„Serving the Company“ – A leadership mode and it’s side effects
Loyal „Serving the Company“ appears as one deeply rooted phenomenon with the managers I interviewed. All of them quite successfully managed major, ongoing challenging change. I first found the servant leadership mode with women and thought „hey, maybe this is a gender issue“. They worked „like a bull“, trying to make change work, to support the system, to make the impossible happen. And they succeeded! The company flourished, the re-organization settled back to normal…. but they were worn out. They were in this mode where only the outer shell was acting, like a well-trained dog, robotic, reactive; they were still professional but the spark was gone. Doubts about the purpose arose, questions about the future came up, a somewhat restless exhaustion increased … On the way through the change they lost themselves through their selfless service.
Today, I was shown that this „Self-Lessness“ might also be an issue for men: Within the busy-ness of the daily busi-ness (finishing the next milestone, solving the next problem, maneuvering, positioning, negotiating) something gets lost on the way. This „something“ seems not retrievable by our little handy compensation strategies: „Oh, I just need a week off; oh, when I get upset, I listen to loud music, go running, then I feel better; oh, I don’t sleep well lateley, that’s why I don’t really feel like myself lately“.
Analyzing my current interview, going through all the codes, re-arranging them to find out what kind of story they are trying to tell me, it gets clearer: The high commitment to the job, the professionalism and dedication to make it work – all of these great and important attitudes and skills! – silently lead to a Loss of Self. The „heart“ starts to send more and more signals – until the person cannot go on even ONE MORE DAY. A cut. Not negotiable. Not controllable.
The Loss of Self appears as a loss of connection to one’s very own emotions, one’s purpose, one’s sense of identity. Everything drowns in a blur: People can hardly describe the situation, words are missing, a confusion what one did, why and what to do next in one’s life arises. Since the outer persona is still functioning no one really notices – not even the person himself! A good Potemkin-Show, a „Potemkin-success“. Then, suddenly, almost out of nothing a mysterious „IT“ (like an inner „ET“, an extra-terrestrial, unknown entity living within us) suddenly breaks up the facade, takes control and decides finally to stop us. This is what I call the „awakening“. It is an awakening to reality, realizing our deep confusion we are stuck in.
After this experience, the brain starts to try to understand it, regain some sense of control and arrange with this new „me“: What happened? Why do I react that way?“ And later: „When did it start that I disregarded what truly fulfilled me? When did it start when I compromised important values?“ And even more later: „What drives me that I risk to lose myself in the outer world and its demands? Where do I have to be careful in the future in order not to tap into the same mistake again?“ and so on. Meaning making stories have to be re-created in order to connect our past and future in a somewhat coherent identity. This is a very individual and unique path.
As a researcher, I am interested in the more general possibility of dealing with the problem of Self-Lessness in Change Leadership: Is there a way to live the beauty of non-egoic selfless serving change leadership and not feel like a hollow shell afterwards?
I am truly fascinated how managing change is deeply interconnected with managing ourselves. What might the research project bring up next? The discovery journey will continue…