Poldark; the series on the BBC that I have found wonderful, fabulously entertaining and beautiful to watch: yes the actors of course but also the stunning Cornish countryside. What’s not to like!? A story with its 21st century edge (ruthless bankers and the struggle of the common man), set in a time when a gentleman’s word was his bond and chivalry and brutality walked hand in hand.
My Sunday nights have been held in the Poldark spell for so many reasons, and I shall miss it now until its much heralded second series. But what will remain with me until then and beyond are my thoughts about the strength and conviction of Winston Graham’s lead character and the plot that is built around so many Choose You™ moments. Poldark just seems to live his beliefs: his sense of right, of what he stands for, of bravery in the face of adversity, of tenacity. Whether it is defying the law to help the poor or defying prejudice for love, what he does seems entirely defined by his sense of who he is, and that gives him an authenticity that can’t be manufactured. Who he is and what he does are completely aligned.
But is this (fictitious) character from the 18th Century so different from us today? Was he more likely to be true to his beliefs about the world and himself and do only things aligned with that, regardless of the hardship or consequences, than we ever could be?
Robert Dilts represented this idea of being and doing in his Neurological Levels Triangle:
It’s a simple idea. If what I believe about myself (my identity statements, that’s anything starting ‘I am’) is aligned with everything underneath then I am aligned. I don’t have to pretend about anything: what I do and who I am are the same.
To explore how this works let’s imagine that, for example, in my job as a leader I am having a good day and arrive at work with an identity statement of ‘I am a good at this’. If that’s the case then I will believe that others are going to be happy to be led by me, and that my skills, abilities and behaviours are all those of a good leader (because I am good at this!). So I can just get on and lead in any environment. Everything is aligned: what I am doing matches what I believe and I don’t have to waste any energy pretending I am something that I am not. If I make a mistake that’s OK: mistakes happen. If someone doubts me, they are entitled to their opinion and I will be curious about it but not threatened by it. If someone is better than me that’s OK as it’ not a competition. I choose to believe I am a good leader and so can be myself. And this means I can be authentic: who I am and what I do are aligned.
Sounds great doesn’t it? But we sometimes have an identity statement that isn’t aligned with what we are doing, and when that happens it takes energy to manage. So for example, if I walk in to my job as a leader with an identity statement that ‘I am not good at this’ then I will probably believe that others are not going to be happy being led by me, and that I don’t have the skills, abilities or behaviours to do it well in any environment.
And hey presto, being a leader is now a very different experience. I am as talented and able as I was before. The only thing that has changed is my belief about myself and suddenly everything else that I do is harder and takes more energy. If I make a mistake that’s not OK: everyone will realise I’m not a good leader. If someone doubts me I believe they are probably right and I feel threatened by that, ‘found out’ and have to stand my ground and do something to prove them wrong. If someone is better than me then I am going to look bad. I can’t just be myself because I don’t believe I’m a good leader. So now I can’t be authentic. Who I believe I am and what I am doing are not aligned.
This glitch, between what I believe on the inside and what I have to do on the outside to disguise that belief, takes a lot of energy to manage. When that glitch exists I can’t rely on my natural talent because I don’t believe I have any. So instead I work longer, push myself further, worry more, work to hide mistakes, try to impress, take a tougher stance, shout more, act the big I am, all because I believe I am not a good leader and need to stop other people realising it too. Now I can’t be authentic because my being and doing are not aligned.
As Adlai Stevenson puts it
It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse
I’ve coached a lot of leaders over the years who suffer from this ‘imposter syndrome’, who work really hard to make sure that no one realises that they are still, in their own mind, the tea maker who joined the company 25 years ago and have made it to the top job by accident.
Ross Poldark looks fabulous on a horse, but what he really offers us is his complete alignment between what he believes and what he does. He is authentic: true to himself.
Is that peculiar to fictional historical characters? I don’t think so. When we know ourselves for what we are good at, and what we are not good at, and love ourselves for both, then we can just step out and be ourselves. And then our being and doing are aligned.
Sometimes just knowing this can open up choices to us that we didn’t realise we had. The higher up this triangle we choose to focus our energy and explore those choices, the more impactful they will be on all the levels underneath.
When is it hard for your to stay aligned and be authentic and true to yourself? What are you believing about yourself when that happens that is unhelpful? What would it be like if you chose to believe something else? What could you believe that would be more helpful?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the Choose You™ project and your examples of Choose You™ moments, so if you would like to share please email me at email@example.com Thank you for reading this blog. I am enjoying sharing the Choose You™ project and it is lovely to hear that so many of you enjoy reading about it. Do please forward this blog on to anyone you think may be interested.