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Acceptance - leadership strategy often overlooked

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“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Lao Tzu

Often we hear about great leaders – those who took charge and changed a situation or even a team for the better. When do we hear about the resolute leader who understood the power of letting go and of acceptance?

Leadership and leaders arrive at various stages of understanding; understanding of the challenges, of the potential and of human nature. Our current culture is heavily focused on positive thought, achieving the highest success, being the best and doing the best.

There are times when this may actually interfere with healthy processing of experiences.

Work by Wellesley College psychologist Julie Norem and her colleagues shows that depriving defensive pessimists of their preferred coping style—for example, by forcing them to “cheer up”—leads them to perform worse on tasks. Moreover, in a 2001 study of elderly community participants, Seligman and Brandeis University psychologist Derek Isaacowitz found that pessimists were less prone to depression than were optimists after experiencing negative life events, such as the death of a friend. The pessimists had likely spent more time bracing themselves mentally for unpleasant possibilities.” Can Positive Thinking Be Negative? Research suggests limits to looking on the sunny side of life Apr 14, 2011 |By Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz Scientific American

Certainly there is much discussion about positive thinking as being productive. I myself use it and train others using methods based partly in positive psychology. Yet I have noticed – in myself – and with some colleagues a profound sense of peace that comes with true acceptance. This appears to be very defining when the acceptance is of a situation or with a person that primarily has no (or little positive essence reflected in the details or behavior.)

How can this be?

Let me give an example – names have been changed to protect the subjects’ integrity.

One of Stan’s employees, Rebecca, is very talented, smart and from Stan’s perspective capable of great things. She also appears to struggle with anxiety about a lot of things and when concerned focuses on the negative far more than the positive.

For six months Stan had tried everything imaginable to coach her to see challenges differently. Each attempt seemed to aggravate the situation and Rebecca began to perform poorly. She was very negative at work and sullen. Stan encouraged her to see the world as a cup half full. The more she saw it as half empty – the more frustrated Stan became. His attitude deteriorated as well. Stan went to his Executive Coach who asked the following questions:

  • Do you know for sure she CAN accomplish more?
  • Do you know if she WANTS to accomplish more?
  • What happens if she tries the new projects you have pushed her to do and she fails, how will that affect you both?
  • What is behind HAVING to see the world so positively?
  • What could you gain from JUST APPRECIATING and ACCEPTING who she is and where she is – without judgment?
  • What will happen for you – either way – if you push her and she fails – if you push her and she succeeds – if you just ACCEPT?

Read PART 2

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