In these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times, have you said or thought as much? Has one of your direct reports voiced this to you?

Taking the easy path

We like a challenge us humans.  It is all part of the hero’s journey. We love to overcome obstacles and stretch ourselves to reach a goal. It is a key source of motivation and satisfaction in our professional and personal lives.

But we can sure like the easy path.  Particularly when time is limited and stakes are high. Or when the pressure’s on. Then we may easily withdraw or shrink. Hide or defend. And relinquish responsibility to the other.

And for completely justifiable reasons.  It may be the most appropriate response we know given what we know.  We may be just implementing our very loyal strategies. Those that have got us out of similar situations before.

It seems that through parental and societal programming we have conditioned ourselves. To prioritise answers, advice and direction from others. Which is to the detriment of our own growth and path.

Even though leadership can come from anyone at anytime, the ‘Great Man’ theory seems to be firmly entrenched in our psyche, business and politics. Notably during VUCA times, when we maybe more stressed, confused and overwhelmed, we particularly like the idea of someone saving us. So we turn to the ‘other’ to get them to do, what we don’t want to do ourselves. Our reflexive response becomes “just tell me what to do (in this project/for this client/in my career”). It is easier to do that than self reflect and manage the responsibility which comes thereafter.

As Hollis writes, “to recover our own personal authority is a daily task imposed upon all of us by the soul”. 

Reflections for the leader

With that task, we may want to explore…

  • Being aware:  We give ourselves credit for recognising this tendency we have, in the first place.  And with a healthy dose of compassion and curiosity, notice when it happens.
  • Understanding triggers: When do I notice myself defaulting to others? What triggers such a response in me?
  • Challenging beliefs:  In these instances, what am I believing? Is it true? What is it like to live with this belief, in mind, heart and body?  How would life be if I wasn’t believing that?
  • Building self-efficacy: As adults we consciously can build our self-efficacy. We build our self belief and confidence in the ability to exert control over our own motivation, behavior and social environment. This may include, for example, acknowledging our successes and being self-compassionate. We may quieten our inner critic’s voice. Or expand our skills and interests to build up resourcefulness.

As leaders we influence the environment which people perform. What can we do to encourage people to reclaim their personal authority in the workplace?  These questions may help with reflection and action:

  • What’s my leadership default option?   Am I quick to give advice and provide direction?. Or do I seek to help people to come up with their own ideas and solutions through inquiring and coaching?   What is behind my propensity to give advice and opinions rather than asking?  To what extent do I allow people to talk about their concerns and fears?
  • What ego state am I operating from?  Transactional Analysis offers a valuable perspective on how we interact with people. Through 3 parts of our personality or ‘ego states’.  In terms of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, we operate from our experiences (‘child’), significant influencers (‘parent’) or in the present (‘adult’). Simplifying it for illustrative purposes, if we operate from a ‘critical parent’, it may just trigger a ‘rebellious child’.  Being aware of how our behaviour impacts on others transforms communication and performance.
  • What is my intent/agenda? Sometimes as leaders we ask or hide behind a coaching relationship. Or a question. We give the impression we want the person to take initiative, but then we undermine them. As we have already made the decision or set the objectives. This is why it helps, particularly in formal 1:1s and meetings,  to be clear and ‘contract up front’  about expectations. For example, whether we intend to depart information.  Whether we want input. Or we just want to brainstorm.
  • Or in summary, what is missing?   To what extent am I noticing about how people are feeling and behaving? Do I know what do they need? More meaning? A sense of direction or purpose? Or to be valued, believed in and listened to more? Or do they need more structure and clarity? What will I do to help fill the vacuum?



  • Hollis, James (2005), Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Gotham Books (US)
  • Napper, R and Newton T (2000) TACTICS: transactional analysis concepts for all trainers, teachers and tutors and insight into collaborative learning strategies, TA Resources Ipswich, UK, section 4
  • This article was also gifted to 
  • Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
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Penelope Mavor
4 years ago

Thanks Lily. As it happens Cathy who commented on the linked-in version also said the same – that she would be reading it more than once. I said so too. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of what we know.

AND it is known that extroverts make sense of things for themselves through verbalising their thoughts with others. So long may the chat continue. Love you xx

Louise Mavor
4 years ago

This has been bookmarked and I return to this when I am doubting my own ability to make a decision or seeking other people's opinions – which I confess to doing a lot. Thank you Pens for the insight. Love you