The Executive Leader in Free Fall


The Executive Leader in Free Fall

It is funny what we remember. It happened last September, and I remember the late afternoon day quite well. The offices of VIM Executive Coaching are located in an old mansion that was built, I believe, sometime around 1860. One of my favorite things about my office is an ornate, leaded glass window that has withstood the test of time. As my new client started to unfold his story, the beveled edges of the window turned the branches of the Sycamore tree outside my office into a kaleidoscope of color. It could have been a sign.

The executive was distraught. He had taken the afternoon off in part, to collect his thoughts. He told me he “saw the end in sight.” Thank goodness he was not referring to his health, but to his career. His company was going “belly-up.” He had given them close to 15 years which in this day and age was impressive. To make matters worse, his industry was dying. He was a man with huge responsibilities. He had no idea what he was going to do.

You’re not dying, you’re alive
Despite his agitated state, I started off my consultation session by making him relax and breathe. He was certainly resistant to that approach but nevertheless I got him to follow my lead. As he began to breathe, one of the branches of the Sycamore tree lightly brushed against the window as it probably has for decades. It was a reassuring sound.

After my client relaxed a bit, I asked him how it felt to breathe? He shrugged his shoulders and I said, “You’ve just proven a point!”

“What point?” he asked.

I told him that he wasn’t dying, and in fact, far from it. He was breathing, he was calmly sitting there, he was open to all the possibilities that life can offer us. Yes, I reassured him, you may be going through a rough patch, and you may be faced with the unknown, but “the end” was far from being in sight.

In the weeks that would follow we began to go through a whole series of exercises. Some were fun and some were uncomfortable. When we begin to explore our lives and how we are dealing with the stressors that surround us, we can at first often feel inconsequential, but then we begin to realize we are hardly alone. He was going to have to change careers because he, his organization and even his particular part of the industry was changing. He is 51. Yet, not more than two or three days later, a young woman who is in her late 20s came to me with a similar set of problems. Granted, they were in totally different industries, but the same fears were in place. Both felt as though they were in a kind of free fall. Or were they?

Going through changes
Free fall almost implies, there are no sides, no bottom and no form. While one executive was in retail of high end sound systems, and the other was in a high position in the hospitality industry, as they faced the prospect of unemployment they were anything but in free fall.

What both had going for them was their authenticity. They were delightfully “real people.” As we went through exercises with both of them, they came to realize they had a lot more to offer than simply the professions they were in and their dying companies. They saw their self-worth, their interests and their many transferable skills. They were not in free fall, they were bounded by their talents, their unique traits and orientation to people.

I am happy to report that they are in new fields with new organizations. With the development of mindfulness, and each being able to cultivate their authenticity as managers, they are enjoying success.

Feeling as though we are losing control of our work or even social situations is not necessarily a bad thing. It may be a doorway to whatever is next. While our role at VIM Executive Coaching is directing executives to a place of cultivating their authenticity and mindfulness, it is amazing how executives can emerge from even the most dismal of situations to become they champions we know them to be.

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