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Change Work June 2009

One day you'll thank me!

John Cleese once said that he thought every Englishman's sole ambition was to get through life without being seriously embarrassed.  If there's some of that in you then it stops you from taking risks - even when simply talking.

I remember a management training course where we were shown an excerpt from a TV documentary on the human causes of various disasters.  In the example, a newly-qualified airline pilot was flying alongside a very experienced captain and his (the captain's) long-time colleague and friend who was the flight engineer.  The flight recorder had captured a few instances of the two older men ganging up on the new boy and ridiculing his comments and interventions.

As they approached their destination, the captain took control and proceeded to land the plane manually.  Quite late in their approach, realising that his flight path was a little low, the captain adjusted by pulling up - but rather too much.  The young co-pilot realised that there was no longer enough time to make another correction and warned the captain that they were in danger of overshooting the runway.  He was firmly told to shut up: something along the lines of, "I was doing this before you were born."

Sadly, and inevitably, they landed too far down the runway and, as the plane skidded off the end of the tarmac, the co-pilot was heard to say, "I told you!"

Why is it that we might literally prefer to die rather than speak up and risk ridicule?Why is it so difficult for "an authority" to accept advice or criticism from a junior?

It's about self-esteem and the extent which you are in command of it as opposed to needing other people to feed it.  If you're completely self reliant, in the sense of always feeling good about yourself - or not - based on your own judgement of what you've done and regardless of anyone else's opinions, then you are to be congratulated. Even though I know you won't care what I think!

But what if you do care.  What if those opinions matter a lot?

How do you manage to stick to your own values and beliefs in the face of contrary views?

Consider the question, "What would it be like to be that person who knows what's right and has the courage to take the necessary action?"  Or think of someone you know who's always willing to speak up or to take risks.  What are some of the things you'd imagine they say to themselves?

Your thoughts might go like this:

If you run through these statements and "try them on", you'll find that some of them already feel comfortable.  Spend a bit more time entertaining these beliefs and you'll find that they stick.  Mentally rehearse your current challenge from this perspective - as if you were that person with high self-esteem.  Experience how easy it is when you're focused on achieving a positive outcome rather than avoiding embarrassment.

Can it be that self-esteem comes from thinking less of yourself?