How to get to the root and solve painful leadership problems

What a painful shoe taught me about getting to the root of painful leadership problem

Have you ever had the experience of walking with a painful shoe? A few years ago, my ex and I were walking along a beautiful lake near our home in Stockholm. I was absorbed in the beauty, but she didn’t look happy.

I asked her if she was okay, and she told me her new shoes hurt her. She had placed a plaster on her foot to help with the pain. We agreed that the leather of her new shoes must be a little tough!

We naturally accepted the “story” that new shoes are painful.

After about half an hour, she stopped. “I’ve had enough,” and took the shoes off to look deeper inside. She was looking around, and she finally felt something! A thick plastic security sticker was hidden neatly on the underside of her sandals right next to her toe. Once she removed it, the pain stopped.

We walked happily for hours after that, with nothing but the scenery to capture our attention.

Has this ever happened to you, placing blame on things that are the usual problem without looking deeper?

For example, specific challenges or difficulties in your life or business that appear to be caused by the OBVIOUS problem, only to discover later that it was something else entirely?

This insight got me thinking…

We quickly brought into the ‘”new shoes are uncomfortable” story, completely overlooking the real problem. And, to make things worse, we justified the pain with a false truth.

I wondered how many times I have suffered needlessly by taking something at face value because the OBVIOUS cause didn’t get investigated.

The answer was many, and the reason was always the same.

The real issue here isn’t the pain; although it is not good, the real problem is the time wasted trying to plaster over it.

The go-to escape mechanisms have justified that we never question why we are using them in the first place.

Take the impact of anxiety as an example; most of us (me included for years!) dealt with the symptoms by buying stuff: clothes, tec, holidays, to help us feel better for a few hours, days or weeks.

It was just easier until it wasn’t! I remember realising my life was full of empty promises and accumulated “things” that were not giving me what I truly desired: happiness and a feeling of peace.

Why does this happen? Why do we stop at the symptom and overlook the cause? Because we have to stop and look inside, which takes time and effort. We need to say “enough,” which often requires a willingness to admit something other than the usual suspect could be the issue.

That’s what I call a Tough-Love Moment, and it’s exactly what my clients get when we talk. I have no reason to believe the usual story, and I know there is a tag stuck inside their “shoe” that they cannot or will not stop to find by themselves.

I create a space where there is no shame in finding this tag and waste no time removing it. And then move on with life, creating unexplored experiences instead of going around in circles of coping and managing perceived external causes.

Let’s return to the painful shoes.

Imagine if we didn’t stop to take the plastic sticker out. Imagine the hours or days of wasted time trying to plaster over the pain. Imagine all the elaborate and sophisticated ways we could have come up with to soften the leather. And then eventually toss them into the trash and buy a new pair. All because we didn’t challenge the usual cause.

How many dreams and goals have you tossed in the trash for the same reason?