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Establishing Authority Through Boundaries

Brian Smith

 
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Founders, entrepreneurs, and high performers naturally resist boundaries. We resist them because it’s our nature to challenge obstacles - and we often make the mistake of treating boundaries as obstacles rather than tools. One of the last things we consider is creating boundaries for ourselves. This is entirely understandable, but a poor response to the challenges we’re facing.

Creating boundaries is one of the most effective interventions my clients consistently employ. The establishment of clear boundaries can create a dramatic and swift change in nearly any area of your life.

How do boundaries create authority?

Boundaries give us a type of “rules of engagement.” For example, inside your home you can make and enforce any rules you want, like asking everyone who enters to remove their shoes. However, if you walk to the local park and demand that everyone remove their shoes, you may end up in an asylum. Why? Your authority to make rules ends at the walls of your home. Outside of your home, your authority quickly diminishes. It’s the boundaries (walls) that create authority.

The most common place where I see lack of boundaries creating problems for entrepreneurs is their own job description. Most entrepreneurs have a job description for everyone but themselves. Everyone but the entrepreneur knows exactly what they have to do in a given day and they have the de facto ability to say “no” to any task that falls outside of their job description. The entrepreneur without a job description is the only one left without the authority to say “no.” These entrepreneurs are left picking up all of the little tasks that fall through the cracks. Whether it’s running payroll, answering the phone when the receptionist is on break, or taking out the trash, the entrepreneur without a job description becomes “human duct tape,” picking up odd jobs to hold the company together. I’ve heard myriad excuses from founders in an attempt to validate their decision to not write a job description or to pick up these odd jobs, but they are all simply excuses. This structure benefits no one.

Writing a job description for the entrepreneur empowers the entrepreneur to say “no” to these tasks and, importantly, accurately assess what tasks are not currently being covered by another person on their team. It’s the entrepreneur’s job to build an organization that solves problems - not to act as human duct tape and solve the problems herself. An accurate job description creates boundaries for you so that you can stay focused on your mission (building an organization) and hand off all tasks that don’t directly support that mission.

Boundaries that serve a purpose

Your only limits in creating boundaries is your creativity and your mindset. Begin by considering what type of authority will best serve you, then work to create boundaries that support the establishment of that type of authority. Here are a few examples my clients and I have effectively used:

Meetings:

Meetings often fail to be productive or, worse, turn into conflicts when those present don’t have clearly defined roles and reasons for their presence at a meeting. Ensure that everyone who shows up to a meeting has a reason to be there. Every person in the meeting should be responsible for a specific business function, process, or objective. No one is there to observe. Empowering everyone to be responsible for a specific area within the business ensures that all important business functions are being considered. It also ensures that conflicts are much easier to handle. Each person at the meeting is responsible for advocating for the particular position that they are there to represent. If the person responsible for budget has a strong opinion about a marketing effort, it’s their responsibility to argue their point from the perspective of budget and what impact the marketing effort will have on the budget they oversee.

Relationships:

There’s no universally accepted definition of what a mother, father, husband, or wife is. We all have developed those understandings over the course of our lives. The problem is, each of us has our own definition of these roles. Because of varying definitions, relationships often run into conflicts. A husband expects his partner to act in a certain way, in accordance with his understanding of how a wife “should” act. When his wife acts counter to this expectation, he feels hurt or upset, creating conflict within the relationship. To avoid these conflicts, partners can lay out their expectations for both their partners and themselves, creating a sort of “job description” for each other. This ensures that both partners are in agreement with respect to what is expected from them and what to expect from their partner.

Schedules:

Entrepreneurs are often overwhelmed by the demands of their work. They lose themselves in their work, neglecting their personal lives. I often speak to entrepreneurs who tell me that they don’t have a personal life and spend 12+ hours per day in their offices, yet they still don’t feel productive. I find these entrepreneurs have difficulty prioritizing their projects and commitments because they say “yes” far too easily. Unsurprisingly, these are the entrepreneurs who tend to be the most stressed.

The simplest and most effective intervention I’ve found for these entrepreneurs is to have them make regular personal commitments. These take the form of committing to meeting friends after work, signing up for exercise classes, joining a book club, or some combination of these. I call these simple and effective commitments “lynchpin interventions.” Simply having a commitment on their schedule that takes them out of the office forces them to more accurately assess their available time and commitments. Knowing that they’ve committed to an activity (and to themselves), gives them these entrepreneurs the authority to say “no” to low priority items and forces them to be more critical of how they spend their time at work.


I constantly work on authority and boundaries with my clients. Are you curious to learn more about how boundaries can create clarity and authority in your life? Contact me and let’s have a discussion about how these approaches can change your life.

Image source.

Procrastination and Victimhood

Brian Smith

 
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Last week, I shared the Drama Triangle with you. This week, we’re diving into one of the most common types of victimhood and self-sabotage that I regularly see with founders, entrepreneurs, and high-achievers: procrastination and busyness.

Busyness

Many of the clients I work with come to me on the verge of burnout from the sheer amount of activities and commitments they have on their plates.  Initially, most of these clients want help becoming more productive or better managing their time so that they can “get it all done.”

Procrastination

Some clients of mine present procrastination as a challenge they are trying to overcome. Often, their procrastination is masquerading as busyness (“I just don’t have enough time to get ahead”), but this is simply an excuse.

Inevitably, as we dig into their schedules and their to-do lists, we find that busyness or procrastination has become a crutch for them. When we view this through the lens of the Drama Triangle, we find something very interesting:

What the client thinks:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Busy schedule
Rescuer: Takes many forms

How the client talks:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Poor work quality, poor results, unhappy investors, etc.
Rescuer: Procrastination or Busyness

Wait, what? How can the problem act as the Rescuer? Simple: most of us treat these excuses as legitimate conditions or ways of being. We often accept them as a reality, rather than actively challenge them. The excuse of being too busy to give a project your full attention, or waiting until the very last moment to complete a task rescues us from having to face the reality: we didn’t do as good of a job as we believe we are capable of doing. What would have happened if you gave that project 100% of your focus and attention and it still didn’t turn out the way that you wanted? What would that mean about you?

Most of these challenges don’t magically appear once you begin building a company. Especially procrastination, and to a lesser extent busyness, appear early in many of our lives. Procrastination typically becomes very apparent in college. Let’s examine how it works with an example:

You’re in college and it’s the end of the year. Finals are coming up. You’ve got multiple projects and papers to do, so you don’t really know where to start. Not to mention, everyone will be leaving for summer break, so you want to spend time with your friends. So many competing commitments and desires! You put off studying until the day before your statistics test. You stay up all night, fueled by caffeine and Adderall, to cram for the test. You walk out of the test feeling pretty good about how you performed. A few weeks later when you get your grade, you got a B+. You think to yourself “damn, I did pretty well consider I only studied for this test the night before taking it!”

Everything in our lives serves a purpose, so what is procrastination is serving in this example? Procrastination and busyness both serve the same purpose: they save us from facing our true selves. By procrastinating, you don’t give 100% effort to a task or project. You’ve got a built-in excuse for not doing as well as you believe you could. And that’s the key: we want to believe that we’re capable of accomplishing much more, but we didn’t simply because we procrastinated.

The procrastinator is trying to avoid a situation where they put 100% effort into a project and still are met with less than optimal results. For example, if you were to study all semester for an exam and you still only got a B+, you’d be forced to face the fact that you may not be as good as you thought you were. While we all want to believe we’re A+ students, landing a B+ despite your best efforts can be hard to face.

The reality of procrastination and the Drama Triangle is:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Fear of not being good enough
Rescuer: Procrastination

This is exactly why productivity tools, changes in habits, and task management systems almost never work to cure procrastination or an overly packed schedule. The issue isn’t in how the work is completed or scheduled. The underlying problem is the fear that you aren’t good enough. Sorry, but Asana & Trello can’t help you with that.

Overcoming procrastination is a process of challenging the way that you relate to perfection and failure. It requires the ability to face yourself head-on and recognize that you may not be as skilled or competent as you once thought you were. This type of personal growth not only improves your productivity but makes you a better leader. Being honest about your abilities and shortcomings instills trust in your leadership, but it helps you to build a more functional, cohesive, and well-rounded team.

Functional steps to Overcome Procrastination:

  • Admit to yourself (and others!) that procrastination or an overly packed to-do list isn’t a byproduct of your work habits or situation. It’s an excuse.

  • Pick a single project and put your focus entirely into that one project. Don’t allow yourself to switch between projects throughout the day or week. Work on one until it’s done.

  • Prioritize your projects and commitments. Don’t allow a lower priority to encroach upon a higher priority project.

  • Practice saying “no” to things that are not supporting your highest priority projects.

  • Work with a coach or a confidant who can help you to address feelings of inadequacy, impostor syndrome, or fear of not being good enough. This work can be powerful and the impacts of addressing these feelings can have far-reaching impacts in your life.

Ready to attack procrastination in your life? Contact me to schedule a time to discuss the impact coaching can have on your life.

(Image credit.)

The Drama Triangle: A Primer

Brian Smith

 
 

Few concepts have challenged my understanding of human interactions more than the Drama Triangle. Stephen Karpman, a psychologist and student of transactional analysis, discovered the Drama Triangle by analyzing fairy tales to determine the source of dramatic tension. This beautifully simple framework can be used to identify situations where you’re either giving up control to others (as a Victim) or attempting to exert undue control over others (as a Persecutor or Rescuer). In any of these cases, the Drama Triangle helps to identify when you’re wasting physical, emotional, and social energy.

Within the Drama Triangle there are, you guessed it, three roles:

  • Victim

  • Persecutor

  • Rescuer

The Victim

The Victim plays the central role in the Drama Triangle. They feel that other people or circumstances are acting upon them and they are powerless to do anything about it. They may feel attacked, worthless, out of control, or mistreated. The consummate Victim always has a problem, no matter what happens, someone, something, or some situation has adversely impacted this person.

Words of the Victim

  • That’s just who I am…

  • I’m not good at…

  • Poor me!

The Persecutor

Every Victim requires a Persecutor, as the Persecutor is the perceived source of the Victim’s problems. Persecutors aren’t always people. They can come in the form of a condition, such as a disease, or as a circumstance, such as a natural disaster or recession.

Words of the Persecutor

When the Persecutor is self:

  • I shouldn’t have…

  • I messed up…

  • I should have done...

When the Persecutor is others:

  • It’s your fault

  • You didn’t give your best effort

When the Persecutor is a group:

  • You messed it up for all of us

  • They just don’t get it

The Rescuer

The Rescuer is what places itself between the Persecutor and Victim. This can often be a person, but many times it’s not. Rescuers can also take the form of addictions or things we use to numb ourselves: alcohol, drugs, workaholism (I see this one most commonly amongst founders), etc. Two behaviors that nearly always identify the Rescuer: 1. the need to have the last word and 2. a belief that they are always correct.

The Rescuer doesn’t want himself or others to feel bad, and so they seek temporary relief for themselves and others. This is the proverbial ‘giving a man fish rather than teaching him to fish,’ approach. The immediate pain has been removed (hunger), but the core problem (inability to feed oneself) is never addressed. Rescuers find validation in being needed by others.

Words of the rescuer:

  • Poor you! Let me help you.

  • I’ve got the solution/answer.

  • I can do that for you.


We can see these dynamics play out in nearly every area of our lives. It’s a core concept in advertising. Advertisers seek to magnify the pain (Persecutor) that the customer experiences and then provide the customer with a product that removes their pain (Rescuer). This AXE Body Spray commercial perfectly captures the Drama Triangle dynamic at work. The protagonist in the commercial is the Victim of feeling alone and without a female companion. Enter AXE Body Spray and immediately he’s rescued from his fate of loneliness. If only he had found AXE earlier!

The same dynamics happen throughout our lives. Susan has an underperforming salesperson named Tony on his team. Because Susan dislikes confrontation (“I just don’t do well confronting people,” says Susan), she doesn’t address the salesperson’s shortcomings. Instead, Susan meets friends at the bar a few times each week and complains that her team will miss sales targets because of Tony’s poor performance. Susan feels victimized by Tony’s low numbers (the Persecutor in this scenario) and seeks the comfort of two Rescuers: alcohol which reduces the stress created by Tony and her friends who provide her validation that Tony is the problem, not her.

The Rescuer Creates the Victim

What’s seldom understood is that it’s the introduction of a Rescuer that creates the Victim. Let’s view this from the perspective of another example:

Ben is a terrible free-throw shooter. At practice, Ben’s coach wants him to not feel embarrassed by his lack of free-throw abilities. So whenever it’s Ben’s turn to make a free-throw in practice, the coach takes the ball from Ben and shoots the free-throw himself or allows Ben to skip the free-throw altogether. This transaction saves Ben from embarrassment in front of his teammates, but does nothing to improve his ability to shoot a free-throw.

In this scenario:

  • Victim = Ben

  • Persecutor = lack of free-throw abilities

  • Rescuer = Ben’s coach

What do you think happens when Ben is awarded a free-throw in a game? Because he’s never practiced his free-throws, he misses every game-time free-throw opportunity he’s given.

Without the coach’s intervention, Ben would have had two options: practice to improve his free-throws or give up and accept he’ll never be good at free-throws. Without the coach, Ben would be in control and empowered to make his own decisions. When the coach stepped in to save Ben from embarrassment in practice, he disempowered Ben and, though his actions were well-intentioned, he revoked from Ben the opportunity to learn to throw a free-throw.

What to do when you identify the Drama Triangle in your life

All three roles within the Drama Triangle are self-serving and counterproductive. The Victim gives up control to the Persecutor and Rescuer. The Persecutor exerts control over the Victim, while the Rescuer attempts to exert control over both the Victim and Persecutor.

Rule of thumb: If you can identify two elements of the Drama Triangle, but can’t determine the third, it’s likely you! For example, if you can easily identify the Victim and Rescuer, but you can’t identify the Persecutor… chances are that it’s you!

A number of frameworks have been offered to navigate the Drama Triangle, but there is only one sure-fire approach to eliminating the drama created by this dynamic. When you find yourself engaged in a Drama Triangle, remove yourself completely. Step outside of the dramatic entanglement, cut engagement with the people who are insisting on engaging in drama. Sometimes just a “time out” from the dramatic dynamic is enough to put an end to the damaging energy created in these transactions. In other cases, people are too ingrained in their dramatic tendencies to change their behavior. In any event, it’s best to simply remove yourself from these dynamics.

In any Drama Triangle, you’re only playing one role. To completely eliminate the Drama Triangle, you’d need to manipulate the behavior and perceptions of two other people. This type of self-control and leadership takes time to develop and refine.

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you’re interested in learning more about how drama is creeping into your world and tactics to conquer the Drama Triangle, stay tuned for upcoming posts, or contact me for individualized coaching to begin annihilating drama in your life.