Lead Process in Detail: Self-Responsibility

Clarification of the Remit:

Richard describes in detail how the disturbed relationship between him and his manager affects him badly. He aspires to communicating in such a way that his manager is able to acknowledge Richard’s importance for the organisation. He would like to practice actively asking for praise and feedback, so that he can obtain that which he needs.  In our conversation, it becomes clear that Richard is under pressure; he speaks rapidly and comes over as aggressive. We agree that Richard cannot change his manager’s conduct; he can only change something in himself and then hope that his manager will, in response to Richard’s changed behaviour, react differently.

Coaching Process:

The work with Richard takes about two years, the sessions are sporadic. In his first meeting Richard describes how much he considers himself the victim of his ignorant boss. He thinks the boss is unable to empathise, that he is autistic and climbs over dead bodies. We start by exploring how it is that Richard has developed such rage and why, in any case, he would need the appreciation from his boss. After all, he is already over fifty years old.  Richard fluctuates between the statement that he knows how childish this is, and the demand that he ought to be entitled to his manager’s appreciation. After all, the boss is the leader and it is the leader’s task to value his people. Richard’s rage can be seen; the veins on his forehead and his neck swell, his face turns red.  

It becomes clear that he feels he has never had influence in his whole life. “I am exploited and overlooked again and again!” He is unaware (lead process consciousness) of when, and how he is proactive, rather than reactive. Coach: “How was it with your wife, how did you win her over? What influence have you had on your children, and were they able to learn from you?” Together we search for situations in which he may have been influential. In “homework” Richard is asked to look for such examples.

As coach, in conjunction with Richard, I first decide to seek those exceptions in which he had not felt victimised by other people, but where he actively and consciously steered his own life. Richard finds many such examples and together we reflect upon how these experiences differ from those with his manager. It becomes apparent that this feeling of victimisation occurs particularly strongly in connection with hierarchy.  

We find an answer in his biography. When he refers to his childhood in many different childrens’ homes, he weeps and realises that this is the source of his need for recognition and appreciation. As a child brought up in homes he was, almost certainly, exposed to many different educators, care providers and other boys. A favourite punishment in the homes was exclusion and withdrawal of contact. Richard was also beaten, which he found deeply unfair and against which he had no means of defence.

Over time, our relationship becomes more and more trusting and together we start to talk about “little Richard”, who, during that time, was so sad, fearful and angry.  

Slowly, we manage to change our perspective and focus on his manager. Richard recognises how much anger he has developed and how aggressively demanding he can sometimes be. We spend time speculating on how the manager might feel, when he is constantly made responsible for Richard’s level of self-confidence, whether he enjoys satisfying a need for praise by a fifty-year old employee, whether he would not rather avoid such a person. His manager, after all, cannot heal the injuries from Richard’s childhood. Maybe, in Richard’s case, he is simply overburdened.

I give Richard a cartoon, which at first causes him some shame (he feels exposed), but then makes him laugh heartily:

I want to speak to the manager immediately, someone has kacked into my pants.

(from “Navigation during Drifting“, Fritz Simon)

Coaching Result:

Laughter relieves. Later, almost unnoticed, Richard realises that he feels pleasure when the manager speaks to him, but it no longer carries the earlier, great significance. The main thing is that he can carry out his work undisturbed and empowered. He begins to understand that being left in peace is also a sign of appreciation. Apart from that, he has been to dinner with his manager a few times, and these dinners were very relaxed.

Theoretical Classification:

From a meta-theoretical point of view the client learned early in life that he had no influence on environmental responses to his actions. He felt exposed to spontaneous punishment, because different carers gave different ground rules. During our work, he begins to understand that nowadays he can more frequently decide whether he chooses to feel helpless and impotent, or whether he would rather purposefully focus on a more positive viewpoint. This old pattern is no longer relevant and leads to accusatory, demanding behaviours, which the manager does not want to subject himself to. The more Richard understands that his feelings of victimisation are caused by his own thinking, rather than the world outside, the more his relationship to his manager eases.

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Self-responsibility is one of the eight lead processes of psycho-dynamics. The question which must be decided is this: “Do I influence something (or not)?”

Every human creates their own paradigm, which (meaning-)world they construct. Because, in the real world nothing has an unambiguous meaning: What makes one person fearful, irritates another; that which one person responds to with anger, another accepts with humour. Everyone is responsible for one’s thoughts, feelings, intentions, actions and omissions. He/she decides: What meaning do I give to that which I have experienced? Do I try to influence the situation? Or do I feel steered by it and victimised?

This process is, to a high degree, based on unconscious habits. To feel equally responsible for everything would not be functional. Most things could also be different and one can only change the least of them (loosely quoted from N. Luhmann). It is all about choosing where one acts internally, or acts in response to outside influences, and where one is influenced by outside factors, without having to be churned up by them.