I am seeing a lot of change in organisations right now. Not just the usual organisational change that we have all come to expect, but the ripple effect of the 180-degree spin due to the pandemic. Yep, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I have 4 clients moving premises because they no longer require an expansive office space with multiple meeting rooms. These office or site moves can throw up a whole suite of emotions for people, never mind the logistical demands and additional workload of managing a house move on a grand scale. The ones staying put are not escaping disruption either and are still wrestling with hybrid or agile working. I am still waiting to see an organisation doing it well—no judgement, just indicative of an issue for which we have yet to create a robust solution. If you are working in an organisation that is doing it well, please share!

And, with the constant change and the unsolved problems comes a lot of emotion. I see this in the 121’s and the workshops I run. Grief, loss, hostility, passive aggression, and helplessness to name but a few. As a coach and facilitator, I attend supervision so that I can ‘sort my s&@t out’, and I have become more skilled about what is mine and theirs over the years. This means that I can work with what is in the room for the client’s benefit and not react to what is present because of my patterns and conditioning. Most of the time!

Many people perceive me as someone who has totally ‘got their s&@t together’, and I hope that is because I provide a good service that adds value and is delivered with professionalism. I can assure you that despite all that I know and teach, I still have plenty of s&@t to sort out. Working on myself is a non-negotiable if I can serve my clients. It should be a non-negotiable for you if you are leading a team.

I focus many leadership programmes on the idea of leading ourselves first. Spoiler alert – learning to lead ourselves is life’s work! And that shouldn’t stop you from doing it anyway. People are not shaping up that well right now, and the relational aspect of working with teams is an essential facet of leadership. It’s less about motivating others and being an inspiring visionary and more about vulnerability and connection. Right now, the ability to get down and dirty with people is required from leadership. To show vulnerability and provide a space where they can show theirs. It’s about getting curious about what is really going on for people, helping them make sense of the meaning of it for themselves, and then empowering them to make the necessary changes to thrive. 

The challenge of leaning into this is that you are likely to come up against uncomfortable behaviours and emotions from others, and in turn, this will hit your own stuff. This is often a phenomenon called transference. Transference is where one directs feelings or desires related to an important figure in one’s life and it is often seen in therapy. For example, if I use a tone that reminds you of the style your mother used when you were growing up, you may respond to me as if I were your mother, which can lead to messy dynamics. It is important to note that they can be good or bad feelings and that this is at an unconscious level. I can testify that there are many less comfortable emotions swimming around right now, given the uncertainty and change. 

So why should you care about something that typically comes up in therapy? 

Because psychologists argue that it is something that also comes up in daily life, and I would put money on it that you are unknowingly dealing with too. A therapist friend declared, “If you want to experience transference, become a facilitator!” I agree but this is also true of becoming a team leader. 

It is a complex subject, and I don’t wish to belittle it. If we are prepared to do the work on ourselves, we can disrupt unhelpful relationship dynamics that are getting in the way of performance and fulfilment in our roles. Typically, I see leaders who are so committed to their team and their well-being that they can often end up overtaking responsibility, and this eventually creates an unhealthy dependence for the employee and can lead to burnout for the leader. 

How might you recognise that your team members are projecting their experiences onto you?

  • Their emotions are directed AT you
  • They appear to be having an emotional response that seems to be unnecessarily strong or inappropriate

Why might this be a problem?

  • If you are not working on yourself, you may exert an inappropriate response in retaliation
  • Without awareness, you may bring your own emotions and triggers into play, which is likely to negatively impact the outcome

You might recognise this is happening for you when:

  • You notice a tendency to save or rescue your employee
  • You become overcritical or opinionated about something they share with you
  • You see that you have inappropriate judgements about the issues they are bringing up 

It is essential to recognise this is all at an unconscious level; therefore, the non-negotiable to be the best leader you can be is to start working on yourself. Investing in your own development is the first step to keeping conversations ‘clean’ so that you generate the best outcomes for you, your employees and the organisation. 

Here are 3 things to remember:

  • Feelings we have towards others are not always based on reality
  • These feelings are often a reflection of our own inner conflicts and desires
  • These feelings are often transferred onto the people we are closest to, and given the importance of the employee /line manager relationship, there is a strong possibility you will experience this

So, if you are feeling that you are carrying an unnecessary burden and overloaded with the emotions of people around you, is it time to step away and explore your inner world first? If you would like some help untangling this, drop me a line at hello@jocowlin.com

Jo x

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