Ep 118: Leadership Sandtraps #4 – Ah! I’ve Solved It!
A common leadership sand trap which we will call the “I’ve Solved It!” sand trap is for people that don’t have much ability to sit with problems before they solve them. In part four of this series, Adam Quiney examines how this sand trap gets created and how it gets put together. He points out how this sand trap is more masculine-polarized since the masculine energy tends to be purpose-driven and always seeking for something to fix and moving it out of the way. He also discusses the receiving end and the giving end, explaining how and why this a leadership sand trap.
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Leadership Sandtraps #4 – Ah! I’ve Solved It!
We’re going to be continuing our series on Leadership Sandtraps and a reminder, in case you’re joining us now and you’ve not been following along, a Leadership Sandtrap is a habitual pattern, a way of showing up that creates a sandtrap for leadership. The way that usually works is that the pattern is simultaneously gratifying towards or for the leader and at the same time, holds the person in check and prevents them from taking whatever step is required to step into their next level of leadership. It’s this thing that perfectly gloms on. It’s almost like a Velcro hook that hooks into the leader’s own stuff and makes it tough to move past. They’re not bad, wrong or something to be vilified, instead, but there is something to be distinguished so we can catch them as they’re happening and start to work with it rather than work on top of it.
The name for our sandtrap in this episode, sandtrap number four is, Ah! I’ve Solved It! I’ve solved it. I’ve got it. As always, we’ll begin the summary and this sandtrap is a common one for your people that don’t have much ability to sit with problems before they solve them. The fact is that is the nature of this. Before you’ve even finished providing feedback, or pointed out the issue or explained, “I noticed that we’re blah, blah, blah,” and you might not even be halfway through speaking to what there is. They’re like, “I totally got it. I totally see what there is to do.” They’ve already jumped into interrupting you and let how they resolve this.
How It Gets Created
As always, let’s go to the beginning. How did this get created? How does this sandtrap get put together? This sandtrap tends to be a function of people that have been raised, trained, or developed in such a way that they learn that feedback problems and issues are not something to be accepted, sat with or empathetically felt. Instead, there’s something that requires being resolved. You could think of it almost like every piece of feedback, every, “Did you notice that?” Anything along those lines is related to a problem. What do you do with a problem? You fix it, solve it or resolve it.
These people have been trained. First of all, the world is full of problems so go out looking for the problems and once the problem is found, fix and resolve it. Incidentally, when you’re talking about masculine and feminine dynamics, this tends to be more of a masculine polarized way of being. The masculine energy tends towards purpose-driven, “There’s something in the way. Let’s fix it and move it out of the way.”
That’s often why people identifying as women can be frustrated. The better way I could say this is, the people that identify more with the feminine energy or the omega energy can be frustrated when the masculine energy or the alpha male energy is like, “I want to share my feelings with you,” and the masculine is like, “Here’s what you should do.” He’s resolving the thing. This does exist broadly in a more polarized divine masculine, divine feminine alpha omega energy state but I want to make sure that we don’t pin this on, “Men do this,” so do women. I have many clients that are driven or committed women and this is their tendency. This is what they’ve learned.
Sometimes this comes into being because people were shamed, or left feeling incredibly guilty as soon as the predominant time when they’d get feedback. Where it goes is, “I’ve got some feedback for you,” which is code for, “Let me tell you how you screwed up.” What do you do when you screw up? You fix it. That’s the way to be about however you screwed up. They start to look through all pieces of feedback with that same lens and respond with that same way of responding. Sometimes it’s because not having an immediate solution ready meant they were related to being stupid, foolish or lazy.
Sometimes it’s because they were rewarded for their ingenuity and commitment to resolving problems so this became the path to ensure they were loved and valued. These things can come into being not from an almost a reaction to being punished or a way of not being punished but also from the way they’re rewarded. Whatever it was, like all sandtraps, this behavior comes by honestly and since it’s been run as a pattern for so long, it stops being conscious and ultimately ends up invisible to the person in question, the person acting out the sandtrap.
One of the things that’s funny, I have a template for writing out the sandtraps. The title is How Does This Get Created for This Section? In italics, which are the notes to me, it says, “Talk about the way someone might be raised or what might have led to the sandtrap. Even though it makes no difference at all.” What I mean by that is understanding why is certainly interesting and it can help us feel seen. You’re like, “It makes sense why I’m here.”
To be clear, in a leadership conversation, my job when I’m developing someone’s leadership is to support them being more powerful as a leader and that does not require them understanding why they ended up being the way they are. All that it requires, “Can you see yourself doing this? What is required at this moment to move forward?” I share the why and how it gets created more because it’s interesting and I want to provide a bridge for you if there’s an opportunity to see yourself. That’s why I share it but I want to be clear that that is not in any way a requirement to move beyond this.
The Receiving And Giving End
We’re the two ends of how this sandtrap gets played out. There’s the receiving end and the giving end. On the receiving end of this sandtrap, it’s what shows up whenever feedback or any data is shown that may reveal a problem. You can have this funny experience when you’re working with people like this where you’re maybe asking a question, and I’m making something up, “I noticed in that email you sent that you didn’t say hi at the opening line. Why is that?” You’re genuinely bringing curiosity but on the receiving end of the sandtrap, that question is received as, “They’re bringing me something is wrong and now they go into the fixing, resolving this issue.”
Everything almost is related to an unresolved issue that requires some solution and in these cases, the person operating from the sandtrap will immediately go into resolving the issue. It almost doesn’t matter what you say, as soon as they’ve decided or determined there’s a problem that needs to be resolved, almost their receptivity to the rest of what you have to say shut off so they can resolve this. How do I solve this? Anything further you might say gets received through the lens of, “Will this contribute to a solution?” That’s what it looks like on the receiving end.
I’ll say that we’ll be spending more of our time looking at the receiving end of this thing but on the giving side of things, leaders that operate from the sandtrap tend to have a hard time letting people sit in an unresolved problem. This is a bit of a theme for the next three sandtraps that we’re going to be talking about, this one and the following two. Rather than letting people sit in the feedback or better yet with the struggle, these leaders will immediately try to solve, resolve, or fix the issue that their direct is struggling with. When someone comes to you and they’re like, “I’m overwhelmed,” the leader will immediately try to solve it for them or give them advice on how they could solve it.
Why and how is this a sandtrap? How does this sandtrap our leadership? First, let’s look at the receiving end. This is where you provide feedback and the person immediately is, “I’ve already solved it.” This is where this sandtrap will be most problematic. Much of what allows leadership to develop and breakthroughs to be created comes from being able to sit and see the problem from all angles. In truth, even that word problem is a bit of a misnomer because, in the highest levels of leadership, there is no problem. There’s simply something missing.
That in itself is not a problem. In order to create what we’re committed to there’s something missing. What do we do? What do we address? What do we shift? I quote it often as a Zen saying so I’m going to go with that. There’s this Zen saying, “You cannot leave a place until you’ve been there.” What this sandtrap does is it stops people from being there. As soon as they have an inkling that there might be any kind of issue based on their own determination, they’re off trying to resolve it. That is not the same as sitting in it.
As soon as you’re trying to fix something, you’re not being with it, you’re being with trying to fix it, which is another form of trying not to be with it. The funny thing about the sandtrap is for those of you that might start to recognize yourself in a little bit. You might immediately have the thought, “How do I fix that? How do I resolve that? I can totally see myself doing this. What do I do?” Which is hilarious because that’s the sandtrap operating. It’s that need to fix it so what you do is you sit with it. You’ll be with, “I’m doing that thing.”
Sitting With The Problem
In order to create a breakthrough, in order to move past something, we first have to be willing not to move past it. We have to be willing to let the problem sit and let ourselves sit with it. This sandtrap robs us of that capacity because it puts all the emphasis not on better understanding or even being with what is happening, but on resolving it, which is a different focus. From that lens, all of the conversations get filtered through it. Your feedback and anything that might shed further light on the situation is either going to be information about how to resolve the issue or it’s filtered out or discarded.
You can think of this a little bit like someone standing in the middle of a forest trying to move forward and they keep hitting their head and you’re like, “There’s a tree in your way,” and you’re about to tell them. That makes sense but it doesn’t matter because they are immediately figuring out how to get an ax, how to chop properly and, “Don’t worry, Adam. I figured it out. I’m moving forward.” Great, but that’s not what we’re aiming for here. There’s a real emphasis internally on moving forward, progressing forward, being the shark. If a shark stops moving, it dies, which is great, but leadership is not a shark. That’s not how leadership works and sometimes we have to come to stillness before we can move forward.
That’s how it’s a sandtrap on the first side. I want to say as well that for a leader working with someone like this, it can occur gratifyingly because you’re like, “This person is great. They’re proactive. They’re doing what they need to do. They’re not coming to me for answers. They’re resolving everything.” This keeps them in the same loop. They’re never going to move to the next level, precisely because they keep solving everything. If you have a team that’s already struggling with stuff that’s leading to a breakdown, as a leader, it’s sad, trappy because we’re like, “I don’t want to create a breakdown over here too. I don’t want to stop the one person that seems to be resolving everything from doing that. I’m going to let them keep doing it.” There is the sandtrap. That’s the place where we get scared. We aren’t willing to create the breakdown and that’s what leaders do. They purposefully create the breakdown.
Let’s look at the second side a little bit. On the giving end, this is where you’re giving this energy. On the giving side of things, the leader that can’t allow people their struggle will never be able to allow much less create the breakdowns that are absolutely required in order to create breakthroughs. This is inexorable. You can’t get away from this. In order to create the breakthrough, there is a breakdown beforehand. From this approach, the leader tends to create a lot of great followers but no real leaders.
People come to the leader for help, support, and solutions to their problems, or attempt to do the same themselves before the leader can bring anything to them. All the while ensuring that no breakdown can ever be declared a breakdown. It’s worth distinguishing here a problem from a breakdown. A problem is something that needs to be fixed. It’s something we have to resolve instantly. A breakdown is something we declare it’s a verbal act, “I’m declaring a breakdown in terms of what I’m committed to.” That gives us power. From there, we can sit with it, “How is this a break? What am I committed to here?” As opposed to, “Fuck, there’s a tree in my way. I’ve got to cut it down because then the tree will be out of my way.”
In fact, when people lead and when people give this when they’re on that side of the sandtrap, providing this energy to other people, there are no breakdowns. All there are problems to be fixed at the moment and those that get the highest praise or those that fix the problems that fastest, or at the highest level of this sandtrap preemptively addressed any problems so there never are any problems. If everything’s running smooth and perfectly forever, there’s likely not much breakthrough happening. That would simply be weird. We’ve all seen the graph that progress looks like this and it’s all jagged, messy, and does loop de loops but our fear and our ego are like, “That graph is how it looks but I want to keep my graph lines going in a straight line.”
Working With The Sand Trap
How do we work with the sandtrap? Always the first thing to do with the sandtraps is to distinguish them. If you are one of these people, you are probably going to have an incredible urge upon seeing yourself in this light to then resolve it. Don’t. That’s the first thing. If you practice that way, if you practice noticing yourself doing this, “I want a solution right now,” and feel what’s happening in your body. If it’s not here while we’re in this conversation together, but perhaps out there in whatever you’re doing for work, great. You can sit with the discomfort that is caused by having something this show-up and not resolving it. It will be uncomfortable for a while because resolving it, creating a solution is how you learn to alleviate that discomfort, how to scratch that itch.
Take on noticing where and how you resolve your own issues and the issues of those you work with. Can you sit in the discomfort that comes from seeing how things aren’t working out? One of the places that sandtrap shows up most often is when we’ve done something that has upset the other person. You made a mistake, you did something, and the other person over there on the other side of the table is upset. Rather than sit with them in the impact and listen to how our behaviors impacted them, we tend to move on quickly to fixing things by apologizing so we can move on to what’s next.
This is often when I’m working and supporting couples working with relationships and intimacy. This is often a complaint where one partner will be frustrated because their complaint is they want to complain and I’m like, “I get it. I made a mistake, but can we move on?” What’s happening is this person is not willing to sit in the discomfort that has been caused. They’re not willing to simply sit in the impact. They want to resolve it. Much of the richness of life is being able to sit in intention rather than resolving it.
You can see this everywhere. You can even look at good music. If you ever learn jazz, standard jazz musicians learn chords and what chord progression leads to what feeling. Certain triads or chords or whatever you can play create a musical tension that we want to be resolved. It’s the ability to create that tension and set in it that makes masterful leadership. Notice when you’re trying to resolve it when you’re trying to eliminate, alleviate, or get out of the tension and see if you can sit in it for 1% longer. Practice letting people, including and especially yourself, sit with the breakdown.
When you catch someone trying to fix it that you’re developing their leadership, don’t do this to friends, that would be obnoxious, or when you catch yourself trying to fix it, invite them to let go of it, and instead sit with a longer, “Can you notice this?” You’ll notice how often in these episodes, we’re giving noticing practices and that’s because until we can notice something, sit with it and let it burn a hole in our hand, so to speak, as we hold it and look at it, we cannot truly move beyond it.
One of the things that get in our way of creating breakthroughs, more than anything else, is the inability to notice what is happening, especially our patterns. That is because we are so busy falling all over ourselves to resolve them. This is maybe the number one reason I see people stuck. They have a disempowered relationship to something, “People complain all the time,” and they come up with so many contraptions to ensure they never complain and all that does is it doesn’t let them be with the parts of their life where they’re complaining. They can’t ever resolve it and consequently, they’re stuck.
That’s all we have. In the next episode, we’re going to be talking about leadership sandtrap number five, the fifth in our series, and that one is, Oh Yeah, I’m Actually Doing That. That’s a fun one. We will have two more after this episode so we’ll do Leadership Sandtraps number five, and we’ll go into Leadership Sandtraps number six, which is Oh Wow, What a Breakthrough. That’s a fun one too. It’s a big one I see in coaches often. We’ll be shifting into some of our usual content. This is a bit of an experiment.
If you’ve enjoyed this lens, if you’ve been inspired or you’re like, “I like this idea of sandtrap and I’m getting something from it,” please send me an email, write a review, reach out in some way and let me know. Doing a show is vague. I have no feedback or I rarely get feedback so anything that you can share, “I got something out of this,” or “I like this content more than that content,” is incredibly valuable and I’m always super grateful to hear from you. I hope you enjoyed this episode and we’ll catch you next time.
About Adam Quiney
I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.
All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.