‘Lean It On Back’ and Stop Trying to Control Everything

Music has always been a big part of how I process ideas and emotions and how I connect with moments in time and experiences.  For the past 4+ years I have been driving the talent acquisition transformation at Intel from one focused on transactions to one focused on relationships.  It has been the most professionally rewarding and challenging work of my career.  Somewhere along the way I started a playlist on my phone of music that spoke to me.  I labeled it my “Transformation Playlist”.  It is the playlist I have on at my desk while I work, in my car when I drive and the one I play during training and speaking events I am facilitating.  I add to it every time I hear a song that speaks to me, that makes me reflect or embodies the emotion I am feeling at the time.  Over the years, my playlist has become like a time capsule of my transformation journey.  It is full of the lessons I have learned along the way, the moments I wanted to quit and say screw this and the moments I celebrated as victories with the team.  As part personal catharsis and part insight sharing, I share with you the highlights of my playlist and why these songs ended up on it in it.  Here’s hoping it is helpful or at least entertaining.  P.S. I should mention I am sharing these songs in no particular order of importance or stage that they entered the list, they are just the ones that are speaking to me to share.

image001 Lean It On Back, Sugarland

My transformation lessons:

  • Sometimes you must do the opposite of what you want to when uncomfortable moments arise.  Instead of digging in, relax into the discomfort and see what happens.
  • When leading change there is a moment when you need to leave air in the room for others to pick up the reins and drive the work forward.
  • Its ok to let your picture of what should happen go and let other’s picture of their future emerge.
  • Control is the nemesis of change leadership.

How ‘Lean It On back’ landed on my playlist:

I’ll start my story by admitting to having two tendencies.  One, I can be controlling.  I like things done the way I like them done.  Not because I don’t want or don’t appreciate input and collaborating, because I do, but because once I have a plan and an idea of how to achieve something, I am cursed with the belief that I need to control every detail to make sure it happens the way I imagine it should.  Perfection is my goal and everything short of it feels like a missed opportunity that I could have made better by controlling it more.  Two, I have a savior complex.  I admit that deep down I believe I can rescue things, make them better, save them.  These two seemingly challenging belief systems are also the two parts of my personality that drive me to be a change agent and to be persistent enough to drive change through organizations. These tendencies also make me good at guiding teams through change.  My focus on detail, persistence and belief in something better always being possible, make me good at staying the course, being pragmatic and pointing the path forward. They are a curse and a blessing.

In the weeks leading up to our organizational training roll out I was in hyper control mode.  The experience the talent teams had in the roll out events would define their impression of the transformation and their willingness to adopt key behavior changes.  It was go time and would define if the last 4+ years would end in success or failure.  At least that is the loop of panicked self-talk happening in my head at the time.  The roll out was going to be huge we were planning on delivering 23 week long training events to approx. 500 people across 8 countries and 15 Intel sites.  There would be a team of 21 trainers and another 22 staffing mangers serving as event hosts.  The pressure to make it impactful was immense.  I was not about to leave any element to chance.

Then I found myself on an airplane.  Not surprising.  I have been on a lot of airplanes over the last five years.  This time though, I was on the airplane for all the wrong reasons.  Our global transformation team was in the middle of our first training event and train the trainer session in Poland, and I had to leave early to get home.  I had gotten the call 8 hours before that I dread every time I leave home.  My husband was not doing well, and his oncologist felt I needed to get back ASAP.  I should mention at this point for a majority of the time I have been leading the Intel talent acquisition transformation, I have also been supporting my husband as he battles stage IV lung cancer.  We have been through chemo, radiation, immunotherapy, lung surgery, 2 brain surgeries and countless trips to the ER.  That part of my transformation story is not to elicit any specific response, but to highlight throughout all of this, I have always found a way to maintain control of the transformation work.  This plane flight was the first time I had to walk away and let others do whatever they felt was right and I knew I could not spare any energy to try and control what they did or the outcome.

So, here is what happened.  I found out I was not needed at all.  And that was the most accomplished feeling of my entire professional career.  By the time the plane landed some 15 hours after I started my journey home, the team chat app was full of comments, which I expected to be the case, but the nature of the comments shocked me.  I opened the app tentatively as the plane touched down and the stewardess announced I could turn on my electronic devices.  I anticipated it to be full of questions, angst, things that had or were going wrong on the ground in Poland.  It had none of that.  It was full of conversations happening between facilitators sharing what was happening, getting advice from each other and in general proceeding on with the training events without missing a beat.  They were having fun, making huge impact and most of all they were owning it. Our transformation was no longer the program I “controlled” but it was the program they owned.  At that moment I leaned on back and enjoyed it.  I spent the next couple of weeks watching the transformation events roll out around the world via my phone as I waited and sat in Dr’s offices and hospital rooms.  I woke up every morning and sometimes in the middle of the night to read what was being posted, to see what was happening.  Every day I saw more and more momentum occurring.  Suddenly the posts weren’t just on the team’s chat app amongst facilitators, but members of the global talent team attending the events started posting on Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook and well just everywhere.  The energy was contagious and powerful.  And I wasn’t orchestrating it.  I was leaning on back and letting the team take the lead and it was inspiring, and it was fun.  I was overjoyed, proud and believe it or not relaxed.  I had not been relaxed for what felt like years.

While leaning on back and letting others have room to own the transformation, I also realized that had I not pulled back they may never have had the ability to own it.  My control was preventing the same thing I was trying to achieve, real transformative change in the organization, because I was not leaving any air in the room for others to rise up and own the change.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I opened up the chat app or saw things on social media that made me cringe a little, because they were different then what I would have said or how I would have done something.  But, every time that sense of panic that something was going wrong because I was not controlling every detail came over me, it was ushered away by the realization that it was ok, in fact it was better than ok, it was awesome, because it was theirs.  They were owning the change, living into its meaning and absorbing what it meant to them on a personal level, which would have been impossible to do if they had to look behind their shoulder to see if I approved.  It was about them and their transformation journey.

Today, a month or so later, my husband is doing well, the transformation has taken root across the organization and I have learned a valuable lesson.  Sometimes you have to just Lean It On Back.

We ain’t getting any younger but we still got the hunger
And it’s scaring us both to death

How bout we do it the way we did when we were just kids
And we didn’t know what we had

It’s going by fast, gotta slow down just to get up
Need to live a little more like that

Lean it on back

Watch the sun go down
Watch it come back around

Lean it on back

Take the long way home
You can’t get it back when it’s gone

Like a head bouncing when you feel the beat drive
Yeah let it hit you right in the sweet spot

Pushing too hard, little too fast
And you wanna make it last

Lean it on back

Sugarland

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