Ep 144: Leadership Sandtrap 8 – I Just Need To Grind
“I just need to grind,” is a common pitfall for leaders who are intensely passionate about what they do. Passionate leaders often swing wildly from hardcore work mode to hardcore play mode, then back again. Adam Quiney explains that for the “grinding” type of leaders it’s either all-work or all-play. Why is this a problem? The answer is simple: it’s not sustainable. If you walk down this path, your passion will burn you until you’re burned out. Get out of this sandtrap before that happens! Let this episode be your first step out. Tune in!
Learn about Leadership Sandtrap through this series. Make sure not to skip a part of it. Enjoy while learning!
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Leadership Sandtrap 8 – I Just Need To Grind
Today’s show opens up a new series called Leadership Sandtrap. These are ways to get people to show up in their leadership, as the sticky quicksand traps, providing short-term results, compelling for leaders or those practicing leadership. These short-term results make it hard to reflect on what they lack or their breakdown or next-edge leadership, brought about by the fear of what they created when they stopped doing the things they have always done, hindering them from making breakthroughs, leaving them stuck in the Sandtrap.
These are conversations in service of causing and creating leadership, rather than conversations about leadership. We don’t need more people talking about it. The times they were leaders, we probably don’t need more conversations that are people sharing a story about that time. That place, that one moment when they were vulnerable but doing so from an invulnerable place. We need more people being vulnerable, not talking about being vulnerable but being vulnerable in the moment. We are going to be talking about Leadership Sandtrap and the other one in our Leadership Sandtrap series is for the golfers in you. Not really because I hate golf. A real vulnerable moment, I don’t like golf. I think when I first started going to school as a lawyer, maybe I tried to pick it up because everyone was like, “You’ve got to get on the golf course.”
I could see some truth in that. You are spending four hours with someone in the beautiful sun, doing something, and then having a beer afterward. You could not tell me a more enjoyable way to spend the day. It sounds perfect in every regard and the trouble is that I detest the sport of golf. I don’t like anything about it, so maybe if I took lessons or something but I couldn’t get around to it. It didn’t grab me. I wish I loved golf and eggs but I do not like either of them. Anyhow, this is neither me being vulnerable nor the Leadership Sandtrap. The sandtrap we are going to be talking about is called I Just Need To Grind. That’s the name of our sandtrap.
Join The Forge
We will be talking about that, diving into it why are the sandtrap and all of that stuff. I will refresh your memory as to what a Leadership Sandtrap is. Before we do, I want to tell you about The Forge and invite you to start considering that it might be time to join us on that odyssey, that journey. The Forge is a coaching and leadership group. It runs from September through until May. You’ve got a little bit of time before it starts but we are already having people ask about it. We are starting to get registrations and it is limited to 10 people plus 2 people on our leadership track. What we do in that group is we train you in the art of coaching, of seeing the being, seeing who is present and showing up, as well as the stuff that’s on the surface that’s getting in their way.
Leading the light from within and drawing that out of people and having them step into the leadership that is their fullest expression, rather than, them performing, doing the right things, all of that stuff. It’s all mostly done virtually, then we have a retreat where we bring everyone together and do some powerful work. The doors will be open for registration soon so if that interests you in any way, go to EverGrowthCoaching.com/the-forge.
Let’s talk about this sandtrap. I Just Need To Grind is a common sandtrap for leaders with a great deal of passion in their being, meaning part of the innate quality they bring into the world is a passion the way this tends to play out. These leaders tend to swing way out into the hardcore work mode, then they swing way away from hardcore work mode into hardcore play mode. Once they are playing a whole bunch, they tend to get very passionately enmeshed in that then the solution to that becomes, “I need to put my head down and grind again,” back to hardcore work mode.
Let’s talk about first how does this gets created. Maybe I want to just take a minute here to refresh your memory, what are our Leadership Sandtraps. This is part of an ongoing series of ways that people can show up in their leadership that are like quicksand. They are very sticky. They are a sandtrap. The way that plays out is that they provide some short-term result that is compelling for you as a leader or for them practicing leadership. That short-term result makes it all the harder to reflect their lack, the breakdown or the next edge in their leadership and invite them through it often because we are afraid of the breakdown that will get created when they stopped doing the thing they have always done. We resist the breakdown rather than standing for them to create the breakthrough. That’s what has to be a bit of a sandtrap. We get stuck in it.
How does this one get created? This particular sandtrap is created when people grow up with people with a lot of passion and the domain of passion tends to be all on or all off. People with the quality of passion tend to learn that they are habit-forming, at times obsessive and possibly even addictive. We don’t just like stuff. We don’t have passing interests in things. We love them. We dive headfirst into stuff. From these tendencies over time, we tend to learn to swing wildly back and forth from the two ends of the pendulum. We learn to eschew and hold our passions at bay. We were like, “I’ve got to get stuff done. I have been trained by my parents that the way to succeed in the world is you get stuff done. I’m going to put all my intention to work.”
We find something we love doing. We put a ton of energy and intention there and we do amazing but we do so by putting all of our other passions at bay. We hold the stuff that’s fun, playful outside of work off and pour ourselves into work, which is unsustainable because no human is all geared towards work. No human is all geared towards play. There’s an innate human drive for meaning, for impact, for contribution. These are all things that are imbued in our being, in our bodies, in our humanity. Anytime you are shutting off some aspect of yourself, it cannot be sustainable. An even simpler place to see this that’s not necessarily part of the sandtrap but we will give you an analogy, is someone who learned that anger is wrong and then shuts off their own ability to be angry. You kill it. I never get angry.
What tends to happen is that they show up anger lists in a bunch of areas in their life but because we are perpetually creating some balance, there’s going to be other places where their anger reins free and often quite oblivious to themselves. They can’t see it because they’ve got this vested interest in not seeing it. After all, anger is wrong and they don’t want to be wrong. Maybe that looks like them screaming at people from road rage in traffic or maybe it looks like all that anger is directed inwards, just berating and hating themselves, then on the surface, being like, “I don’t get angry.” However, it goes, shutting our passion, putting it all towards one thing is not sustainable. The truth of this is we can do anything at the highest level of intensity forever.
We naturally burn out, grow tired or simply need to change. What happens is from this intensity of work, which burns white-hot for a while eventually, these people start to turn their attention towards something more relaxing and playful. At first, they dip their toe in and find a bit of a reprieve from the intensity of work they have been crafting, but then as time goes on, their passion gets stoked anew by this new pursuit. Before long, all of their energy is being poured into that. This is the point where the sandtrap becomes prevalent.
The Sandtrap Spectrum
We will talk more about how that plays out but let’s look at the two ends of the spectrum for the sandtrap. Remember that every sandtrap has two ends along its spectrum. You can think of one as you acting out the giving of the sandtrap and the other you being on the receiving end. For example, if you have a sandtrap that caused you to disrespect people with less money than you, on the one hand, you are going to hold yourself above those that earn less than you. On the other end, you are going to be on the receiving end of this, meaning you will bring great deference and reduce your own sense of worth around people that earn more than you do. This holds for every pattern. We both play it out in the one direction and then also on the receiving end.
On the giving end of this, the leader operating from the sandtrap has a very simple solution to their lives. When they find themselves having too much fun, the solution is to throttle it down and push all-in towards the work. I’ve got it written in capitals I noticed here grind. Get the grind going. You will often hear leaders in the sandtrap even talk about how they want or think they need to get grinding. They will say things like. “I need to stop going for the short-term fund. I’ve got to stop doing that.” From a short-term place, this is quite an empowering place for them, especially when you feel you haven’t been up to much for a while. What happens, remember, is at first you grind. It doesn’t even feel like a grind. Initially, you pour yourself into your work and you do that. Eventually, “I can’t do this anymore,” then you eventually find a new pursuit you pour yourself into.
At that point is when it’s like, “I’ve got to grind. I’ve got to stop drinking or I’ve got to stop playing video games. I’ve got to stop doing all this stuff that I enjoy.” We might even call it fucking around, hanging out in the passion that does not work for quite some time. This solution to get grinding feels empowering. It’s obvious. However, as a long-term solution, this ensures the leader pendulums back and forth between these two spaces. Given that our aim from one is a compensatory swing in the other direction, we are aiming towards grinding. There’s going to be a point where we can do it no further. We don’t grind, then suddenly experienced a moment of unrepressed joy. We find ways to empower grinding rather than ways to truly live and create from a fully expressed place because at the heart of this pendulum swing is this story that works good, plays bad or some flavor of that.
There’s never going to be room for you as a leader or your people as they are to fully integrate who they are, which is both work and play. Humans are both works and plays. The heart of exquisite leadership requires an ability to act and be in both of these places to integrate all of that. On the giving end, the leader who resorts to grinding as their solution in their own life is going to look to their employees to do the same thing. This becomes kind of an always-on, always reach for the solution is obvious. If an employee isn’t taking action or they are not moving forward the way they should, the answer is to drop what you are doing and make shit happen. There’s little joy available except during the periods where you are gallivanting and having fun or those periods of novelty. Even when you are gallivanting and having fun, it’s interesting because what happens in the sandtrap is that people shift away from the grinding period to the new fun period.
At first, it is exciting, novel and new, but then over time, they are just doing it to do it. It stops me in something that creates joy and it becomes something that’s just one more version of grind. It’s just that they are grinding out their pleasure. You have probably experienced some minor level of this even if you are not someone with a lot of passion where you are just eating chips, chocolate or playing video games or doing whatever, watching TV, you are not even enjoying the TV show or the chips, the chocolate or the video game anymore. You are just doing it to fill the time. You are watching it but it’s not grabbing you. It’s not exciting. You are not lit up by it any longer, the moment has long passed but you have inertia now. You are unwilling to change. That’s where the moments of joy in this pendulum. I liked the switch over briefly and then very quickly, it becomes a grind, then we hang out there.
Further, these moments often feel a little bit like they are stolen from the rest of the time when we should be grinding. The leader with this tendency is reliable to grind but they are not so reliable to meet people where they are at and the poor people to do something beyond simply grinding for a while then going back. We are going to come back to how this is a sandtrap but for now, let’s go to the receiving end. On the receiving end of the sandtrap, we often find ourselves late in with guilt when we were doing something other than grinding. The only time it’s okay is when the boss is out playing with us.
It’s playing hard, work hard. At the very best, we ended up burning the candle at both ends, trying to maximize the amount of joy and impact we create in our lives or trying to convince ourselves that we don’t want the fun, playful side of passion. We could create happiness if only we put our attention on creating something great and letting go of short-term happiness altogether or maybe like 90% or some version of this. Empathy is often lacking from a leader that’s playing out this particular approach to progress. It’s great when you and the person you are leading or you and your leader happened to share the cycle and be in the same place. It’s then like, “Great. It’s time to grind. We agree on that. Now it’s time to play and we agree on that.”
When you are not the rest of the time, the answer seems to be like, toggle your throttle in whichever direction is required to make it happen. You end up with leaders resenting their employees or thinking their employees are lazy or just not committed enough. Meanwhile, the employees are like, “My boss goes so hard, but then he fucks off for a while. That’s not how I work.” The leader can’t do much work to meet people there because they are caught in their own thing. You either aligned with these leaders or you try to minimize their impact on you. Neither of these approaches are particularly empowering and doesn’t leave a lot of room for our own self-expression. We can thrive under a leader, provided we are matching ourselves and our cycle with that leader, which is not leadership. That’s me following the leader.
The Real Sticky Part
I can acquiesce to the leader or by minimizing my impact, I try to avoid them, minimize their impact, which is not what leadership is about. How is this a sandtrap? Why is this even sticky? That seems like just don’t do it, which is the solution to all this stuff, I guess. Don’t do it is the easy human answer. The real sticky part of this particular sandtrap is that when it’s working well, it looks incredibly productive. I should say, not so much when it’s working well but when the grind is on. When the grind is on, especially early on, heads are down, things are getting made, we are making things happen. If you only looked at the results produced, you probably noticed a couple of things. First, during the periods where the throttle is on the ground side, we would see an increased level of productivity at play.
When that throttle goes all the way to work, we would be like, “Look at how productive these people are or this person probably higher than most people I have put on a great day.” That’s corresponded with the periods where the throttle has been thrown back to the play side. In those places, you had said likely a drastic reduction in productivity, along with way more sense of play but probably a hefty amount of guilt, self-destruction, blame, etc. Remember, because the play gets shunted off to the side for so long, it’s not that these people have a single drink or play an hour of a game or something.
They are making up for the lost time. It’s a race to the bottom. If you average this out, you would probably see pretty standard. If not, maybe a little bit higher than average results. Especially if we only put our attention on the physical results that result created, which some people will tell you, “That’s all I care about.” That’s very industrial age, managerial thinking. We are playing for something more than just results here. We are playing for culture. We are playing for transformation. We are playing for generating and developing leaders.
Underneath these results, what we would see are symptoms of burnout, frustration, self-destruction. When attempting to burn the candle at both ends, people are left exhausted. Working hard until late hours of the day, then partying, gaming or doing whatever else they do in the late hours of the night or they are swinging way out and working super hard, coming home exhausted. When the switch gets thrown, making up for a lost time, playing super hard, coming back exhausted, there tends to be a lot of exhaustion in this process. The real sandtrap that on both ends of this pendulum swings, the subsequent next step makes so much sense. When someone has been playing, partying, having fun for a while and it’s sick of avoiding work and resisting, what’s next?
All they want to do is pour every last drop of themselves into getting going. Getting the work started. Charging headfirst into a pile of work and shutting out all the distractions makes so much sense. When someone has been grinding away and starting to see some results and are out of the fear of not producing, they have gone into the grind. They are no longer fearing that then they are starting to feel the burnout of it. Taking a break and dive into something they are passionate about seems like such an obvious move. They don’t have a lot of energy left on either side of these to look at how this pattern might be showing up. All they want to do is inject excitement and novelty into their lives, go and play or get to work because they have been putting it off for so long.
It’s like a car swerving on the road, overly compensating each time. It swings out further and further. They grind so hard because last time they played for too long, and then they grind so hard and try to white knuckle through that. When it is time to play, they compensate way over to the side. They resist going back to their natural flow because they were like, “I don’t want to lose the play because I remember what that’s like but I know I need to do it.” That takes longer for them to leave, and then they swing out even further. You call it the frequency, the height out of which they swing in this pendulum grows over time, greater and greater, even though the actual underlying amount of work that gets created, the results, doesn’t tend to shift.
Swinging Back And Forth
For the leader of staff that does this, this problem is sticky. When it’s time to get going, when it’s trying to make something happen, we love the incredible energy and output that the I Just Need To Grind person creates. They seem so productive. It’s amazing. We are scared to pull them back because I don’t want to change their passion. I don’t want to wreck this. I want to empower them. Once they are exhausted and burnt out and out the other side of their grind, we are kind of afraid to invite anything other than the rest that they seem so desperately to need. We are not going to spend this time now trying to get them to do something different. Let’s let them have some space first, but then by the time you might create the conversation with them, they are usually ready for the next grind, in which case, what’s the point of bothering to have the conversation. Basically, this momentum of the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth and we don’t create anything new with our people. We stay in that pendulum.
How do you work with a sandtrap? The first step is for you to notice this aspect in your own tendencies. Do you have this tendency yourself? Have you found yourself talking about grinding hard or having a desire to say, “Fuck off,” to everything and start playing with something fun? If so, you can notice this tendency and the pendulum itself. The truth of this is the work is available anywhere along the cycle. A cycle is a circle. It feeds into itself, so you can interrupt it at any point. The challenge is that because of the sandtrap it is to dive headfirst into whatever the next step is, people are left without a place to begin making a shift.
The starting point is for you to notice this in yourself and to begin choosing something different or even to notice it, “Here I go. I’m swinging out to the other side.” How long is this going to happen? One of the places you can start to practice is to notice when you don’t want to keep doing something but are doing it out of obligation. That can be an obligation that you think you are supposed to keep working hard. The reason for that obligation doesn’t matter. It might be because you feel you have to make up for lost time or obligation to keep playing. After all, you feel that eventually, it’s going to be taken away, so you’ve got to finish all your candy.
An interesting version of how this got played out in my life was on Halloween. My brother and I would get to go out trick or treating, and then we would have all that candy for the night, then in the morning, my parents would take it away. It would be dispensed incredibly slowly over the next year. I remember there would be these little molasses candies that would still be in our house in my mom’s cupboard ten months later, around August. What I learned from this was the candy will be taken away. Finish it all now even if you don’t want to because you are not going to get it. It became a race to the bottom.
It doesn’t matter where this stuff grows from. It’s an interesting sidebar for how it got created but either way, you can start to notice how you play this out and start to notice your own guide, pulling you away from that grind either into work or into play. Even if you don’t choose along that path, you can start to notice, “My natural intuition is pulling me back towards a more balanced process. I’m resistant to that. I don’t want to give this up.” On some level internally, there is always a pull-back to something a little truer to ourselves. It’s our resistance and fears about what will happen when we finally do that, that has us resistant and has the pendulum swing ever further out into either direction. Second, you can get clear on the impact of this pattern either for yourself, your people or support your people to get clear on it.
Get clear on the positive and the negative when you are in the throes of it. Maybe it’s hard to focus on anything other than the immediate solution, and then the next step, all grind all play. What will serve you and your people best is slowing way down and getting clear with altitude how this whole thing plays out. When you are in work mode, what’s the benefit of that? Maybe it’s like nothing stops me. For whatever reason, I’m making up for a lost time. I’m doing it because I love it. It’s probably all true but when I’m there, without needing to justify it, what are the benefits? “Head down. I get stuff done.” “What are the consequences? I tend to find myself moving into burnout.” Let’s look at the other side. You can get clear on the pros and cons of this so that people can be choosing this rather than having it automatically choosing them.
Finally, the best place to change a cycler pattern is wherever you currently find yourself in it. Once you are clear on how this plays out, how might you set yourself up to have it go differently? What are some of the signs you might be falling down the same path? What are the results you would want to create that don’t seem available inside this particular pattern and what it allows and disallows? Getting present to some result that would be outside of what is allowed by this pattern. It’s important to consider that this pattern has limitations, just like any pattern. Some things will forever remain impossible for you inside of a need to swing back and forth on this particular pendulum. That holds, by the way, for literally any particular quality, way of being, way of showing up or anything, any belief.
Sometimes people argue and be like, “I don’t believe anything is impossible,” but that hides the pea from yourself, the bead, so to speak. Every belief you have about anything makes certain things possible and certain things impossible. That’s the nature of this. It’s the reality. The sooner you can come to terms with the fact that whatever you choose is going to allow and enable certain things, disallow and prevent other things, the more at cause and empowered you can be about a particular choice.
That’s all we have for this episode. This is your Leadership Sandtrap number eight. We’ve got eight so far. Next episode, coming up, we are going to be talking about the right answer and the fact that that is the thief of choice. How that is the thief of choice? It takes away choice from you. That’s going to be a good one. I will share that I’ve got a new infographic I have been working on with my designer. This is a graphic that breaks down how our beliefs lead into our actions, lead into the world around us, which then reinforces our beliefs. This is the fundamental human cycle and the cycle that every leadership is ultimately working inside of and working to support people to move beyond.
As soon as you move into a new belief, that’s going to create its own version of the cycle, you never truly escape this. Rather, what it allows you to do is to see like, “Anytime I’m telling myself, it’s just a story,” that’s a setup because it’s not a story you have created reality around you. That reinforces the story. It started maybe as a story, but then it got reinforced and so on. If that’s something you would like, you can email me at GetLit@AdamQuiney.com and we will send you a copy of it. That is a good one. I hope you have enjoyed this episode and we will 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.