Bored dog

Authored by Jon Duschinsky, Feb 2023 

Take an average Monday morning team meeting. 

Sometimes they are fun and engaging and everyone appears to be in a good mood. Other times they are like a particularly gruesome version of purgatory and everyone is tired/hungover/cold/the coffee machine is broken etc etc.  

But people rarely come out of these kind of meetings saying, “that was fun and engaging because I was fun and engaging”, or “that was miserable because I was miserable”. 

It would seem presumptuous and arrogant to think that one person could be solely responsible for a group experience. 

But that’s actually what happens. We cause things to be fun or to be painfully dull by how we choose to show up. And one person can – as I’m sure you’ve experienced – single-handedly dictate the energy in a room. 

The truth is that we are continually generating and creating outcomes, not just through our actions, but by how we choose to show up in a particular moment. 

You can walk one of your team through their annual review and they can leave feeling inspired or they can leave feeling depressed, without the content of the review itself changing at all.  

Show up as an inspiring leader who believes in their team and the weaker areas of the review become an opportunity for growth.  Show up as a tired leader who just wants to get home at the end of the day and they become a big, dark cloud for the employee. 

The content doesn’t change. The context does. 

It is remarkable how much attention we focus on the content of our interactions with others, and how little we dedicate to the context.  

And the reason this matters is that we all have a Default Context. 

Our Default Context is the way that we typically show up if we don’t stop and think about it first. 

It’s usually driven by ego, by which I mean a combination of fear, anxiety, a feeling of inadequacy and a need to prove one’s worth to others. 

My default context is some version of “Let’s just get this done”: a bit impatient, caring only about the big picture, not interested in the opinions of others and wanting to get on with it so that I can show the world how productive I am. 

You can see how much of a contribution that context can be in a meeting….!

What is your Default Context? Can you name its characteristics? 

Doing this exercise and becoming aware of your Default Context gives you something that most people don’t have: the awareness to choose a different context, one that will create the outcomes you want. 

Let’s go back to that annual review example for a moment. Imagine you’re sitting down to deliver a review to a team member who is showing up strong in some areas but not in others. 

Think about the outcomes that you want to generate from the meeting. Annual reviews can be thorny affairs, so what would be a really great result in this case? 

Perhaps it would be that the employee remains calm and engaged, that they see the opportunities to grow and even share their own ideas about how they could improve their performance. 

If those are the outcomes you want, what context do you need to adopt in order to generate them?

Perhaps “trusted mentor” or “caring guide”, or even “inspiring coach”. Certainly not my Default Context, and likely not yours either. 

I love to choose contexts that are represented by characters in movies. I find it gives me an anchor when my Default Context starts to take over (which it inevitably does). 

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society would be a great one for this example. Could you imagine how inspired your employee would be if you showed up like that? 

Before we close, there’s one more important thing to say about contexts. 

You know the saying that with great power comes great responsibility? 

Well, if you can distinguish your Default Context, it means that you now have the power to choose a different one, which will better serve whatever situation you are in. 

And that means you now have the responsibility for the outcomes you generate.  

Those turgid Monday morning meetings? That’s now on you. As Williams famously said in the movie “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way”. 

Change your context and change your world!

Sounds good, no?



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