I was recently asked the following question at a Female Leadership conference I spoke at: 'What do you do when you feel like a square peg in a round hole?'. The topic of my session was 'Influential Communication' and I had just taken them through the 9 principles of influence and the 8 steps to holding successful influencing conversations. Interestingly enough, the previous weekend my eldest daughter, Leilani had the following conversation with my husband. "Hard question, Dad. Why is the earth a circle and not a square, because there are squares everywhere: the door, the cabinets, the fridge, the TV, the roof...pillows...everything is made out of squares besides the earth?" He then told her that if you spin a square on a corner really quickly, it begins to look like a circle. Leilani's comment had showed us that she perceived most objects to be squares (and yes, she is an avid Minecraft fan), but she understood that her perception could be shifted as a result of my husband's response. The power of perception I don't want to get too esoteric or woo-woo with you, but I share this with you because having the perception that you are a square peg in a round hole doesn't help you. It will hold you back: it doesn't matter how good you are at having 'influential conversations', if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. So you need to shift your perception of yourself and of your job and possibly even your broader context to something that is more helpful for you. Are you being too judgy? Yes. You are high performers with high expectations. And perceptions are judgmental. They are shaped based on your experiences, desires and fears and they are influenced by your own cognitive bias. So you need to be careful that they don't undermine us. If you feel like you are a square peg in a round hole, you inherently hold judgments about the following:
1. Your capability: You have a pre-defined view of your capability: your talents, strengths, weakness and expertise.
2. Your context (or job): You have a view also of the system within which you are operating - this may be the organisational culture, team culture, and you may even turn to the words in your job description.
It's a bit like those shape shifting drawings that we've all seen: you know the ones, the old lady that when you try to go cross eyed morphs into a young lady?
Put on your perspecticles!
If this is you, if you are feeling this way, then finding another perspective is really hard. Like the shape shifting drawings, if it doesn't come to you immediately the only thing you can do is look away, refocus and then turn around and try again. Which is exactly what you need to do if you feel like a square peg in a round hole: you need different tactics and strategies. This is where coaching can be extremely helpful, because you have a professional who is trained to ask you the right questions that help you generate the insight and perspective that you need in the moment. To solve the problem. The number of times I have asked the question, 'What has been the most valuable part of this session?' and the answer has been, 'Your perspective on the situation: I now know what to do'...well, I haven't counted, but it's a lot!!
You can coach yourself
In the absence of working with a coach, whether it be me or someone else, you can absolutely go through this process on your own. Yes it will take a bit longer, but if you practice this, you will get good at it and most importantly, you'll get great results. Let's take the situation whereby you feel like you're in the wrong job. Ask yourself the following 3 coaching questions, including the specific sub-questions in order:
1. What is going on?
• What is the situation?
• Who is involved?
• What do you want it to look like?
2. Why don't you think you fit?
• What specific capabilities do you have?
• What specific capability do you think you are missing?
• What experiences have you had that require similar capabilities to the ones that are needed in this situation?
3. How might you explain this to your team?
• How would you describe the situation?
• How would you position yourself as the right leader for the role?
• What would you do to generate excitement about the situation?
The key with these questions is to ask them in order, write down your responses, and be really specific about the situation. There is no use making general comments or ideas that are too big to derive any positive action. What you are looking to do by taking the time to consider these questions is to identify objectively what is going on and what skills or capabilities that you possess that would be helpful in your situation. You will have some and you may need others. Like passengers getting on a train in Tokyo, you can fit in. You simply need to identify a different carriage, refocus and give it a red hot go. So you can continue to apply this when you find your mind wandering to an unhelpful place, I have captured these coaching questions in a handy worksheet for you to download here. I know you're awesome and I also know that you are probably your harshest critic. Let's make sure we put on our perspecticles, shift our minds and lift our actions. Make your voice heard!