My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I help businesses innovate more quickly than they innovate their products to accelerate their time to market. One of the tools I use for that is leadership coaching or leadership team coaching. In leadership coaching I really focus on silences, sequences and stories. I want to say something about sequences and life scripts.
One of the levels of pattern recognition or sequence recognition is what we call the life script. A life script is an unconscious pattern of behaviour that you learned in early childhood which was confirmed by your parents or events, and ends in a well-known payoff.
When you ask people: what do you think will be on your tombstone? Leaders answer something like: “I worked so hard, yet here I am.” Or, “I forgot what was important” or, “I accomplished a lot but my wife left me.” I often have to coach leaders who are caught in their life script.
Recently I had a female leader and she started off by telling me that she had a new leader. I said, “Oh, that sounds like news?” and she said, “Yeah, but it’s a female leader. And I can’t work for a woman.”
“Why can’t you work for a woman?”
She said: “Oh it’s just impossible. Women are impossible.”
I asked her what would happen if she worked for a woman.
She said: “We’ll get into a fight. I know that for sure.”
“How do you know that for sure?” So we went back bit by bit in her life script story and I probed when was this taking place for her.
She said, “It’s my mother. I never had a good relationship with her and I just think I couldn’t work for a woman because of that.”
I asked what happened between her and her mother, and she told me that when she was 26 she got married, but her mother didn’t go to the wedding, and that’s how she knew her mother didn’t love her.
I probed further.
When she was 22 she was the first in her family to succeed at university but her mother wasn’t there for her diploma ceremony, so she knew her mother didn’t love her. I went back in time and asked when was the first time she thought this.
She said: “Well, when I was very young I had to do communion in the Catholic Church. I was dressed in white and I had these shiny black shoes on and I went to up to my mother, I stood in her bedroom doorway as she was sitting behind her makeup table, and I said to her, ‘Mama, mama, look at me. I look so beautiful!’ and my mother said to me, ‘No, look at me I’m beautiful.’ And that when I knew my mother didn’t love me.”
“But now you’re an adult. What do you think about this?”
“Well, I don’t know. I remember that my father had just died the year before. My mother was really sad.” I asked my client to remember what else was going on in the preparation of my communion. “My mother had gone to church and at church she met a man who was the father of another little girl who was doing communion. I think they really liked each other.”
I said to her, “Well you’re a grown up woman now. What do you think was going through your mother’s mind?”
“I think my mother was really nervous because she was going to meet this guy again when I was going to church to do my communion. Ha. Now I realize what she was doing was really telling me we’re women together and we’re both beautiful but I’m really nervous.”
I said, “So how does that make you feel?” And she started to cry. She hadn’t realized that her mother was a human being too. “Now when you think about it what does this mean for you as a leader?”
She thought: “I feel much better about working for a woman now. Maybe now I can do something that I was never able to do with my mother.”
When I work with leaders I always look for the script. The script is really the pattern of life that people have decided when they’re very young to survive, but which may not be very functional at this moment in time. What I often see is that people repeat old stories that aren’t necessary in their life today.
The life script concept really helps me see the pattern of life that we need to interrupt, to have a better life and to become a better leader.