Friday, November 6, 2009

Making the Unconscious Concious

I’ve received many compliments throughout my career as a management consultant and trainer, but two comments in particular mean the most to me. I believe these two comments encapsulate best who I am and what I do.

The first declaration was made several years ago after a strategic planning meeting I facilitated with a group of executives at a large corporation. The session went very well. It was one of those unique times when every executive in the meeting opened fully and dove deep in their assessment of the business, and of themselves. When that happens learning is profound and meaningful. That day the depth of insight and understanding was intense. One could actually hear and see people’s attitudes and behaviors changing in the room. For some this session was a life-changing experience. For the company the decisions and actions made that day set the future tone for the business. That meeting made a difference.

After that session the Chief Executive Officer of the company came to me and said these words: “Mac, do you know what it is you do? You make the unconscious conscious! That's why we're able to accomplish so much when you facilitate our group.”

That comment hit me like a bolt of lightning. That is exactly what I do! I draw out from the deep recesses of people’s minds the hidden truths and insights they know, but cannot articulate. I cause people to discuss that which they refuse to discuss. I help people confront that which they cannot confront. I bring truth to the surface and set people and organizations on fire with that insight.

Galileo said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.” That is what I do.

I’m often amused, but not surprised, at the number of clients who say the reason why they hired me as a consultant was because they knew they couldn’t hide from me. They knew I would make them address the real issues, no matter how difficult. That’s because no one is “safe” from me. I am no respecter of title or position. I will make people confront the tough issues. I will find truth wherever it lies and bring it into the open. I will make the unconscious conscious; for only when something is conscious can it be addressed. I engage people who may not want to be engaged on issues they may not wish to address, but need to address. I do so for the good of the whole, as well as for the good of the individual. When people address real issues in an open and realistic way, great things happen.

A short time ago I received the second most meaningful praise I’ve ever received. It, too, explains well what I do and who I am. A woman was participating for the second time in an Accountability Management Workshop I facilitate. I gave her my condolences that she had to sit through the same session twice since I always conduct the session the same way and tell the exact same stories each time. Her response surprised and pleased me, although I’ve heard similar comments before.

“You are like a good movie,” she explained. “Each time I watch and listen to you I learn more. Each time I participate in a meeting with you I get something new and totally different out of it.”

Several years ago a manager at a large utility company in California expressed a similar comment. He’s been through my Team Start-Up Workshop seven times. The workshop is four days long. It’s a great workshop and helps cross-functional teams achieve tremendous results. But 28 days of listening to me teach team skills seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Each time this manager brought a new team to the session I was embarrassed that he would be listening to my instructions and stories once again. But he too declared that it was worth it. He said that each time he attended the session he “got a little more out of it.”

Then one day this same manager came to me and said, “Mac, I think I’ve finally got it! I’ve finally become what you preach. Now this is who I am. I am this team stuff!”

This is who I am. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Customers want employees who are customer-focused, not just those who pretend to be friendly. Employees want mangers that are employee-centered, not just those who do it because it is good managerial technique. Companies want leaders who truly are leaders, not just those who by rote implement that which they read in a management book.

So how do I get people to confront themselves — to go deep — to bring about the changes necessary to actually become better individuals and more productive work teams?

To get people to change their behavior — to become what you want them to become, or, even more important, to become what they need to become — they must “go inside themselves.” They must become introspective. They must see themselves as they truly are. They must understand how they truly feel and discover in what they truly believe. They must know why they do the things they do. They must become conscious of their unconscious motives.

The first step to consciousness is SELF-AWARENESS. An individual must first become aware that a need for change is necessary. They must recognize that something is amiss in the way they behave or act. They must see that what they are doing is not as effective or as helpful as it could be.

The key to this awareness is that it must be self-awareness. Behavior change does not occur until an individual personally accepts the fact that a change is needed. Few alcoholics stop drinking until they want to. Family members can beg, plead and nag, but until the person accepts the fact he or she is an alcoholic, they will not change.

Self-awareness usually occurs when something happens to cause the awareness. Some people learn from books. Some learn from observation. Some learn from their own mistakes. Some learn from the mistakes of others. Still others only learn when the consequences are severe enough to bring the problem to their consciousness. Life events and significant emotional experiences can cause self-awareness. So, too, can one become self-aware through simple assessments found in magazines or offered in training programs. Personal feedback, management pressure, advice from a spouse, or a seemingly innocent comment from a child can make one aware. But sometimes it takes a good facilitator or therapist to help people accept that which they cannot accept without guidance.

Generally people are more convinced by the reasons they discover on their own than by those given to them by others. However, external factors or other people can be a catalyst to the change. The job of a manager is to help employees become aware of their actions by making those actions conscious to the individual.

Once a person becomes aware of their dysfunctional or off-purpose behavior, the sudden awareness can be overwhelming. Sometimes when people become introspective they become depressed because they see themselves as being totally bad or completely wrong. But no matter how serious the discrepancy may be, the person still has value. And it is the manager’s role to help the employee to see their value. I always say the last step after giving someone corrective feedback is to "put back the person's self esteem." This means the person must leave the counseling session feeling good about themselves.

Even the most derelict employee is not bad all of the time. How they act and what they do may be bad sometimes, but certainly there are other times when they behave and act well. There are times when they are effective and times when they are not. This is why the second step to behavioral change is so important.

Once a person is aware of the need to change they must go through SELF-ANALYSIS to determine what works in their behavior and what doesn't. They must analyze where they are effective or ineffective, good or bad, helpful or not helpful, appropriate or inappropriate. This requires an honest assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses.

Someone once said, “Strength is not the absence of weakness but how we deal with our weaknesses.” Consequently, the third step in bringing about personal change is for the person to take the SELF-ACTION necessary to make the improvement. They must deal with their new found shortcomings in an appropriate way.

Notice the third step is self-action. No one can make the change for the individual. They must do it themselves. But the person may not know how to change. They may need help in determining how best to make the change. They may need tools or techniques that are not within their normal repertoire of skills or behaviors. To change they may require ongoing feedback as they adjust their performance. They may need reinforcement, encouragement and coaching from the manager.

After the individual has learned to take the necessary actions to improve one's behavior or performance, the final step to personal change is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Self-actualization occurs when the new found behaviors or performance have become a part of who they are. They finally "become this stuff."

It may take many days, sometimes months, before a person internalizes a change and actually becomes what they seek to become. In the beginning the person may have to consciously think about their actions and force oneself to do the right thing. Eventually it will become easier for him or her to perform well without conscious thought. A person becomes self-actualized after they consciously and consistently take the corrective actions needed to bring about the change. After doing the right things over and over the new found practices become a natural part of the person's behavior. They can do the right thing without thinking because it is who they are.


To find out more about how I can facilitate your team to greater results, please contact me at 702-258-8334 or email

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