Friday, November 27, 2009

Coaching Lessons: Preparing for the New

As human beings we are creatures of habit. We seek out the familiar and cling to our routines and rituals.

These bring harmony to our lives; they give us a positive rhythm. It is better for our lives to have a rhythm than to be drowned in noise.

We are right to routinize our lives. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.

A life without routines is a life full of stress. Practically speaking, it would be unlivable.

Routines have their enemies. Those who proselytize the values of the therapy culture tell us to be independent and autonomous, to indulge in spontaneity and individual self-expression. They pretend that routines make us into conformists.

In fact, the absence of routines would make us all crazy. Routines are a way to economize your mental exertion. If you need to spend time and energy every morning trying to think of a new and exciting way to get to work you will have wasted your most precious resources on an unnecessary exercise.

When routines are disrupted people suffer traumas. This is not quite the same as saying that traumas disrupt routines, even though they do.

The path to recovery from trauma involves reconstituting your routines and participating in community rituals. Lose your routines and rituals, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, and you will feel like a pariah.

Just as there is no such thing as a productive human life without routines, there is no such thing as a life without disrupted routines. People grow and change. They live in different places at different times. They assume different career challenges. And they engage in different personal alliances, from marriages to club memberships.

All of these involve transitions. You may not like to think of them as traumas, but they do involve disrupted routines. And the term trauma does alert you to the difficulties you will inevitably encounter in any transition to something new.

Take marriage. Marriage is guaranteed to disrupt your bachelor routines. To some extent the success of your marriage will depend on whether you and your spouse can replace your old routines with new shared routines.

The same is true of a promotion. If you, as an outsider, have been hired to work as an executive in a new company, you will need to prepare for the disruption your presence will cause, both for you and for those who will be working with you.

Whether you are facing a new job, or have just moved to a new country or city, or are beginning a new marriage, or are facing a new normal or a new reality, you will need to learn how best to prepare for the new.

Michael Watkins works with corporate executives. He advises them on how best to plan and execute transitions into new jobs. When executives take on new positions, they often ask someone like Watkins to help them to plan out the transition. For his seven step approach to transitions, follow this link.

While reading his article I was struck by its applicability to other life-transitions. It is useful to break down the walls we use to compartmentalize disciplines and show how Watkins' precepts apply to other situations.

For example, Watkins believes that an executive preparing for a new position should exercise good self-management skills. Considering that the new job will be an emotional drain, his judgment will often be compromised by the stress and the trauma.

How should he prepare for this? By having in place a network of people whose advice he can rely on.

If we apply some of his precepts to a new marriage, we will gain some oinsights that you will rarely find in marriage manuals or even in couples counseling. These latter believe too fervently that the power of love will cure all the ills that attend a new marriage.

When you marry you will join a new family. Just as you would need to know the culture and the dynamics of a company you are joining, so too you will need to understand the inner workings of the family that you are going to join.

You should find out who is important, whose opinion holds sway, and whose tastes organize family activities.

And you should be studying this family well before you arrive at the altar. You should be building alliances with your future spouse's parents and siblings.

It is always a good things to offer small, thoughtful gifts to your spouse. But why not think about what you might offer to your spouse's family members. A meaningful gift will go a long way to cement alliances and create good feelings. They will show that you are happy to belong to their family.

If these are done before the wedding, they would count as the kinds of early successes that Watkins recommends for new executives. He suggests that new executives start out by tackling easy problems, thus establishing a record of achievement.

Evidently, a marriage would require something slightly different from changing the furniture, establishing weekly meetings, or buying your staff a new coffee urn.

You might want to organize a brunch for your future in-laws, invite them to a concert, or take care of their pet during a vacation.

Watkins also suggests that new executives need to have a vision for their company or department. All good executives have visions of where they want to take their company. They must share their vision, outline the policies that will help it become realized, and enlist the support of their colleagues and staff.

When it comes to a marriage, you also need to have a vision, in the sense of having a life plan, for the two of you. Most of the basic questions in this plan should be agreed upon before the marriage.
If one person wants children and the other does not, the couple will not be working from the same plan. If one wants to live in the country and the other in the city, they will risk conflict.

Decisions involving life plans need to be negotiated. They will always involve compromise. In that they have more in common with managing a company than you might first have imagined.

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