Shifting Gears

Feel Like You’re Stuck in Neutral?

How to Pop the Clutch

By Karla Robertson

Do you ever feel “stuck” in your current situation, either in your personal life or at work? It is not unusual for my clients to tell me they are stuck in neutral, pressing down on the gas pedal of energy, hearing the engine of their efforts roar and yet, they aren’t getting anywhere.

So the question becomes this: What is it that drives you to continue investing energy in a thinking process or way of life that is not working for you? There’s a saying: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.” If you don’t like the results you’re getting from doing things the way you’ve always done them, STOP DOING IT!

I’ll address this topic as it applies to managers and leaders who wonder why they are not getting the results they want. One client of mine complained that no one from his team ever initiated an idea or ran with something on their own. I asked him how he tried to elicit initiative or innovative ideas from his team. He replied, as it turns out, that when a few members did come forward with ideas, he told them he didn’t think they were any good, and ended up telling them what to do and how to do it.

I asked the team members how they felt about their manager and about being on the team. Responses were, “Well I just wish he’d listen to our ideas without judging them but he always finds fault and shuts us down. It’s embarrassing. We know that he’s just going to tell us what to do anyway. We’ll just wait him out and he’ll eventually tell us.”

Do you see the loop? Do you see how each party contributes to the very behavior they don’t want from the other? They’re all stuck in this dance that isn’t very productive let alone good for developing this group into a high performance, independent-thinking, innovative team. The manager isn’t growing either. By continually seeing his team as people he has to direct and instruct, he denies them the opportunity to take risks, work ideas through and learn. He also potentially denies himself the opportunity to turn his attention to more strategic matters that will impact his goals, his team and his career.

In this scenario, the boss is stuck in a place that says “I have all the good ideas. I’m the only one who can come up with ideas. These people never do and when they have one it’s not as good as mine.” The team is stuck in a place that says: “He always tells us what to do. We want to have a voice but he always shuts us down, so we’ll just remain quiet. He’ll tell us what to do.”
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.

Here’s how to start changing the steps to this dance, whether you are a team member or leader:

1. Recognize the pattern of your thinking and how it shows itself in your behavior: How do you treat people as a result of your thinking? Ask yourself, what are you afraid of? What is the motivation for you to put people in this box? What would you prefer?

2. Try a new approach: What haven’t you tried? In this scenario, I asked the manager to develop different approaches to his meetings. What would he like to have happen and how he could be more of a facilitator than a director?

3. Know your people: I asked him how well he knew each of his team members. Perhaps there were budding talents that were going underground because of his style of management. He had 1-1 meetings with each one of them and found out a ton of valuable information about their motivations, turn-offs, goals, talents, etc., and learned new things about himself.
It’s important to encourage the team to make the most of these meetings. Also have them think about what they could contribute.

4. Dare to fail forward: This is hard for many people but you’ll never know what is possible unless you put yourself out there. As a manager and leader, when your team sees you do this, they know it’s okay for them to take well-thought out risks too. You as their leader can support their efforts and be more of a coach than director as they think through the possibilities, pros, cons and solutions.

This is a sure-fire way to breathe new life into a stagnating environment. You’ll learn a lot.
These are just some of the ways to become unstuck and shift into a gear that brings more vitality, excitement, results and stimulation to go further than you ever thought possible in your career, with your team, and in your life.

Karla Robertson is a Professional Certified Coach and the founding president of Shifting Gears®, a business coaching and consulting company. Ms. Robertson works with executives, teams and rising stars to help drive results in leadership presence, communication, and influence. visit or call 732-845-4833.