Perhaps the greatest tool we have as leaders is ‘encouragement’. There is a poster on my study wall, one of those excellent 80’s success posters. It has an image of a lighthouse and the saying, ‘you can’t shine a light on another's path without also illuminating your own’. Loving everything maritime, I enjoy the image while also appreciating the importance of encouraging others. Encouragement is the verb or access point for being ‘attention out’.
I once read that all it takes for a child’s life to turn around is for one other person to believe they can. This is the idea at the heart of being attention out. There is an inherent humility in the act of serving others while also not hoping to gain anything for yourself or from others. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but of yourself, less. Zig Ziglar once wrote ‘you will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want’. At first blush, this suggests that if you give you will get, however, it’s much deeper than that. You don’t give to get, you give to delight, to serve, to teach and, ultimately, to encourage.
‘Below the line’ is very much about you and what’s happening to you, while ‘above the line’ is less so. If you want to lift yourself faster, then get out of your own way. You need to get out of your head and out of your world and into the world of others. Books on anxiety and finding happiness often prescribe a gratitude list as an exercise that we can all benefit from. It’s quite simple; ask yourself, what am I thankful for today? Then try to list as many things as you can. The list might need to start with mundane things like fresh water and the sun on your face and develop from there. Over time, you realise you have more to be grateful for in life than not. Thanksgiving is an American holiday tradition that embraces gratitude. Perhaps it should be one of those universal and secular ideas that all humanity could adopt.
Encouragement is the verb or access point for being ‘attention out’.
Creating a gratitude list is a practical and nice idea, but let’s go deeper. Stephen Karpman is credited with designing a concept that has become well known, written about and referenced often in psychoanalysis and counselling contexts. He created what has become known as the drama triangle. The only book he wrote on the topic is A Game Free Life. I was first introduced to this concept by Lorna Patten, a relationship coach, as a way of helping me to deal with a dysfunctional relationship with my father. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say, because of this one idea and Lorna’s work, that my children got to have a grandfather. You may find the concept useful in your next lift.
Humans love drama. If Shakespeare is right and all the world is a stage and we are merely players, then these three roles are the ones that most of us adopt. We are the Victim way too much; we are the Rescuer more than is healthy; and when we face up to it, sadly, we can all recall times when we were the Persecutor.
There are infinite scenarios in which these roles play out in life. An archetypical one can be found in remarriage and step-parenting. Imagine a scenario wherein a step-father disciplines his step-daughter, while the mother compassionately connects to both in order to keep the peace. From the step-daughter’s perspective, she is the victim of the stepfather’s persecution. To her, the mother is the rescuer who comforts her and tries to explain how her new dad means well. Later that night, the step-father is consoled by the wife who commiserates that all teenagers are difficult and that this is hard on everyone. In each case, the roles between step-father and step-daughter swap. In one, he is the victim and in another, the persecutor.
It’s exhausting don’t you think?
You don’t give to get, you give to delight, to serve, to teach and, ultimately, to encourage.
All of us need to remove blame, hurt and disempowerment from our behaviour set. Instead, we need to take responsibility for being the author of our own stories, not simply a player.
Instead of being subject to the drama triangle, we need to lift ourselves above the line and become attention out. As an author of our own story, we can move towards being assertive, nurturing and vulnerable.
As an assertive person, you know your own feelings, needs and wants. You are non-judgmental and tend to frame ideas and advice as ‘in my experience’. When you are compassionate and attention out, you will be nurturing as opposed to rescuing. You give help when asked, care and understand others, yet you don’t ‘need to be needed’. And finally, you will start to understand how to be open and vulnerable. You will realise that the stronger you get, the gentler you become.
It was Lorna that taught me the power of responsibility; to understand the world as an author of my own story. I took this advice on board as ‘don’t let the story tell you’. She teaches it through what she calls the new paradigm, where ‘you are one hundred percent responsible for the whole of your own reality’. It’s an idea that plays with the ideas of fault and responsibility and is something that you will undoubtedly explore (if you have not already done so) as you start to embrace the next lift. We are below the line when we blame, bully or save others. We get above the line by accepting that while what happens to us may not be our fault, it most definitely is our responsibility to create our own future.
When you are compassionate and attention out, you will be nurturing as opposed to rescuing.
It’s hard to be attention out when you are stuck in your own drama. Have the courage to let go of the stories of the past that hold you back, and start to author your own life, lift by lift, moment by moment, one relationship at a time. From this place of power, you can begin to forgive, lead, inspire, love and grow others. Shine a light on their path and illuminate your own. Attention out is about being a creator of your own reality.
It most definitely is our responsibility to create our own future.
You can play the human drama triangle, hurting, blaming and saving others or you can spend more time giving thanks, encouraging others and creating your world.