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What Are We Carrying Around?

What Are We Carrying Around?

The story is told of a man who finds himself lost in the desert. In his wandering he sees a faint image of someone or something on a distant sand dune. He walks closer and closer and the shape grows to a point where he can clearly see another man walking- carrying a car door. He cannot believe his eyes. When he finally is close enough he shouts, “What are you doing? You’re carrying a car door!”

The man responds, “Yes, I know”.

“Why on earth would you be carrying a car door in the middle of the desert? It’s 125? out here!”.

“Oh, the heat isn’t so bad once you get used to it. And besides, if I begin to feel hot, I just roll down the window.”

When I coach and counsel leaders, I often hear the equivalent of carrying car doors in the desert. People make the best of a bad situation, sometimes even referring to it as personal or organizational “baggage”. On the organizational level, managers may be carrying a poor performer, tolerating an outdated process, or putting up with a perpetually delinquent account. These are the types of burdens that hinder our individual effectiveness and weigh down our business performance. On the personal level, we might also be holding onto a personal limitation of some kind, such as a lack of focus or poor communication practices. And even if we are practiced in downplaying or hiding such challenges to the extent they manifest in our work they too can handicap us.

To unload personal burdens can mean facing unpleasant truths and honestly accepting things about ourselves of which we may be less than proud. Doing this work requires compassion, focus and a willingness to take meaningful action to change what we can. If what needs to be left behind is an organizational challenge or liability, we must be willing to give candid feedback to others about what is not working, as well as give suggestions about what would work more effectively and why. When I consult with my clients about addressing these organizational challenges, I remind them that the unpleasant realities of organizational politics and favoritism must be considered as part of their decision making.

Yes it’s hard; if it were easy we probably would have done it already. But consider the relief in leaving these things behind, and emerging from the desert lighter and freer to put your energy into more effective places. Often when we gain some altitude and perspective we can see more clearly. It is from that vantage point that we can recognize the burden this perpetuates. The process of unloading things that no longer serve us in our lives- and hinder our ability to achieve our professional goals- is a big part of what meaningful leadership development is all about.

With the new year upon us- particularly in challenging economic times- this is an excellent time to pay some attention to what “car doors” we might be carrying around with us. What is no longer serving us that we can unload in order to be more effective? What organizational baggage can we properly identify as no longer useful and resource-draining? I encourage you to have these conversations now- and receive the benefits of greater organizational capacity and personal energy and freedom.