What’s Driving You?

by Pam Fox Rollin, Executive Coach

Connect with Pam: @PamFR+PamFoxRollin

Welcome to the IdeaShape Newsletter archives! We think these ideas on leadership and life have stood the test of time…let us know if you agree.

This post originally appeared in February 2003


What’s driving you?

In This Post: Big Idea; Action Challenge; Resources; Note from Pam

Big Idea: What’s driving you?

“We are stuck in patterns of grasping and fixating which cause the same thoughts and reactions to occur again and again and again…

My first step was to decide I wasn’t going to act
on my habitual momentum.”
— Pema Chodron

“I’m driven to succeed.” How many times have you heard that from your new team members or job applicants… or yourself?

Ever wonder what’s underneath that drive? Is it a love of what you’re doing and a deep sense that now’s the time to do it? Or does your drive spring from a fear of insignificance? Or is it a belief that you’ve got to fight to hold onto what’s yours? Or could it be a resolve to never again experience rejection or loss?

Having habitual patterns doesn’t mean we’re robots…it means we’re human. However, not seeing our own patterns — and the drama those patterns create for us and everyone we work with — does impair us. Not seeing our patterns means being driven by ancient fears and insufficiently examined beliefs. Seeing our patterns means having the chance to decide whether an aggressive or accommodating or withdrawn (or any other) stance is truly serving us in this moment.

To have this depth of self-awareness is especially critical for people in leadership roles. Perhaps you’ve seen whole teams who’ve accommodated themselves to their leader’s habitual patterns. The team becomes as stuck as their leader. More subtly, even highly-effective leaders have habitual blind spots, often behaviors they unconsciously overuse.

What’s driving you? And how are your habitual patterns impacting your effectiveness with your team and others who look to you for leadership?

Action Challenge: How will you get back in the driver seat?

1. Notice when you’re “driven”
Often there’s a moment when we get “hooked”, when one of our patterns pops into our behavioral VCR and plays out. See if you can just notice, without blame or guilt, when your actions seem excessive to the situation or driven by a tense energy.

2. Get clear on your patterns
A set of learning’s called the Enneagram is the best roadmap I’ve seen for understanding deep personal patterns so ingrained that expecting us to see them on our own is truly like asking fish to describe water.  I encourage you to see if the Enneagram offers you some fresh insight into your habitual behaviors and underlying fears and beliefs. (See Resources, below.)

3. Consider your choices and re-train your triggers
If you have a pattern, for example, of reacting to ambiguity with aggressive moves to control the situation, what other choices might you make? Can you learn to recognize the situations that trigger patterns you’d like to adjust?

4. Get wise to your early warning systems
Often, our bodies offer us clues that we’re hooked. Perhaps your gut twists every time you try to act like you’ve got it all together when really it’s time to ask for help. Or your shoulders tighten when you slip into your skeptical “prove you’re not out to get me” stance. You can use these clues to notice you’ve jumped into a pattern.

5. Cultivate calm in your life
Typically, our defensive patterns are most likely to run the show when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, and unaware. Is this true for you? Consider what you can do to cultivate a “relaxation response” rather than “flight, fight, or freeze.” Even two minutes of intentional calm in the middle of a frenzied day might be a real help in noticing your patterns and choosing actions that will serve you.


Understanding the Enneagram, Revised Edition, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, 2000If you want a practical yet deep guide to using the Enneagram for self-development, I highly recommend this book.

Essential Enneagram, by David Daniels and Virginia Price, 2000At 100 pages, it’s the shortest, solid introduction I’ve seen to the nine Enneagram types.

Note from Pam

As I’ve done this work, I’ve needed to face my own fear that as I become more grounded and less driven I may experience less success. What if I relax and loosen up on my own habitual patterns…might I lose the drive that seems to have worked for me so far? In talking with colleagues and clients, I’ve discovered this is a common fear.

Our patterns keep us in our comfort zones. For many of us, that zone is cozy and warm and big enough to accommodate most of our professional and personal ambitions. Yet, that zone is  inherently limiting. When we take a hard look, we’re likely to notice that our attachment to our “drive” (or our aggression or observer stance or neediness-disguised-as-giving or whatever) makes it hard for us to be all that we are…to build effective relationships, to consider new business and personal paths, to enjoy our lives deeply.

What I’ve experienced is the more I look at my patterns with calm awareness, the more choice I have. Then I can exercise that choice to build greater success.

If you’d like to get in touch about any of this, please do. I’d love to hear your thoughts.




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About Pam Fox Rollin

Pam Fox Rollin coaches executives and high potentials especially in technology, health care, biotech, and professional services. Pam specializes in working with leaders stepping up from being rock stars in their functional areas to more strategic senior roles. She also guides the top teams of public, private, and fast-growth global companies to lead together more effectively.

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