If you can identify with this title (from either perspective) then this blog entry is for you!
For the last several weeks my favorite yoga studio has been talking a lot about the 5 kleshas, obstacles that prevent personal growth.
They are: ego, ignorance, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. In every class I take or teach, this topic hits me like a ton of bricks!
It has become clear to me that these obstacles aren’t just a matter of spiritual growth or philosophy about becoming nicer people. They are also the bane of the modern workplace!
It is amazing how many of these concepts that were put in writing around 300 C.E. resonate with us in the modern world of business. It really shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but each new discovery along these lines still thrills me.
Here’s my take on the five kleshas in the modern workplace.
1) Ego. “Me! Me! Me! It’s all about me!”
Ever work for that guy? I have. Within two weeks of this guy’s arrival everyone started looking forward to the day when he would move on. I am not kidding.
When someone in a leadership role thinks only of his own career, his next promotion, saving face… and climbs at the expense of others, there is NO way for him to command the respect of even his own dog, let alone the unfortunates have to work for him!
This kind of boss surrounds himself with yes-men, chops off the heads of dissenters, and never champions any cause that he’s not 100% sure his boss will approve of up front. On a more compassionate note, I imagine that’s a pretty lonely existence, even if you get what you want. While I did not enjoy working for that guy, I have to admit that I learned from the experience. I am grateful for the lessons.
An ego-driven employee is no picnic either! If you find yourself taking full credit for a team effort, not acknowledging the gifts and efforts of others, or can’t name any of your coworkers’ interests or family members, it may be time to look in the mirror.
That is not to say that we should play small or diminish our own contributions at all.
Shine your light, BRIGHTLY, but do it in the interest of service, not for the sake of being a big shot!
Easier said than done. I know.
So, when was the last time you took a moment to appreciate the rest of the team? Now might be a good time!
2) Ignorance. “You don’t know what you don’t know!”
I first heard this as a young Ensign in the US Navy, but it really hit home a few years later, when I was in charge of a small unit overseas. I had a sailor come into my office and tell me about a morale problem I was completely unaware of. A few months earlier I had been forced to reassign one of my key personnel due to some inappropriate behavior. I soon learned that on his way out, he had shared a less-than-truthful story about what happened. He told everyone who would listen. As a leader, I had been lenient with him, doing the best I could to balance what was best for the organization with hopes that he could salvage his career going forward. I had maintained the required confidentiality and considered the matter closed.
So I was pretty surprised months later to hear the rather creative rumors that were spread (and believed)! Once I learned about the frustration in the ranks, I worked with my leadership team to repair morale, but boy was I blindsided!
In this case ignorance wasn’t exactly bliss!
Ignorance is equally damaging when you are not in charge. Some years later I worked to help integrate various aerospace systems and I was always amazed to meet people who only understood their one little piece of the pie. Sometimes we can become so enamored of our own task that we have no idea what it has to do with any other system, let alone other people!
We risk becoming the engineering world’s version of Tolkien’s character, Gollum, as we protect our “precious!” task. I cringe to picture an emaciated version of myself, wringing my hands over my laptop, hating the “nasty hobbitses” who might take it from me if given the chance.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever been consumed by your own work that you forgot the “why” and how it fits into the bigger picture? That Gollum reference also reminds me of attachment, the next topic.
3) Attachment. “Don’t change a thing!”
When a leader becomes too attached to the way things are, whether he’s in love with the power and prestige of his position, a particular resource, a key staff member, a task, or an idealistic idea of how things could (should?) be… there is trouble on the horizon.
The fact is that things change! When we get stuck in our ways, the best case is that we and our teams become stagnant. The worst case is that we fail to adapt as the earth shifts beneath us, rendering us obsolete and unimportant in the big scheme of things.
…Then we get to work on our resumes!
In workers, attachment can be the source of sleepless nights, stomach ulcers, and even heart attacks. I recall my years as a defense contractor, when it felt like we had to constantly do battle against competing interests.
While there was a certain nobility in maintaining and preserving excellent and dependable technical systems, there was always the terrible, persistent fear of losing.
At that point in my career I was more into preventing change than helping organizations to deal with it in healthy ways. (Guilty as charged!)
The effects??? …I wasn’t really overweight, but I wasn’t exactly healthy either. I didn’t sleep well, dressed in bright clothing to camouflage my grumpiness, faked a smile, and downed at least ½ a pot of coffee to drag myself out the door and do a good job mostly out of a sense of obligation —on a good day. I did good work and I like to think that I made some key contributions, but think of how much more I might have contributed over the years with a different attitude about change!
Now I am much better at nonattachment to outcomes. I work harder than ever, to be sure, but when a deal falls through I am okay with it and have already begun working on the next thing— less coffee these days and the smile is REAL too!
4) Aversion. “I HATE that!”
This topic was a little harder for me. If I have an aversion to things that are bad for me or harm others, how is that a bad thing? After all, doesn’t it keep me on the straight and narrow? I thought about this and I decided that, while an aversion to something negative might affect my behaviors in positive ways, it does something ugly to my heart.
You see, my aversions can lead me to be judgmental.
It sneaks up on you.
You are going about your day hating dishonesty and the next thing you know, you are judging others, perhaps unfairly, and even hating people whom you consider dishonest. From there it’s a slippery slope as it becomes tempting to warn others about those you consider to be dangerous characters (with good, protective intentions), to harbor suspicion, gossip, assume the worst of people you barely know…
The next thing you know YOU have become an angry boss or a taciturn employee, seeing the world through “feces-colored glasses.”
I HATE it when I do that!
Uh oh! There I go!---- AVERSION ALERT!
5) Clinging to life. “Carpe diem, diem, diem…. more diems… Never enough diems for me to carpe!”
This is another one that seems on the surface like it could be a good thing.
After all, life is precious! Life is short!
We don’t want to waste a minute and it’s pretty tough for even the most serene of us to face the end with any grace. (1)
So let’s extend that idea to talk about how we can sometimes cling to the life of an idea or a program in the workplace. This kind of clinging has led some to people to falsify research data to support a long-held theory or to obsess about preserving a job or program whose usefulness has long passed.
It can get very ugly when you are in charge and can’t let go enough to help your team to adapt.
After all, they depend on you to identify training opportunities and mentor them for long-term success. Right?
It’s also ugly when, as employees, we cling to a job that is no longer needed instead of retraining and looking for other ways to serve. Today’s hot new skills can quickly become yesterday’s news and you absolutely must keep learning in order to adapt. (Think of the plight of buggy-whip manufacturers when the automobile began to dominate the scene.)
The fast-paced change that characterizes the workplace and the global marketplace in the modern age forces us to become life-long learners.
So what about you?
You’re probably nowhere near being the world’s worst boss or employee, but I’ll bet that from time to time the kleshas get you down!
I know they catch up with me from time to time… It’s a journey!
This post was first published on 29 July 2015 as part of the Management on the Mat Blog.
1 On a personal note, my dad taught me something of this in his final hours. When there was no chance of recovery, he went gracefully, with love in his heart and kindness on his lips. As devastating (and premature) as the loss was, it was beautiful to be there for a man who had made his peace with everyone and, while he did not want to go just yet, managed to do so with grace. (I will admit that I have a big aversion toward asbestos!)