Feb 172011

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

I recently had two experiences that reminded me of an executive coaching engagement some three years past. A feeling of déjà vous came over me. It wasn’t a completely pleasant feeling as, at least for the first part of it, the coaching engagement had covered some pretty rocky ground.

The reason that the engagement was brought back to mind was that the triggering event was repeated in both cases almost to the word some years later. So, let me set the scene for you.


I am one of those people who thinks up things to do. Sometimes it involves fishing or going on a cruise – I love to take along a gaggle of convivial friends. At other times it involves business. I am a recidivist entrepreneur – can’t help myself – and sometimes bring the restlessness that comes with it to the service of selected CEOs who are trying to build their companies.

First: Recently I was approached by a person who had successfully built a company and, after taking a bit of time off, was casting around for a new direction. He is not the only one currently in that category. I maintain a wide range of contacts and, at any given time, a handful of them are in the same boat. I am always on the lookout for people, articles, information and the like that might be of use to these people. In this case I came across an article that related directly to an area that he was considering. So I forwarded the article link. What I got back triggered the déjà vous. It was an email requesting additional information on the company and an introduction to the CEO. Remember, I had just found the article and passed it on.

Second: I was asked to form a team for a new company. The team is composed of both individuals and existing companies. As I worked with the founders, we pursued discussions with a range of companies. One in particular seemed like a good fit and expressed enthusiasm during the early goings. But, after a fast start, they became mostly uncommunicative. When we finally settled the team, that company was not selected. I got a somewhat agitated phone call from the CEO. “I thought that you wanted us on the team. We were waiting for you to tell us what to do.”

Whose job indeed? In both cases I was left with the feeling that these people had confused me with either Santa Clause or their father. Both seemed to think that I worked for them and their interests. The core question was ‘whose obligation is it to protect and advance your interests?’ Of course, there is an intellectual – and almost reflexive – response to that question. ‘It is mine.’ But how often do you act in a way that contracts that contention?

An echo from the past: The original engagement centered on a CEO’s tendency to go passive in the face of challenges. He was very good at the early stages of relationships but not so good at all when it came to extending and deepening them. As we worked towards the root causes of that behavior – and it was hard work to traverse that wasteland – things became more and more heated. It was clear that my client did not want to confront the root causes of his self-limiting behavior. Well, to be fair, he did but couldn’t find the courage to do so.

At first I thought that his behavior was rooted in a low self-esteem. Maybe he felt he was not worthy to take the lead in advancing his own interests. But I quickly discarded that interpretation. It was a reason why instead of a solution how – and I am very much into finding solutions rather than reasons.

After a lot of work we finally ended up at the cutting face of his behavior – the present in which it almost spontaneously occurred and became fact before he knew it. What became clear was that this habitual ‘Waiting for Godot’ was so deeply ingrained in him that he reflexively deferred to the other and awaited their contribution to his interests. When that contribution was not forthcoming, he was disappointed. It happened a lot to him; so he had developed a cynical attitude towards other people.

Answer the question! All of us find ourselves in similar situations evincing similar behaviors. We overlook our responsibility to act – to contribute to the moment – to acknowledge our role and play it.

Each time you find yourself ‘disappointed’, stop and think about what just happened. Have you derogated your responsibility by passing it on to another without their permission?

There are few understandings that can effect a major change in your life. This in one of them. If you live in the moment – are aware of the roles and responsibilities that you have in that moment – you will change your behavior and become a fuller partner in that moment.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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