The Executive (and Entrepreneur) Who Came Out of the Shadows


The Executive (and Entrepreneur) Who Came Out of the Shadows

Are you an executive leader or even an entrepreneur who seems to be caught in the shadows? If you are, I can assure you that you’re not alone. At VIM Executive Coaching we have seen many leaders who come to us full of regret for being “too shy,” or “too passive,” or even too afraid.” They will frequently tell us about their invisibility or being overcome with fears in regard to being themselves or even expressing an opinion.

Who you are…
There is a wonderful, old expression that is quite apropos to this discussion: “Who you are is plenty good enough.” But what do we really mean when we say such a thing?

An extreme example. We knew an entrepreneur who was outwardly a loud, somewhat insufferable person. He was the president of a manufacturing company that made a terrific sporting goods product, but his sales managers did everything in their power to not include him when they had to present to a major prospect! He at least had the insight back then to ask for coaching help. He presented himself with the line “I think my behavior sometimes causes us to lose business, what do you think?”

As he started to talk, his personality went from somewhat loud and frankly, a bit too effusive and over the top, to a much more quiet, thoughtful and introspective manner. As he talked, the transformation was remarkable. I’ll hold that thought for a second, and introduce you to a quiet, charming woman who held an executive position with a large teaching hospital in the Denver-area. She had been in the same position for about five years, and watched as she was passed over for promotion time and time again. I might add that all of her superiors were women so it wasn’t a case of a “glass ceiling.” She presented with the following comment “I am so hidden from consideration because no one knows me. I never have an opinion and I never rock the boat.”

Plenty Good Enough
Though it might seem odd, both the entrepreneur and the hospital executive presented opposite ends of the same problem. Both were afraid to step out from the shadows of their own making. The hospital executive was an incredibly deep-thinking, bright and inciteful person who also had a terrific sense of humor. The entrepreneur shared that he was raised to believe that the only way he could get noticed, the only way to make a point in this world, was to be loud and forceful and if needs be, even obnoxious.

In short, both the entrepreneur and the executive had lost their ability to be authentic. Neither liked the way they were, neither felt that the world around them would respond to their authentic selves, that somehow who they were wasn’t good enough to achieve results.

Through a series of exercises and my encouraging both to practice techniques that would instill a greater sense of mindfulness, remarkable changes began to occur.

The entrepreneur decided to simply “be present” in meetings rather than being forceful. As a result, he took on the role in meetings of letting his sales managers do what they did best, and to serve as a resource for information on the quality of his products and the integrity of his company. Customers responded to that. In fact, they began to ask questions about possible product modifications, line extensions and even the history behind the company. He toned himself down and was just himself. The customers admitted that it was a powerful thing to have an experienced expert along on a sales call.

We worked with the hospital executive to encourage her to respond to situations in meetings rather than worry about how her reactions might affect perceptions of her place in the organization. As a result, she was soon promoted. It was hardly magic. Her abilities were there all the time, just that they were hidden in the shadows.

It is a wonderful thing when people can see our authentic selves and not an imitation!

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