as a coach, leader, manager, teacher, parent, or similar role. If you want to help others, they’ll respond best not when you try to change them or impose new skills on them but when you help them reveal what they already have in them. If they then want to develop new skills, they will and they’ll tell you what help they need or find it anyway.
So what specifically do you do as a leader to help them? How do you become this Michelangelo with their behavior and beliefs?
This model motivates you to focus on them and what they want before what you want, at least while you’re helping them. The best ways I know to learn what they want is to
- ask questions,
- listen to their answers, and
- observe their behavior.
The skill as the leader, like Michelangelo with his tools, is to ask questions that reveal the person without cutting into them — in other words, revealing but non-judgmental questions. Then look at what you see.
At first you can cut away big chunks of unnecessary garbage, like stupid advice they got when they were too young to filter it out or inescapable self-serving messages from social institutions. Here I ask questions like
- What are your passions?
- What do you like to do?
- What are you good at?
- When you are doing what you’re best at, how does it make you feel?
and I advise leaders I coach to ask similar questions of the people they lead, but you have to follow up with seeking to understand and support, not judgment. I’ll write more on that in a future post.
I usually have to coach them and help them practice because they aren’t used to asking what they consider too-close questions in a work environment. Should they talk about passion at work, they ask. Of course!, if you want passion in your life at work and from your reports. After some practice they realize that the more you include passion in your life the more passion you’ll have in your life.
I also pushed back on the person from whom I learned to start asking about passions. Starting was hard, but I’m glad I did. The transition from asking people what they did for a living to what they cared about took time, but improved my relationships across the board.
As you get closer to a person’s inner motivations you have to be more careful. Those last sticky bits can be hard to get rid of cleanly and painlessly. It’s easy to accidentally cut into someone, however slightly, or to leave something.
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.