Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Our Reactive Identity

By Tom Voccola

Part 3 of a continuing series on CEOing

Photo at right: The Shadow

Today I am going to help you see the invisible forces that have, for your entire life, been running you. Some call it the shadow. Now I want you to get this, because if you get this then you will know what all Powerful Leaders know - if you truly understand yourself, you will profoundly understand humanity - because we are all run by the exact same forces.

This can be notoriously difficult to explain so I am going to actually draw you a picture.

But before I do I want you to consider something. What if you have been living your entire life with access to only half the resources you were born with? I mean, what if you have an entire set of invisible powers you knew nothing about? What if you suddenly realized that you are here to do something magnificent? What if you suddenly found out that you are actually here to change the world for the better in your life time? Would you do it?

Now before you say yes, there are already some things at work within you. First of all, while you’ve always suspected that it might be true - I mean 98% of people, when asked if they felt they have a purpose in life, say yes – part of you may becoming very skeptical. That’s okay. Not to worry, just thank that part of you for sharing and read on.

Over the past 18 years, working with over 300 CEOs and 15,000 managers and employees, not one person has failed to articulate, in black and white, on a piece of paper, exactly who they are in the world. And each and every one of them realized that they were here to serve others in a way that is uniquely suited to them.

Ok, here is the first part of a two part picture I promised. I call this view of the current human model, our Reactive Identity and its simply made up of a few words. Now just look at the words I've listed. I suspect you know something about them. You see, these words pretty much describe the way the world runs today - the way almost every person, relationship, organization, business and country works. But to better understand how and, more importantly, why, let me share my definition of each word with you.

Ego: Our ego is that reptilian part of us that is meant to protect our physical and psychological selves. Its primary function is to scan the horizon and react to danger. It lives in a world of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Everything and everybody is a potential threat. This is the eye-for-an eye part of us. Our ego is an interesting character in our little play, and is pretty much recognized as the most powerful entity on the planet so far. In our quest for survival, our ego has developed us into a species of master reactors that live from the past. This is where our instinct to fight, flight or freeze resides. In fact, it is just that, an automatic, unconscious survival instinct.

Personality: Our personality gives voice to the ego. Whether you fight, flight or freeze in a fearful situation depends upon the personality you were born with. The personality allows the ego to express itself in the world. Some say that who we are is our personality. I believe that not to be the case. I say that our personality is simply the perfect tool box for expressing what we are here to do. I believe it is underutilized and misrepresented and, as we will see later, perfectly suited for much more than we yet realize. Personality is generally represented by four representations: Degree of Dominance; Sociability; Patience and Independence. There are many other aspects of personality of course, but these are the ones that dominate the business jargon. Personality is extremely easy to identify and measure. DISC, McQuaig and Myers Briggs are three instruments you can use to determine personality. If you want to know more about your personality (for FREE!), you can take a Myers Briggs survey here.

You do not have to register so the results are entirely confidential. Just take the survey and it will instantly give you your results in the form of four letters with some numbers below them. Write the letters and corresponding numbers down. The letters refer to aspects of your personality and the numbers refer to the degree of preference you have. Mine is ENFP, for example. When you have recorded your results, go here.

At the bottom of the (wikipedia) page there is an empty box. Enter your four letter results (not the numbers) into the box and you will be taken to a page that explains your particular personality profile. Have fun with this! It is all part of the journey. Again, your personality is not who you are, but it is a powerful tool you use to begin to understand how you engage the world (when you finally understand the full context of your life).

Beliefs: Given our reactive environment and outlook, when something happens to us we “make up our mind” about things pretty quickly. Mostly we do this unconsciously. Beliefs occur within us two ways; we are born into them, or as our reaction to life around us. An important distinction about beliefs is that they are not necessarily true or false. Scientists have determined that well over 90% of what humans believe to be true, is not. Beliefs are convenient constructs, sort of like short hand for the mind. Beliefs can be sorted into two types: empowering beliefs or limiting beliefs. It’s the limiting beliefs that cause so much pain in the world and in our lives. Being invisible until called into question, our beliefs lie dormant until something sparks them, causing us to react in a prescribed way. More about that later.

Experiences: Our ego, as expressed through our personality, and guided through our beliefs, has experiences. We may have big, bold, jumping out of an airplane experiences, and we may have more subtle, day-to-day kinds of experiences that shape us over time and everything in between. No matter what, stuff happens in our lives and we react our way through it. In fact, it could be said, as far as the human animal is concerned, we are master reactors. Our experiences are always colored by the beliefs we hold. For example, if we believe that employees are helpless and hopeless, we will seek out evidence to support that belief. This, by the way, is humanities biggest blind spot. We actually believe our beliefs are true.

Behaviors: For the most part, our beliefs are invisible until called into question, but when called into question we automatically react with key emotions which guide our behaviors. Behaviors are the automatic outcome of our beliefs. At issue is not so much the beliefs, but the automatic outcome they engender without any thought on our part.

So, to wrap this up as neatly as I can: all of the above points to a:

Universal Formula for Reaction

It's called the BEAR formula. In other words, everyone on the planet behaves this way. How it works is whenever something happens in our lives, our invisible beliefs (B) cause an automatic emotion (E) which triggers a (re)action (A) that leads to the results (R) we experience in our lives. (> = cause) This is the basis of cause and effect. Something happens, then…

Beliefs > Emotions > (re)Action > Results

This is how humanity occurs in the world. What runs us, what runs you and me, are a set of invisible beliefs, most of which we were born into, that we rarely question, and when we do, there is usually a violent re-action associated with that event…revolutions even!

This is the perfect model to explain the current environment of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the world and in our companies. When you are afraid all the time you are on guard all the time. And when you are on guard all the time you focus on survival at all costs. Not a bad thing, it’s just that there is so much more that we are capable of. You know this to be true because you are much less cautious than others. You are, after all, an entrepreneur. Here are some key points to remember about our reactive identity.

Our Reactive Identity is:
Unconscious, automatic, reactive, operates from the past, is driven by fear, uncertainty and doube, focused on what’s wrong and what we don’t want, is colored by our experience & beliefs, is closed and rigid to new ideas, requires tremendous amounts of our physical energy, craves perfection, fosters complaint, requires trust, resists change, separates through fear, strives to keep status quo, is at the affect of the world, requires control, and is the primary reason for management, government, laws and religion.

Since we are told by our culture to be like others, we spend precious little time seeking to be our selves. As a consequence we unknowingly give up the most satisfying part of life. And so do our families, employees, customers, etc. How can knowing this change your relationship with others? Think compassion. It's not easy being human.

Next month I will introduce you to that part of you that has been missing all these years. That part of you that was always meant to work with your reactive self and bring you to a different, more satisfying outcome. Next month you will meet your creative identity. You do not want to miss this!

Entrepreneur, speaker, author and CEO Coach, Tom Voccola is the CEO of CEO2, a Chief Executive Consulting Firm specializing in the rapid transformation of corporate and organizational cultures. Tom is the author of The Accidental CEO – A Leader’s Journey from Ego to Purpose. His life’s work is to inspire a new generation of leaders who transcend ego and its fear based agenda. His work gives executives immediate and authentic access to new levels of power, influence and freedom within their organizations.

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