Food for thought

Life is not a rehearsal

by Julia Weiss

“My client was so enraged that I felt paralyzed. I knew that what he was imputing us to have done was not true. But I was caught in a total black out. I did not know how to explain the right course of the things in this charged situation.” 

The key account manager elucidating this uncomfortable situation with her client, is sitting with 8 colleagues from different locations of the company in a two days training. At this point, the results of the previous two days are hanging on the walls in form of posters and pictures. Tools and impulses on how to deal with one’s own leadership competencies, notes on how to master the elevator pitch and the scenery framed with various flip charts. 

What differentiates successful leaders of those high potentials that have found their way here to deal with their professional futures? Next to competence and sovereignty, experience found its way on top of the list. But pure theory does not make a master and a learned set of tools not a successful leader – how to gain the relevant practice and sovereignty in these complicated situations without having years of experience? 

After the first theoretical part of the seminar we go medias res and gather typical conflict situations from the participants’ daily work life. Those we will use as basis for improvisation exercises in the next step.

In the first moment the corners of the participants’ mouths are shrugging in an amused way, one immediately leaves the room to take an “urgent call”. It seems strange at first to role play such situations. But the safe space that this seminar (and the trust among the participants) creates, tears down the inner barriers that one might have at first. The participants take their stage and start with the dialogue. At first, they facilitate each other’s situation and help each other to “perform” well. 

However, the goal of the improvisation is to leave one’s comfort zone in order to be able to lively feel a stressful situation where one is under extreme pressure. It is those moments where one typically uses destructive or defensive behaviours, feeling the lack of alternatives. With the improvisation the key account managers learn to trust their intuition and simultaneously find new behavioural solutions that base on empathy, self-confidence and social competences but which you cannot choose to use beforehand. Because you cannot foresee the reaction of your counterpart. Executive Presence Coach supports with situational interventions and helpful questions to find alternatives. This way, the new “boss” gets further information about his or her employee - which fundamentally changes the way the employee’s work is to be judged. Or the employee knows suddenly about new mandates and clients which instantly changes his and the boss’s spontaneity. The first moments of this artificially built situation, being observed by colleagues are strange. But then everyone has found their position and is living the opportunity. 

With the “new” knowledge, the boss passes the pressure onto his employee who aimed to go out of the conversation with a pay raise. Everyone is vehemently staying with their starting arguments. The boss barely looks up. The employee is nervously zapping with his feet and his sovereignty is fading away. The status gap is growing by every second. 

Then, the observers from the audience describe their perception of this situation, and the actors complement with their thoughts. The experienced situation is explored from a 360-degree perspective. 

“I felt so terribly uncomfortable”

“You did not even listen”

“And you did not even look up”

After the immediate feedback on a meta level the role play is analysed in depth and alternative courses of action are developed. Did the actors achieve the goals that they set themselves beforehand? And if so, with which method were they successful? Which tools did they use? How were mimic and voice used to pace the discussion partner or take the lead for the discourse? What of this did finally find its way and effect to the audience? Some scenes are taped with a camera, so that the participants get the chance to see themselves acting. The insights about the differences in self- perception and the awareness through the eyes of others, instantly grows the awareness about one’s own pitfalls – and potentials. 

The direct implementation underpins the previously learned theoretical insights, and the mind directly saves the positive experiences. Studies and practice confirm, that the mind is offering the positive experience again in similar situations that might occur – thus preventing participants from falling into old habits. 

The exercise serves like a flexibility stretching for our brain, participants train their neurons to react on the unexpected not in a fight our flight mode but rather playful and curious. The unexpected - that has beforehand set the participants in unsovereign, passive or even aggressive mood. Now they are learning to meet the unexpected with courage, curiosity and joy. 

Life is not a rehearsal – but you can meet some of its challenges being prepared. 

Julia Weiss works with her executive clients to unleash their full potential in their varying roles, and/or of their work teams and organizations. Thus she enables the executive and his or her team to achieve a sophisticated and sustainable level of performance. Julia is a certified executive and team coach, moderator and speaker with a focus of sales performance and change management. She works as a Partner of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. Julia’s experience is based on more than 15 years of work in different senior management settings – as a strategy consultant and as managing director - sales in the media industry.

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