Sarcasm was the signature style for Jamie, a CFO in a large company. In his view, “leadership” or “personal” development were a waste of time and money. It’s better to get on with things that obviously drive performance, he reasoned. When questioned about his sarcasm and cynicism—on those rare occasions someone had the nerve to raise it—he would always respond with, “I’m cynical because I care about this company. Better to be cautious to make sure I protect our interests”.
Jamie’s leadership team were frustrated at having to battle him in every meeting. They wanted him to coach and develop them because they respected his experience, yet his relationship with them all was based on sarcasm, superficial conversation, and humour. They wanted more from him as their leader but Jamie kept them all at arm’s length. “They’re all good at their jobs; they don’t need me coaching them,” was his view. “Coach them on what? How to be a better person? Crap!”
Through some time with us, Jamie finally realised the extent to which his cynicism negatively affected his own team, and he started to re-consider his lifelong attitude. It wasn’t easy at first. “But I am the way I am because I care—what’s wrong with that?” he kept saying.
And there lay the issue: his good intention was to protect the company’s interests, and he really cared about that. Underneath all the bluster, his identity was attached to how well he cared and protected.
Protecting something is, usually, attached to a fear that things will go wrong if we don’t “protect”. When a good intention gets attached to a fear, it immediately throws us below the line! But we don’t see it as below the line because all we know is our good intention. Once we helped Jamie see the connection between his caring and his need to protect and the way it all got attached to fear, he was able to have an intellectual and an emotional breakthrough in his working relationships.
However, the most important breakthrough for Jamie was with his wife. His cynicism was rubbing off in his personal life. He had recently learned that his wife was ready to leave him because she was tired of not having a deep relationship with him, to be able to speak about her own heart and what she was going through in life. This shocking truth jolted Jamie so much that he made a commitment to transform himself out of his BTL thinking and behaviour. To become a “better man,” as he said.
Three Questions to Start the Day
So what did Jamie do? Every morning, he asked himself three questions to live in his day:
· “Am I being kind?” (No matter how much I think something is important, how am I putting that across?)
· “How can I be of service to someone today?” (Instead of others being of service to me)
· “What can I do better in today?” (I need to be aware of how I am behaving)
This last question he also asked his wife and one of his peers at least three times each week. He committed to accepting their feedback, no matter what it was. He refused to get defensive—he journaled their responses and feedback and he gave thought to his own responses and any templates that he recognised coming up.
This commitment helped Jamie develop himself out of that cynical style, to become a warm and caring man—still with a strong and cautious leadership style, but without the sarcasm and cynicism. Oh, and he was still funny—he found his own way of being funny without biting people with his sarcasm.
After four weeks, Jamie’s work relationships changed dramatically. But it was after only two weeks that his marriage changed, as he and his wife reached a better level of understanding and love. “I never knew the type of depth I could have in my relationship with my wife,” he told us. “It’s such a grounding thing for me. I love my wife to bits, and I am so much stronger as a man knowing I have her encouragement and support. This stuff really works!”
Yes, it really does!