Challenging The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I've just finished watching The Dropout, a miniseries starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO of Theranos, who has recently been convicted of fraud and could face up to 20 years in prison. If you haven't watched it yet, I highly recommend it.

There's so much I could say about my personal experience and response to the series – from Seyfried's stellar performance to the ongoing debate around the negative impact that Holmes (previously declared as the world's youngest female billionaire) has had on other aspiring female CEOs. What I found fascinating, however, was the lies. Lies that Holmes told herself and everyone else and the mechanisms put in place in her work environment to facilitate the avoidance of facing them. It's anyone's guess what went on in the mind of Holmes and what motivated her behaviours. 

Whilst her story represents an extreme example, we all fool ourselves at some level, avoid truths we don't want to face, and consciously or unconsciously create stories and behave in ways that bolster our sense of self and protect us from fear. Employees waste a considerable amount of time working to hide their inadequacies from colleagues. Adult developmental psychologist Robert Kegan has labelled this behaviour as an employee's 'second job' in their organisation.


So… what's to be done about it?


Investigate, Mind-First:

We can develop self-understanding through genuine self-enquiry. In fact, it's the only real method by which we can become directly aware of our own experiences. By leveraging our natural human curiosity to know more about who and how we are and by gently probing, the basic human needs and fundamental fears that unconsciously drive our behaviours will begin to surface in our awareness.

Only with awareness can we begin to challenge the stories we're telling ourselves and ask - What else might be true?...

For example, Do I need to take on other people's work on top of my own to be seen as great? Converts to My success is not just about how much activity I do; it's about the quality of the output.


Engage in human-centred conversations:

Great workplace cultures are fostered when we can bring our whole selves to work, share our fears and express our needs within an environment of psychological safety. In the last decade, Google conducted a massive research project looking into patterns around high performing, highly engaged teams and discovered that collective engagement and performance aren't about personalities, styles or intelligence. It's far more about meaningful interactions that emerge through human-centred conversations and when people can genuinely be themselves.


Nudge the fear with action:

Shifting from fear-based behaviours requires getting to the root cause of the issue, confronting our hidden beliefs and determining whether they are still relevant or simply misguided positions, part of stories we have formulated in the past. We can encourage the mind to relinquish old narratives by committing to small experiments that disrupt our thinking.

For example, an unhealthy habit of taking on other people's work often leads to working longer hours to the detriment of personal well-being and denies others their growth and success. By implementing a simple daily commitment to down tools 30 minutes earlier and creating ways of checking in –How is my leader responding? Is there any genuine evidence that I am being seen as less effective? – can start to disrupt unhealthy habits and incrementally shift towards more constructive thinking.