The Magic of This Time…

“Look, I am in a certain place in my life, I am reasonably successful and OK, I am not perfect.  But I am comfortable and sailing along. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on personal growth. I have my habits and world view, and people just have to understand that and make it work.” Whether espoused publicly or privately, this is how many leaders assess their standing. Habits are a powerful representation of the way that our neural pathways manifest themselves. When the neurons in our brain are connected in a certain way. These connections are made through our experiences in life. The way we were brought up by our parents, the schools we attended, the religious institutions and their teachings, powerful leaders, teachers, and coaches, the social pressures we experienced, etc. By definition, these pathways are time bound. They served a purpose for us at the time we formed them and we leveraged them when making decisions during those periods. However, many outlive their usefulness with our personal growth, the rapid changes in our environment and societies, and in our efforts to make connections with new people different than those we grew up with or “our types”.

I believe this not only because of the research that supports it, for example Carol Dweck’s work on the growth versus the fixed mindset1, but also because it has been demonstrated numerous time in my own life.

As a young boy coming to the US for the first time I was illiterate in English. Yet at the time, there was no English as a second language or knowledge of how to instruct foreign students in American public middle schools. Therefore, I was put into total immersion with the rest of the students who were attending their regular classes designed for their ages. Needless to say almost all of my academic and social habits were questioned, not only through puzzled and at times cruel students, but also by the adult instructors and school administrators. For example, in my culture, when the teacher walked into the room all of the students stood up to show respect. In the US, my fellow classmates thought I was trying to make goodwill points with the teacher and laughed at me for nearly a year.

I was brought up to respect age. Later, during my first job in the US, I was managed by a man who resembled my father and I simply would not stand up to his tirades and misplaced anger. I endured humiliation and loss of face due to the relentless public chastisement of this leader.

In both of these instances there was a tipping point moment when I decided my relationship with the habits I had formed would have to change. In school, I decided to shift from sadness, isolation, and hurt to focusing on how I could learn English as quickly as possible and to be able to express myself and to have a reasonable chance to assimilate. At work I found out that this leader’s philosophy was to test what one is made of through confrontation and one’s reaction to it. So I decided to stand up to him and correct his allegations. Magically the public humiliations stopped.

In both cases I said “This Time I am going to shift my mindset and behavior to be aligned with who I am and what is important to me.

Many of you are caught in an endless reactivity to the same stimuli with unfavorable consequences. You may not have taken the time to examine how you react and whether there are other more productive ways of looking at the same information. Others of you may have gone through the intellectual exercise but are simply handcuffed from taking action.

One of the leaders I am working with is from a different culture where politeness is a basic value. He found the US business culture in its use of slang and profanity not only offensive but unprofessional. He was ill at ease with the level of personal information that colleagues routinely shared with one another and with strangers. This reached its most sensitive episodes when it was directed at him. His reaction was often to shut down, leave the room, or become flustered and therefore not as crisp and articulate as usual. Through reflection and coaching he came to realize that the predicament that he was in was to a large extent a function of the translation of a given experience through the lens of a distant and ancient culture which bore no resemblance to the open, fast, and trend driven culture of the US. Through experimentation, he finally got to the seminal moment when he declared that This Time I am going to look at the behavior through the lens of an anthropologist ethnographically studying the US culture. He decided that he would suspend judgement and enter these conversations with a sense of wonder and wanting to really understand how the behavior serves the person in a US business setting. He reported that he understood that much of the bravado is a form of bonding (particularly male bonding) and relationship forming. At other times, he saw it as way to position oneself in a social setting, a pecking order, to use an analogy from the animal kingdom. He realized that his American colleagues were taken back at his reactions to what they considered chatter and would shut down in reaction to his unease. This clearly was not serving either side. This insight changed the way he reacted to these conversations. He now simply sees it as a form of relationship building not intended to be rude and disrespectful to him.

Similarly, many of you have triggers that are automatically pulled resulting in instantaneous decisions and reactions without reflection.  How will you gain self-mastery and be the strategist rather than the triggered performer This Time??

  1. Dweck, Carol, PH.D. Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine, 2006.


Questions for Online Conversations

  1. Are you in a place to declare “This Time I will…”?
  2. If yes, how did you get there and what will you do this time?
  3. If not, what are you trying and what is in your way?

About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

2 Responses to The Magic of This Time…

  1. Jason Arends says:

    Great article Kaveh!-Jason

  2. Elena Amalia Jansel says:

    Kaveh, your piece engages one to reflect not only about the continuum awareness – behavioral change, but it also speaks of multicultural awareness. You’ve had early experience that “wired” you to see how it is like to be different – and perceived as such – . Your case is a perfect illustration of how your multicultural awareness informed your intervention.

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