No, this is not a post about someone who renovated his office. This is a story about a successful entrepreneur who came in for some executive leadership coaching sessions at VIM Executive Coaching and who wound re-building his inner self.
Mark (not his real first name), was every bit of the self-made man. He shared that he had a fairly lonely childhood in a household where arguments and shame were “the coins of the realm.” He grew up fairly isolated in terms of interpersonal relationships. It is little wonder. While in college he did not do very well in the humanities. He said he didn’t like the “feely-touchy” stuff.
What Mark excelled in was mathematics. Numbers became his friends, and though he didn’t “see the point,” he did exceptionally well in his language studies. He said that he did so well because he could break French and Mandarin down to mathematical principles. It should come as no great surprise that when he discovered computer programming – and the languages of computers, that he soared. Over time, he developed some programs and software that made him a great deal of money. Actually, a tremendous amount of money.
Walls around the office
As his company grew, he initially hired an office manager (very protective) and junior programmers who were very devoted. The company kept growing and he put in a small human resources department and then, a sales and marketing team. The company sales began to skyrocket, and I might add he outsourced some of his manufacturing functions to China (where they were amazed by his Mandarin fluency). He had all of the trappings of success, except with each passing month the walls around him grew taller. Only a few were allowed into his inner circle, then the circle.
Mark had a trusted partner in his HR director and one day, after she finished giving him a list of personnel updates, she told him that the perception in the company was that he had become increasingly aloof and distant from everyone. He had built many walls around him. His office manager, who had since been promoted to vice president, was his gatekeeper and “palace guard.” Instead of denying what his director had told him, he sat back in his chair, closed his eyes, and agreed. He did not share that the same patterns that had been set up long ago when he was a little boy, he carried right into the office.
He first came to me at VIM Executive Coaching because he wanted a way to better relate to his employees. He explained that he made himself distant by matter-of-factly dismissing, reacting or ignoring things that people were telling him.
He was afraid to respond to people because he didn’t want to appear weak or indecisive. It was easier to “maintain the walls.” We encouraged him to be open to the idea of mindfulness, of being open to people instead of shutting them down. His employees were not out to get him. They were seeking his help and they were needing his approval. It was a matter of him cultivating compassion toward them.
It was understandable. His life had taught him to be closed off and to “get them before they got him.” In his world, his natural inclination was to trust no one. Nevertheless, if he wanted his company to be successful, if he wanted to reach the next level, he would have to learn to better connect with his employees and to respond to what they were saying to him.
We introduced him to the concept of mindfulness meditation. Of being present and in the moment rather than worrying about what he couldn’t fix in his own life in the past, or needless worries about the future. The more he practiced, the better this successful entrepreneur got at dealing with situations in the present moment and in creating a work environment for his key employees that was more open, calm and relaxed.
It is difficult for most entrepreneurs to give up any power, but it is more difficult to watch hopes and dreams stall because all the power was keep tightly to one or two people. I am pleased to report that Mark’s company continued to prosper because compassion and contemplation had replaced rigidity and fear. It is interesting to note that not long after Mark had shifted his attitudes, the former “bulldog” administrative assistant resigned from the company. She could not accept that cooperation and caring had supplanted the building of invisible walls.