There’s a line in the Being a Leader course: “What remains undistinguished runs you.” That leads to a loss of power, so I have an intense interest in distinguishing those things that run me, like a computer virus humming in the background. In my own quest toward Mastery, here’s what I see: I distinguish things, and then I forget. Until the next time. One of those things is a need to “belong.” 

Recently, I sought input from two seasoned colleagues on the agenda for a client executive team meeting. These two colleagues have almost 50 years of combined experience, and I was eager to see what they recommended.   

We created a plan that called for me to show up strong and powerful as the leader of the meeting, saying what was going to happen, bringing the agenda to the table, holding the timeline, creating the context, and directing the content. That was the plan.

The client, however, had asked for something different and specific, and I was going to be the one taking the reins in the meeting, steering it another direction.

“Risky,” whispered my (undistinguished) machinery, gearing up, gathering steam. “That plan — what if it’s someplace the client doesn’t want to go? Do you think you can really make it sound remotely like what they wanted?”

What if the plan we had, while good, wasn’t quite the right plan. What if the clients got mad? What if they didn’t like what we had to offer? What if I’d steered their expectations wrong in the first place? What if they threw up their hands and said, “This is all a huge mistake. We’re canceling this whole thing”?

My fear had kicked in HARD about the plan, but I didn’t speak up to my team because I was also afraid that my colleagues would get upset with me or think I was being obtuse.

Just before the meeting, I met with the founder of our company about something else. And my machinery went into high gear.

“I’m anxious,” I said.

“Tell me about the anxiety,” she said.

“We have this plan, but the client’s asking for something else, and the plan just isn’t sitting right with me.”

Our conversation created an 11th-hour new plan that let me off the hook for presenting a powerful plan by reducing the (perceived) risk that we’d upset our client. What was veiled as concern for the client was really concern for myself. I wanted to make sure people still liked me when I walked out the client’s door.

Guess what?

The new plan didn’t keep me safe.

The meeting, while okay, wasn’t outstanding.  I didn’t get the sense that either party left feeling like it was time wildly well spent.  

In a debrief conversation about how it all went down, our founder saw (and helped me see) how I had manipulated her into helping me wiggle out of what I didn’t want to do. Yuck.

For this week’s meeting with the same client, I clearly saw what was needed: the original plan. And…dammit, it worked beautifully!

So. Some of my lessons from this:

Trust the plan that was created when clear minds and hearts were on the job. Do not let deeply ingrained or old fears dictate what happens next.

Keep distinguishing how a fear of looking bad, not being liked, or being rejected starts the sneaky manipulation machine running to preserve my hope of belonging at all costs.   

Relax. When I’m in a meeting and I begin to pay more attention to what goes on with me internally than what’s happening with people in front of me, declare a break and call a colleague to talk me back out into the world.

The mind can be a dark and dangerous neighborhood. Don’t go there alone.  Better to stay out here in the sunlight, with friends.