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Dilemmas of Being in Business #1: Good Choice, Disappointing Outcome
Rosie Kuhn, Ph.D.

My client, Madeleine, has recently been hired as the financial manager for an international corporation. She is overwhelmed currently because she is learning the ropes of her current position while understaffed and in the midst of hiring on new staff. She’s in a pickle.

Carl, a direct report of Madeleine’s, who used to be an equal co-worker before Madeleine’s promotion, is, and has been unhappy for a number of years. Carl has complained to Madeleine all of these years, and now that Madeleine is in a position to do something to help Carl, there’s nothing she can really do in this moment, understaffed and overwhelmed. Carl is threatening to leave, which would put Madeleine into deeper angst; she just can’t afford to lose Carl and at the same time, she can’t afford the time and energy taken up by Carl and his needs.

This is a dilemma for Madeleine. Madeleine is committed to fulfilling her duties to her boss and his boss who oversees the European Market. She needs Carl to stay and do what’s required in order fulfill this commitment. She’s also committed to ensuring her colleagues and direct reports are being served effectively by her leadership. She knows that it would be best to let Carl leave, but how will she manage?

Being in such a dilemma challenges managers and executive alike. Is there a possible win-win situation here or is Madeleine facing a win-lose or your basic no one wins this time around? Sometimes that happens, you know.

One aspect of my work as an executive coach that I like so much is sitting with my client in a dilemma such as Madeleine is facing and exploring what’s possible. Given that in this current situation the outcome will create more frustration for Madeleine, she still has to choose which outcome will create the least amount of stress on her, her team and the company. That takes a lot of presence and maturity to be with such a dilemma.

How does one handle such a circumstance? Madeleine is facing a big fat be-with; a circumstance that challenges her sense of being responsible, reliable and in integrity as a company officer. She’s struggling with her identity as a person that managers and her team can count on.

It’s not that she can’t do the work; it’s not that she’s ineffective; it’s that, in this moment her circumstances are providing challenges in which she thinks she needs to get it all done and all right; however this is impossible, given her current situation.

There’s no right or wrong, good or bad, in a situation like this one that Madeleine is facing. However, the human aspect of each of us that fears for our job, our reputation, our respect and trust, is coughing out strategies, trying to put out fires as quickly as possible so as not to be found out as incompetent and replaceable.

Madeleine is prioritizing her commitments then organizing her thinking to reflect these commitments. Something or someone may have to be sacrificed. How does she choose? Does she choose to choose based on her fear that her boss will reprimand her for her lack of performance. Does she choose to choose based on already being overwhelmed and losing Carl will put her under even further? Is there another way to look at this? Is there another place from which to choose?

We all face moments in our work and personal life when there is a no-win situation. I don’t think it matters that Madeleine is new to this level of management and leadership; she’s up to her eyeballs in alligators. Now what?

Here is my point: we can’t get it right all the time. When we can’t get it right, how do we be with this dilemma, especially when so much seems to be at stake?

Corporations run as if every second counts. Madeleine’s dilemma will stop the clock one way or another. So assessing, not from panic, not from fear, not from inadequacies, but from what choice, in this moment will be most effective, is the key. Choosing to choose from grounded clarity and a level of maturity that reflects confidence in oneself; willingly relinquishing the fear of the consequences – that is what good managers and leaders do. You make your best calculated guess at what’s best to do, then let go. If you’ve done your best – what more could you expect of yourself?

This is the most challenging place to be for any corporate or business person. Letting go of your attachment to doing it right in order to please everyone. Choosing from integrity and professional wisdom is the best any of us can do. Why barrage ourselves with self-deprecating self-doubt and criticism. Allow the chips to fall and be with the you that has done the best. Acknowledge the challenge and be with the experience that comes with failing to be perfect, liked and appreciated.

The most effective leaders and managers in any business setting choose without fear of the consequences. It takes courage to take a stand for your competence, your choice-making and who you are behind the role you play at work.

Madeleine is actually in a perfect situation. She is facing certain failure, as she will face many times in her career. This is an opportunity to explore this territory of the Big-Fat-Be-With. In doing so she will realize a deeper, stronger, more resourceful self; one that will no longer be controlled or influenced by fear.

Copyright Rosie Kuhn 2014.  All rights reserved.

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