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Bewitched by the familiar

I had a client, we'll call him Brad, that grew up in an entrepreneurial family. This made self-employment familiar to him. So when he began his career, he was quickly drawn to starting a business as well.

The freedom, the flexibility and the responsibility all suited him just fine. He was aware of the trade-offs of running your own business. And they seemed like minor inconveniences for the chance to be his own boss and not have to answer to anyone else.

Unfortunately, there were some other, more challenging, quirks he picked up from his family. Brad's parents frequently made derogatory remarks. Their dinner conversations were frequently peppered with inappropriate comments. Spaghetti was often served with a side of lewd jokes. Dessert came with a sexist quip instead of whipped cream.

There were plenty of times Brad's parents made him cringe. And while he didn't follow suit entirely, he struggled to understand the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors in a professional work environment.

That is why Brad struggled to intervene when complaints about an employee started to be made. Where others experienced harm (and rightfully so), Brad just shrugged this employee's abrasive remarks off. He was accepting of others to a fault and Brad deeply believed that this employee was a good person who meant no harm - just like his parents.

Brad was bewitched by the familiar. He was accustomed to hearing comments that disgusted him and not being able to do anything about it. So he just accepted them as part of the way people are. And he stopped even noticing how they made him feel. It just "is the way it is."

At least that's what he thought until he HAD to listen to his other employees. Brad could not deny the real harm that was being caused any longer. And as he opened up to deeply listening to his employees' perspectives, he became aware of reasonable boundaries he had failed to uphold.

Brad didn't uphold these boundaries because he didn't even know that was an option. He was like the pet fish woefully unaware they are surrounded by water in a tank in a living room.

Facing the reality of the situation with this awareness was not an easy task for Brad. He worked with a therapist, a coach (yours truly), and took classes. Brad not only strove to educate himself, he challenged himself to change.

In the process, he uncovered a lot of things from his past that haunted him, clouding his perspective on what is and isn't ok. Brad could have ignored all of this and remained steadfast to his original position. But doing so was disingenuous with his values.

Remember, Brad's an accepting person. He also values inclusivity (this value seems to be shared among those of us that were routinely excluded from things as children). So he had to wrestle with these ideological differences.

He realized there's a difference between accepting someone as they are and allowing intolerable behavior. And just because such "antics" were widely accepted throughout his childhood (and continue to be among his parents') doesn't mean they are ok to do now.

Brad had the courage to investigate the limiting beliefs from his childhood that no longer aligned with his values. And in doing so, he broke the spell of the familiar. As a result, he was able to see the line about what is and is not tolerable more clearly. And he's more skilled at setting expectations, drawing boundaries, and holding people on his team accountable, which has resulted in a more positive work environment for everyone.

This is the work of wholehearted leaders. We don't stay bewitched by the familiar. We pause, reflect, investigate, learn, grow and change. We listen to, respect and empathize with other points of view. All in an effort to create a safe space for our fellow humans, from different walks of life. That way, we may collaborate together to make amazing things happen. It's not easy work, but it's necessary and the rewards make the challenge worthwhile.

Did this blog post speak to you? Then share the love and forward it to a friend! You might just be sending them the very message they needed to hear today.

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