Feature by Philip C. Bergey
If you’re like many of the people I meet, you know you work hard… but, sometimes you wonder if you’re making the impact you desire. You might be suffering from equalitis*.
The challenges and opportunities we face are not created equally—not even close.
Ronald Heifetz at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership has famously boiled down the importance for people—especially leaders— to know the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges.
Technical problems are ones that are fixable, ones that have a known solution. These are different from adaptive challenges which do not have obvious fixes. We might even struggle to accurately frame the challenge itself. Unlike a technical problem, any solution to an adaptive challenge in our life or within our company lies beyond our current understanding.
For example, if I get a flat tire, it is a technical problem. There is a solution. The problem might be made worse by the fact that I don’t have a spare tire in the trunk, or if it’s pouring rain. But there is a fixable solution.
However, if I get five flat tires over the period of a week, that is not a technical problem; at least not at first. The solution to my adaptive challenge is not more fixing, but rather learning. I need to understand the reasons behind all of my flat tires. Just fixing them more efficiently is not helping. It might even make matters worse by masking the need to understand the situation.
We all lose perspective from time to time. We hurry from one thing to the next and begin treating everything the same. As the saying goes, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
One way of dealing with equalitis*, with everything looking the same, is to get some perspective. But how? My counsel to my clients is, “Get on the balcony.” Do whatever it takes to slow down and see what’s going on in your life.
The simplest thing you can do is breathe. Literally. Like, deliberately, slowly, for five minutes. Don’t do anything else. Just breathe. Become aware of your body, your pace, your thoughts, but keep returning to the air moving into your nose and out of your mouth. Breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for six counts, and then exhale over eight counts. The simple act of intentional, focused breathing helps you reconnect to the parts of your brain which allow perspective.
Other options to getting on the balcony include doing a brain dump of all the stuff cluttering your head. Write it down on paper. Look for patterns. Notice how the things you’ve written are not the same level of importance or urgency.
Go outside. Take a walk in nature. Get in a kayak or other way of forcing yourself to slow down. Get a book on prayer or meditation. Practice it faithfully for a week, and then a month. You will gain perspective. Finally, hire a coach. If you’re dealing with career-path issues, hire someone who specializes in that. If you’re dealing with matters of work, hire a leadership coach to help you grow and stay focused. Whatever you do, get on the balcony, become aware of what’s actually happening, then respond with perspective!
* Equalitis is a word that perhaps should be real, but isn’t. I made it up to describe what happens to someone when they treat things as having equal weight in their life.