It’s a hot day and I’m on my way to an impromptu BBQ with my wife. A friend I haven’t seen for a while has invited us to her sister’s BBQ. In the UK, when you wake up to the shock of beautiful tropical weather, the only thing to do is to have a BBQ and grab the sunshine while you can.
We get to the BBQ and I find myself talking about my mental performance coaching practice and trying to explain how it can help performers in everyday life and not just athletes. Surprisingly, my friend’s sister is more receptive and is asking tons of questions. My friend, on the other hand, is guarded and not totally bought over on how mental skills training can help.
So, I decide to tell a story about my friend’s own experiences. The story begins about 5 years back when she was working hard in investment banking at a new bank, which had a reputation for being an old boys’ network of privately educated guys. She was determined to prove herself and in her first year had smashed all her targets. They set new targets and she smashed those as well but still no promotion. The response given was that she was too young. Her manager then proposed a plan to get her the promotion she so desperately yearned for. The plan involved sending her on an international operation. She was shipped to the Middle East to turn around a failing division. Unbeknown to her, the division she was to manage already had an heir to the management throne and had not been informed of her arrival. Obviously, her heir was supposed to support her and report to her. Hmm, a recipe for disaster, if ever I saw one. In the Middle East, things are based on relationships. So if your number 2 is already upset at being sidestepped and you cannot do anything without their support, your chances of success would be slim to zero, and that’s being optimistic. Even the great magician, Houdini, would not be able to get out of such a bind.
My friend adopted her default mindset and charged at the problem, working tirelessly to find a solution. She was shocked to learn, however, that her default strategy was not working. Her reaction? She must not be putting in enough effort; and she must work harder. Obviously, her line manager gave zero support to help fix the political quagmire going on. My friend soon realized the desperation of the situation, and turned to her only outlet: a newfound love of boxing. As with all things, she poured her intensity into this and, I have to admit, became amazing at it, knocking out other opponents with loads more experience. She was scheduled for her first tournament but disaster struck. A stress fracture injury meant she couldn’t train anymore and with her outlet gone and her job in shambles, she came back home broken.
It took a while for her to recover but, in my opinion, she chose the wrong environment and would never have gotten promoted in that role even if she had walked on water. She subsequently got a new role and in less than 12 months became a Senior Vice President. I think this was because the new environment was more conducive to her work ethic and mindset.
With the sun beaming down on us, I ask my friend whether, in hindsight, she would have approached her predicament in the Middle East with the same mindset. She muses on the question and smiles to me and says, “Who knows?” I know that when I look at my own work experience, simply deferring to my default style when the pressure is on usually leads to despair and frustration.
Having the ability to adapt and be flexible in how we engage with others when we are under pressure is key to protecting our mindset and wellbeing.
I would love to hear from you. How do you adapt and flex in challenging environments?