A Coaching Power Tool By Kathryn (Katie) Hoff, Leadership and Career Coach, UNITED STATES
Behaviors & Mindsets of Freedom vs. Attachment
Moving through change, we challenge our behaviors and mindsets. The idea can evoke fear and excitement or the sensation of being pushed or pulled. The old must is replaced with the new. We often discover something about ourselves and others in response to whatever change we experience together.
Change within an organization is about personal transformation just as much as it is about leadership for executives and their leadership teams. To move through our resistance to change, we must be able to identify underlying beliefs and our dependence on them that constrain our transformational process.
Executive teams lead changes that may radically challenge themselves and their associates. Within the context of organizational change, that way of being may be “put upon me” because the leadership of the organization has a particular vision or the customer demands something new.
As awareness of a change is brought to mind, we are then presented with mental frames around attachments. The opportunity in these moments is to reassess: do my attachments still serve me or do I need to have freedom from these attachments to see possibilities before me? As an executive leader I experience change at several levels:
Attachments are evoked around each of these spaces with the intent to self-protect and defend our current state. The SCARF model by David Rock (2012) outlines five domains: status, certainty, autonomy, respect, fairness; these domains support framing for how attachments may manifest for self, within a team, and within an organization.
Attachments Evoked During Organizational Change
In the personal domain, a leader’s own identity may be called into question: What part of my identity have I attached completely with what I do?
When a leader is attached to behaviors and a specific way of manifesting talents and gifts, we constrain our sense of self and limit our freedom to evolve. Any perceived threat to my role then is not just threatening my role, but my entire identity. Leaders may engage in self-protecting behaviors that may undermine their credibility, the credibility of their team, and even the change before them to self-protect their attachment to their identity and role.
- Identity: Can I continue to be who I think I am?
- Competence: Am I capable of being or doing differently in response to this change?
- Position: Will I lose status as I perceive it (e.g. power, influence, money)?
- Purpose: Is the change before me aligned with the life I want?
Critical moments within a team such as a new leader, a new role added to a team, a change with a new hire replacing an old, or a shift in organizational strategy evoke introspection around attachments. These moments are disruptions for the team that lead them to consciously or not walk through the cycle of team formation: forming, storming, norming, and performing (Mindtools, n.d.). This cycle challenges thinking in several ways:
- Identity: Who are we as a leadership team about the change?
- Competence: Are we collectively capable of working together differently?
- Position: Are we collaborative or competitive with each other and our perceptions of power?
- Purpose: Have we aligned around a collective purpose and why do we need to change?
As leaders of change, executives may have varying degrees of awareness of the impact of disruption a change will have on their broader hierarchy. For some executives, their work will evoke reflection on attachments throughout their organization such as:
- Identity: Am I [the executive] changing what others perceive to be the identity of this function or organization?
- Competence: Are my people capable of thinking and doing differently if needed?
- Position: Who is going to feel a loss? Where will they win or gain in this change?
- Purpose: Will this change affect the meaning and connection associates find in their work?
Freedom is awareness of the attachment but with a response that serves to invite more abundance, possibility, and purpose into our life. Free is less attachment to ego, things, and self-protection. Freedom is the ability to notice when the attachment is driving our choices and mindsets and then having the ability to actively switch to freedom. The goal is not to remove the physiological response of attachment and protection; we need this hardwired response to truly keep us safe. Rather we seek to not be blindly led by our attachments.
The concept of freedom here is best illustrated by the thoughts of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his use of the term “indifference”:
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (St. Ignatius
Freedom in change comes from a sense of self that is independent of what I do but grounded in who I am and my bigger why or purpose in life. Who I am is my values, interests, strengths, talents, and abilities, that go with me wherever I may be. Freedom in change is fostered by cultivating my problem solving to craft and find ways of being authentically me in whatever I do. Identifying how the change I seek will bring me more freedom in alignment with my bigger purpose is a catalyst for personal as well as organizational change.
Freedom vs. Attachment in Coaching Engagement
In working with executives who are leading or experiencing changes, attachments and freedom may evoke specific themes in the coaching engagement. For either individual or group sessions, executives may raise personal barriers around their beliefs, behaviors, and feelings across the personal, team, and organizational needs.
Beliefs: Protection and defense will be triggered in more direct and indirect means. Attached and protective thinking manifests in absolute perspectives:
- I always
- I can’t
- I never
Evoking awareness of any patterns in limiting beliefs that are holding back the leader from fully embracing the change themselves helps them to endorse and support the work that is asked of them. Specific to attachment is the presence of a scarcity mindset.
In the Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (2000) discuss an underlying belief of scarcity versus possibility. The scarcity mindset is one focused on measurement and that all things are finite. This mindset fosters a win/lose mentality and our mental grip on our attachments becomes stronger as they are motivated by self-preservation. When we see the world through this lens, we are likely to stay attached at the expense of growth and opportunity.
Behaviors: In her work Dare to Lead, Brene Brown (2018) illustrates several behaviors that we engage in to protect ourselves. They may look like a “hustle” mentality where we feel the need to consistently overachieve, minimize our pain, hoard knowledge, take on more than our share of responsibility, and seek to blame others. We may find ourselves self-sabotaging our efforts that we know rationally are good for us but are overridden by the need to self-protect. These patterns in behavior align with the scarcity mindset and can be shattered in a moment of awakening.
Feelings: The feelings that manifest within the attachment are that anxiety, worry, anger, and sadness. The feeling of freedom may be aligned with contentedness, lightness, and optimism. When we are living in attachment we feel bound to these things and may describe them as weights to bear or luggage we carry. Brene Brown uses the image of “armor” to describe this protective mindset.
Rituals for Letting Go of Unhelpful Attachments
As leaders identify their unhelpful beliefs, behaviors, and feelings toward their situation, finding a space to allow them to mourn and let go of old mindsets as a symbolic ritual may be helpful. The purpose of a letting go ritual is to evoke what was best of that experience and carry the good forward – the learning and growth, but not the exact behavior, feeling, or belief. This strategy is based on the tenets of Appreciative Inquiry. These attachments may have served a purpose at a moment in time, but no more.
Rituals around this letting go experience could vary and are an opportunity for the client to establish their behaviors around how they self-coach around changes. Examples of rituals may include:
- Borrowing from the work of Marie Kondo, if appropriate, the client may offer “thanks” to this belief, behavior, or feeling for the purpose it served and let it go as it no longer brings joy to their life. They might write a letter to their past self that created this structure and thank them for their creativity at that time and share their new learnings.
- Writing a letter to their future self to remind them of why they chose to let go of this belief, feeling, behavior. The letter serves as an artifact and reminder.
- A variation on the theme is a strategy from The Art of Possibility – the concept of “Giving an A” (Stone Zander & Zander, 2000). This is a visioning exercise where the individual writes a letter intended to be a reflection after a class (or whatever time frameworks for the client) where they offer a vision of what the future looks like with them learning about their new beliefs, behaviors, or feelings. This exercise may serve as a group coaching activity to support an entire team to vision their best future together for themselves as a collective and individually.
Reflection Prompt Option for Clients on Freedom vs. Attachment
Some clients may find models helpful for normalizing their reactions and blockers toward adopting freedom within a change. The SCARF model can be a helpful resource for a client. Share the model as homework. Ask them to reflect on where or if the domains in the SCARF model resonate with their current thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to the change they are seeking to engage in.
- What do you feel you need to protect right now? What is at risk to you?
- What assumptions am I making about what is true or possible?
- Are these assumptions true?
- Where can I reframe my narrative to feel more free or more SCARF?
- What data might I need to help ground my narrative?
- What SCARF threats can you anticipate in others? What are you already observing?
- Where might you be able to evoke more SCARF for your team? For your organization?
Brown, B. Dare to lead. Random House
Ignatius, of Loyola, Saint, The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola: translated from the autograph by Father Elder Mullan, SJ. P.J. Kennedy & Sons.
Mindtools (n.d.). Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing: Tuckman's Model for Nurturing a Team to High Performance. Mindtools.
Rock, D. & Cox, D. SCARF®: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others
Stone Zander, R. & Zander, B. The art of possibility: Transforming professional and personal life. Penguin Books.