Finding Clarity: How to Get Unstuck in Your Professional Life

By Heather Campbell

Imagine being stuck upside down, high in the air, for 30 minutes – helpless to change the situation. This week a group of fun-seekers in Oregon experienced exactly this when they were left dangling from a broken amusement park ride. Thankfully they were all rescued without injury but those minutes waiting to be back on solid ground must have felt like a lifetime.

We all know what it feels like to be stuck. Maybe not upside down on a ride, but in our jobs and lives. In coaching sessions, leaders often talk to me about what’s making them stuck: dealing with energy-draining conflict between team members, getting a tough project back on track and budget, or deciding what to do when that promised promotion doesn’t materialise – again.

Being stuck doesn’t feel good and the urge to get unstuck is powerful.

The good news is – what gets stuck can also get unstuck.

It’s just a case of knowing the right levers to pull.

Last week, I introduced the story of a Director – one of my coaching clients – who needed to get unstuck. He was finding himself struggling with a demanding and unappreciative boss – a change in style because this same CEO had previously been supportive and encouraging. Now, despite his division hitting targets, he suddenly faced constant blame and criticism. He was torn between quitting and hoping things would improve.

He wasn’t alone in finding this change intolerable and his sense of uncertainty about what to do was fuelled as he watched his peers start to move on. But he didn’t want to leave behind the team he’d been building or the new division he was creating, and with just a couple of years until early retirement, he didn’t really want the upheaval either. But – how long could he put up with this situation? He was stuck.

We analysed what was happening and found a way forward using The 4Cs Results Framework – this sets out the four factors that leave leaders feeling stuck and creates the pathway to becoming unstuck again.

The 4Cs? Competence, Confidence, Communication and Culture.

Competence: This wasn’t the Director’s issue. He was technically sound and a proven leader. He knew he could find another job, and he was performing well in his current role. Plus, the change in the CEO’s behaviour wasn’t just towards him – the whole executive team was experiencing the same negativity.

Confidence: Normally confident, his boss’s irrational demands were starting to shake him. His once-supported business proposals were now being shot down, making him doubt himself and his boss’s judgement. His confidence – or lack of it – wasn’t making him stuck yet, but he realised that dealing with such constant criticism and irrational decision-making could cause problems if he stayed around.

Communication: This was the real sticking point. The Director didn’t understand why the CEO had changed, or if he realised the negative impact he was having. He was angry and wanted to tell his boss how unreasonable his behaviour had been. He knew he needed to have a conversation to clear the air and get the information he needed to decide on the best way forward. But the Director was wary. His anger could spill out and he didn’t trust how his boss would respond. He had tried discussing things with him a few weeks earlier and had found him unsympathetic.

Culture: The organisational culture had changed. What was once a supportive environment was now tense and defensive. Executive meetings had lost their energy and fun. But, while this was something of a barrier, it wasn’t the true cause of his stuck situation.

This analysis enabled the Director to create a productive pathway forward. As we unpicked his previous conversation, he realised it had been far less clear and direct than it needed to be. In fact, he hadn’t really said what he wanted to say, nor had he asked the questions that would get to the root of what was going on. We also explored how to explain to his boss just how angry he was feeling, without it becoming a blame game or destabilising the situation further still.

With a clear plan for this conversation, he was no longer stuck.

The 4Cs – Competence, Confidence, Communication, and Culture – are interconnected but analysing each in turn prioritises why you are stuck and ensures you can plan the right actions to find your way forward.

If you, or a team member, is stuck right now, is ineffective communication the cause?

  • What conversations do you need to have to find your pathway forward?
  • What information do you need to get from these conversations?
  • What messages do you need to share?
  • What is stopping you having these conversations or sharing your message?

Catch you next week when I’ll share how analysis of Competence created the pathway forward for a stuck Executive Leadership Team.

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