Matthew was promoted to CEO of his biotech company one year ago today. He thought he had won the lottery, and looking from the lens of business success, he did.

When he was able to hold the brass ring of personal fame high over his head he decided he had “made it” and no longer needed executive coaching. He had learned everything he needed to get where he wanted to go. He was, he told me, “happy and ready to run with all he had learned.”

So, why was I not surprised when the phone rang yesterday, Sunday, with a despondent Matthew on the other end of the phone? Yes, he had learned everything he needed to learn to get the prize. It had been an exciting year and yet, something was missing. Winning the CEO lottery was only the beginning of the journey; keeping the stash from disappearing was the bigger challenge. He said he reserves were low and he needed help to keep his place in the prestigious, corner office.

Matthew had, like most of us, looked at life in freeze frames. Success, what really matters, was seen as a series of snap shots rather than as a continuous flow of tests and challenges to help us grow. There was a belief that winning his position would keep him safe from disappointments and emotional lows.

He had learned how to play the game of winners and losers. He had learned to master office politics, all the back biting and gossip that is part of the trip up to the C-Suite. He was a winner and therefore knew all he needed to know, until the last few months.

There is a belief that once we land the title it will keep us safe from hurt and disappointment. Not that different than the belief that once we walk down the aisle after a marriage ceremony we will be happy ever after.

Leadership development programs are all too often like fairy tales. We have a wish, we have a dream, we do whatever it takes to win, and winning is the end of the book. No matter how much I suggested to Matthew that happiness and success in a static state is overrated he was not ready to hear.

Now, one year later, the honeymoon period over, he is all ears! We had a long Sunday conversation. He talked about the workplace conflict that was becoming like a tidal wave. He talked about the jealousies and sabotage in his senior team that was creating a stagnant environment. He talked about how everyone was highly skilled in the core products of the company, yet behaved like children when it came to emotional interactions. He was exhausted and depressed most of the time.

He admitted that yes, I had warned him the real work of leading would start when everyone stopped congratulating him, stopped pandering to him, and started getting down to business. He now was able to see that being at the helm made the daily stress look different.

We agreed to restart our executive coaching sessions. He is ready to learn the strategic leadership capabilities of how to read and lead a team of highly competent individuals who are also complex human beings with their own underlying issues that have to be considered.

Matthew agreed that he was intellectually ready for his position, yet emotionally still had to get strength training for continued success. His new study will include how to create a safe stress zone at work, how to learn and then teach his leadership team how to “practice safe stress”.

What Matthew, what all leaders must learn sooner or later, is that when stress hits the hot button at work we all revert back to behaviors we relied on as children for security and survival. When there is team conflict it is from these old behavior patterns. When a team can become aware that the positioning, power plays, politeness and unwillingness to really talk truth is there for protection, they can put down the shields and start to talk openly. Telling the truth is the route to a safe stress zone and every leader, everyone who has won the lottery and entered the C-Suite needs to learn how to handle the underlying Winning at work is always in a fluid rather than a static state. That is what Matthew is now learning, and that is what will keep him in the CEO role for however long he will want to stay there.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Sylvia Lafair, award winning author of “Don’t Bring It to Work”, leadership expert and executive coach helps you find your “POWER SPOT”. Be more powerful, persuasive, proactive, positive, and Pattern Aware™.

Her innovative methods are used internationally by leaders at every level of an organization. Get started by taking the QUIZ at and find out what you never knew about yourself (it’s really fun). Then contact us for a free consultation. Being Pattern Aware ™ is the work of 21st Century leaders. It is part of the three vital areas for all coaching sessions : self-care, self-aware, and pattern-aware.

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