Teal Turmoil: Seven Hurdles on my Personal Journey to Teal

By: Brent Lowe for Enlivening Edge Magazine

I desperately want to be Teal. To radiate an aura of Teal. To have Teal blood running through my veins.

And yet here I am, as Orange as cheese-covered nachos and Fanta soda.

Lost already? I recommend reading The Future of Management Is Teal by Frederic Laloux—what follows will otherwise be 100% confusing.

A bit about me. I’m a recovering human resources leader turned coach and consultant. I was raised by two wonderful parents who worked in Orange government buildings. My MBA is from a leading institution that produces thousands of Orange grads every year. My real world HR training came from a cutting-edge, Orange-trying-to-be-Green high-tech company.  Orange, Orange, everywhere Orange.

Life moved on. Eventually and awkwardly I tried to be Green. I’m not a good actor.

Orange was comfortable. I’m a perfectionist by nature. Policy, process, and structure work for me. I prefer knowing how things are supposed to roll. I like predicting the future and being right. Give me a well-formed box and I’m good to go! I am an expert policy writer. I can articulate a process to the finest detail. This was my world for almost 40 years.

And then one day I had breakfast with my good friend Edwin Jansen. He introduced me to the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. He offered a simple warning, “This book is going to rock your world.” And he sent me on my way.  I’ve been in turmoil ever since.

Seven Confessions

mixed oil paint with paintbrushHave you been to a paint store? Have you had a custom paint colour mixed for you? They start with white, then they add a bit of this and a bit of that. They close the can and shake it long and hard. And the end result is the desired colour. What happens if you want a can of Teal paint… and rather than starting with a can of white, you start with a can of Orange? Tricky! This is where I’m at. I want a can of Teal paint!

Here are the thoughts and feelings that are already in that can. These are the well-worn mental maps that I am working on reinventing.

Piecing together wholeness from many separate parts.  I felt a need to write these confessions after reading a blog by Pim de Morree. In the blog Pim shares a story of his dinner at the home of Frederic Laloux. For me, the story captured the essence of wholeness. Pim describes the experience of being with Frederic and his wife. This is how I want people to describe me, my home, my family. This is how I envision wholeness. A sense of knowing and expressing myself.

My current reality is a bit different. It is perhaps best described by the story of the crow from the book Zorba the Greek.

“What happened to the crow, Zorba?”

“Well, you see, he used to walk respectably, properly—well, like a crow. But one day he got it into his head to try and strut about like a pigeon. And from that time on the poor fellow couldn’t for the life of him recall his own way of walking. He was all mixed up, don’t you see? He hobbled about.”

I hobble about trying to be this person in one environment and that person in another, no longer sure of who I am. And yet, deep down, I know the wholeness that I seek. I can see it in the mirror of others from time to time.

Lost in the search for purpose. A few years ago I asked a friend about her life purpose. Surely she must have a grand life goal in mind. Her response: “I’m just trying to make it through the day.” How depressing, I thought!

And yet, over time, I’ve found that I’m often just trying to make it through the day too. I want to immerse myself in my life purpose. Something so inspiring that I can’t wait to jump out of bed every morning. Something so evolutionary that it changes the world and leaves a legacy.

And yet I get distracted by anxieties: I’m not good enough, I don’t make enough money, I don’t have enough friends, I don’t belong. I get wrapped up in the fear of losing what I already have at the expense of my purpose.

I’ve known my life purpose from a young age. Unfortunately, it too often takes a backseat when I want it to be the driver.

Torn between the greater good and the comfortable me. I’m part of the 1%. Most of my friends are too. I’m writing this blog from the cafe of the Grand Pacific Hotel… and it is grand! I’m drinking my $3 cup of tea. I’m writing on my MacBook Air. I just finished a ski trip in a beautiful mountain resort. Soon I’ll return home to my big house, pool and hot tub.

I’m addicted to the benefits that come with Orange wealth. And yet I detest the dependence. I desperately want to work for the good of the planet, and I know that my lifestyle is often in conflict with that greater good.

The comfortable illusion of control. No targets? No control? Blasphemy! These have been my best friends for longer than I can remember. Granted, they have failed me more often than not. It’s a case of the devil you know being more comfortable than the devil you don’t. How hard it is to give up the illusion of control. I’ve built my career on helping people and companies plan for the future. Anything else would be chaos. And yet, I know that it doesn’t work. Too often plans and budgets become distractions that create anxiety and destroy creativity.

The fear of self-management. I am the ultimate self-manager. I run my own company of one. I call all the shots. I make all the decisions. And many days I miss having a boss. Not because I want someone to tell me what to do. There is nothing appealing to me there.

Instead, I miss the recognition. In the corporate world I was a bit of a super star. I ranked as “Top Talent” in the Orange succession planning process. From the youngest age I gravitated to areas where I could be the best, and avoided the rest. And I received lots of praise, awards, promotions, raises. I loved it. I thrived on it. Extrinsic motivation… bring it on!

So what do I do now? How do I shift to a Teal world of self-management without a boss to tell me how great I am? Without a big title to boost my ego?

The pain of seeking advice. The Teal advice process is elegant. It makes so much sense. Of course I want the opportunity to provide advice in areas where I have knowledge or concern. So if you are making a decision that impacts me, please do ask for my advice.

But I am also competitive and opinionated and like to be right. So when decisions need made on my end, I’d prefer to make them myself, thank you very much. It’s faster. It’s easier. And I don’t need to exhibit any signs of weakness. That’s my fear speaking.

Trapped by my vocabulary. My biggest struggle on the shift to Teal is vocabulary.  Love, sensing, soulful, waiting for ideas to emerge, holding space. These are not words spoken freely in an Orange world. I’m an expert at suppressing emotions.

The language of Teal often makes me quietly wince. It’s too personal… too out there!  And yet, those words describe exactly what I am feeling.

How nice it would be for my feelings and language to align.  Speaking without a covering of hesitation and embarrassment would be nice!

So there you have it. The confessions of an Orange thinker who is clawing his way to a Teal existence. My desire is to think… feel… live… and be Teal.  Here’s how I’m doing it.

Self exploration – I few years ago when my daughter was five or six, my wife and I signed her up for karate. The Sensei leading the class was wonderful. After a while we pulled her out because she was having a miserable time in every class. A few months later I had the following conversation with her:

Me: Abby, why don’t you try karate again?

Abby: Because the Sensei’s are very mean.

Me: Who told you that?

Abby: My mind did.

It’s amazing what our minds can tell us. I’ve invested a lot of time over the last two years in discovering what my mind has been telling me. I meditate. I seek counseling and coaching. I read. I write. I practice gratitude. In the process, I can now recognize the Orange in me. I better understand my starting point on the journey to Teal.

Learning from others – I had lunch with a friend yesterday. In our younger years we were like brothers. Then he moved away. This was one of the rare occasions when we could catch up and revisit the past. He made an interesting observation.

He said, “When you spend years with the same people, it becomes hard to change and grow as a person. People expect us to be a certain way and so we fill that role. Right now I can feel myself slipping back into the role I had eight years ago because I’m with you.”

I’m doing my best to break free of that mold. I am building a new community of people who share the thoughts and beliefs that I want to embody. My reading is changing. I am laying down a new mental map. I am learning a new language. I am experimenting with new ways of being.

Holding space for purpose to emerge – I recently read a helpful article by Anne Loehr.  In it, Anne outlines three components of purpose:

  • Creating a positive impactMaking a concrete near- and long-term impact on the world
  • Connecting with other people by building meaningful relationshipsWorking with and helping others who appreciate you
  • Achieving continued personal growthGetting support toward exploring your personal interest and goals

I already have a good sense of my purpose. I am now holding space for these three elements to emerge more clearly. Having spent so much time trying force my purpose (Orange planning!) I am giving it time to show me the way.

Learning to experiment – Experimentation and perfectionism are like oil and water. How can I experiment when I already have a well-defined set of rules in my head? This is the challenge. I have a desire for everything to be right the first time. Taking risks and being open to new ideas run counter to my DNA. And yet so much of what I know—the Orange thinking—doesn’t work for me anymore.

So now I focus on experimenting with new options. I challenge thinking rooted in the past. If it doesn’t feel right, that’s probably a good thing!

Pushing through the discomfort – On my journey to Teal there is a lot of discomfort. I struggle between accepting what is and moving toward what can be. So I practice. I practice being vulnerable and being patient.

The end result? I am a much better coach and advisor today than I was yesterday. And I will be even better tomorrow. My purpose of being a guide for personal and organizational transformation continues to unfold.

I am grateful to Frederic Laloux for writing Reinventing Organizations; to everyone who has devoted time and effort to bringing the book to life; and to Pim and his colleague Joost for sharing the story of dinner with the Laloux’s and for inspiring this article.

8 - Small CroppedBrent Lowe: A bit about me: I’m the trusted business and psychology expert that entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders call when they need to add fuel to their personal performance and that of their teams. My job is to help my clients—people just like you—be the leaders they want to be. I work with clients globally in-person, by phone, and by video. To learn more about my work and book a free consultation, visit www.brentlowe.com