A few weeks ago, I got completely hijacked by my fundamental needs. I thought it might be helpful for you to see just how easily it can happen, and how important it is to recognize that this is what is happening. In recognizing it, you are able to determine what you need to do to take care of yourself.
A bit of context. I am winding down my tenure as the Director of the Center for Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston. University policies make it difficult to plan for succession and, of high importance to me, is to ensure a smooth transition of leadership of the Center. So, I had to move out of the Director role into a part-time position so the University could post the director role.
In moving into this part-time role, I had to get very clear — first, for myself, and then for the university — with what I would, and would not, be able to do for the Center. In other words, cutting back my hours and expecting to produce the same volume of work was not a viable option for anyone. The University asked someone to step in to help cover the rest of the work on an interim basis while the position was being filled. And, the person they selected is someone who has a strong understanding of the work of the Center and someone I respect. So far, so good, right?
So, why then, would the innocuous statement, “please hold off on sending” cause me to get angry? This statement came in an email exchange between the interim and I and had to do with a monthly update I send to the Center’s board, something I’ve done for years, to keep them in the loop as to what we’re doing, to keep us top of mind for them, and to help them understand how best to help us. In the light of day, this seems like a reasonable request, yes?
The truth is, that for the last dozen years, I’ve run the Center with minimal support or engagement from the University. In my mind I would be running the center until the baton was handed off to the new director and the interim would be helping with those longer-term projects that it did not make sense for me to continue to own (and would not have the capacity to do). This innocuous, “please hold off on sending” on a communication that I’ve had with the board for years, really hit home that this was not the case. And that made me very angry.
As I reflected on this exchange, it was blindingly obvious to me that I got hijacked. My primary need for significance had been triggered in that I felt like what I was doing really wasn’t making a difference anymore, and my secondary need of control was triggered as I felt like I no longer had autonomy in my work. Once I was able to understand that this is what had happened, I could see the situation more objectively. I shared with the interim that this was what was behind my reaction to our exchange and that as long as I’m aware that this is what’s happening, I should be able to keep it in check. And, if not, I invited the interim to bring it to my attention and engage me in a dialogue to help put things into proper perspective.
I could have blamed the system. I could have alienated myself from the interim. And, neither of those responses would have served the Center, would have enabled a smooth transition of leadership, or, ultimately, would have allowed me to learn from the experience. This issue served as a catalyst for me to do the self-reflection necessary to identify how I was contributing to the situation and to make the choice to engage in a way that is healthier for me and for the successful transition of leadership of the Center.