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Thursday, 09 January 2020 09:08

Ready for Anything - Courage and Insight

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The focus in this article is on the courage and insight to confront and overcome barriers to being ready for anything.

The barriers include bias, anger, fear, frustration, confusion, clinging to untenable beliefs, to impossible expectations, and more.

In a recent article, Ready for Anything - Mindfully Aware, I identified five factors that contribute to being ready for anything:

  • Technical and interpersonal skills and business acumen 
  • A realistic view of the way things are
  • Emotional and Social intelligence
  • The courage and insight to confront and overcome barriers 
  • Mindful awareness.

The two parts to the courage and insight factor, are interdependent.  Insight implies that one is aware of the barriers and the tendencies that contribute to failure.  The courage is needed to do something about them. 

Insight

Let's begin with insight. Insight is a deep understanding of something.  Deep here means experientially knowing as opposed to intellectually understanding. 

Mindfulness enables objective observation everything that is taking place in or around one - thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sounds, the reactions of self and others - everything.  Objectively observing enables a realistic view of the way things are - impermanent, subject to change, uncertain, and the result of a process.  The process is dynamic and ongoing.  It is what makes everything impermanent.  

As one objectively observes, one also learns that wanting things to be different than they can be causes unnecessary stress and emotional pain.  One comes in touch with unconscious forces at work that influence feelings behavior.

Absence of Insight leads to dysfunction

Often, without these insights, project managers, clients, sponsors and other stakeholders subtly hold beliefs that cause project dysfunction.  For example, believing that key staff will continue on a project can lead to over reliance and difficulties when these people leave and their institutional knowledge is lost.  The belief that requirements will not change leads to unrealistic expectations about schedule and expenses. 

Living Above the Line

The realization that there are unconscious beliefs and biases at work "below the line" enables more effective decisions and behavior. The line is the divide between what is conscious and what is not.

For example, a project manager who continuously underestimates work would be operating below the line if she was driven by the unacknowledged fear that her estimate would be criticized and rejected, or driven by a false belief that this time everything would work out as expected.  Operating above the line is recognizing that there is a drive operating below the surface and taking the drive into consideration when deciding on behavior.

In other words, when we are consciously aware of the reasons we behave as we do, we are operating above the line.

Courage

This is where courage comes in. 

Courage is the ability to carry on in the face of fear and the strength to skillfully address fear and pain.

 Breaking through dearly held beliefs and realizing that uncertainty and impermanence are certainties bring fear to many.  We want the comfort of certainty and stability.  We want to be sure; and, when we are not, we may experience anxiousness.  Carrying on in the face of anxiety requires courage.


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Then, there is the need to work with people in power who demand and act as if their will were enough to get their expectations met.  Fear of failure and of disappointing clients and sponsors is common.

It takes courage to act on one's insights - to say "no" or "I don't know".  It takes courage to give up long held beliefs, even when the objective evidence shows them to be arbitrary and counter productive.  It takes courage to set out on an uncharted journey and stay with it in the face of difficulties 

Ready for Anything

Insight into the basic realities of uncertainty, impermanence and the desire for things to be in a certain way coupled with the courage to act on the insight are a foundation for cognitive readiness - the ability to operate effectively under volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous circumstances.  Cognitive readiness is being ready for anything.

Ready for anything, we can apply our intelligence, skills and knowledge in the most effective way.

Becoming Courageous - Taming Fear

We gain insight by mindfully observing.  How do we gain courage?

As we have said, courage is the ability to carry on in the face of fear and the strength to skillfully address pain.  Courage does not mean being fearless.  Fear is a natural part of life and can be very useful.

For example, fear of failure can trigger greater care and more focused effort to succeed.  Alternatively, it can be a deterrent to success.

Facing fear, accepting it, exploring it, and using its energy makes the best use of fear.  The courageous person, the hero, transforms the fear into laser like attention to detail, assesses goals, risks and rewards, and then carries on.  Those who do not face fear, hide from it; they stop and run away or they lash out in anger – anything that will make the fear go away.

In project management work, a manager who is faced with a confrontation with the sponsor over budget or schedule will probably experience some fear (ranging from mild anxiety to near panic).  

The hero will realize that this is not a life threatening fight-or-flight situation and will focus on preparing a clear and precise picture of his or her assessment of the issue. He or she will think in advance of the Best and Final Offer, and will have a sense of what to do if she cannot come to terms with the sponsor.  Will he walk away or will she give-in and deal with the consequences of accepting an impossible due date and budget later?

Others may avoid the confrontation by giving in without negotiating and without consciously looking at the cost of doing so.  Without courage, fear takes over and steers and drives behavior.

The courage to face fear and tame it comes from the ability to observe fear and not let it take over.  Mindful awareness enables the stepping back that frees one of the need to react.  The unpleasant feeling of fear is fully experienced and accepted.  Mindfully observing a feeling like fear creates some space between the observer and the feeling and that space enables responsiveness as opposed to reactivity.

Responsiveness – Ready for Anything

Responsiveness results from the combination of 

  • A realistic view of the way things are
  • Emotional and Social intelligence
  • The courage and insight to confront and overcome barriers
  • Mindful awareness.

Fold in technical and interpersonal skills and business acumen and you are ready for anything.

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