In our more recent coaching experience, we noticed how Executives are nowadays more and more preoccupied with reaching multiple objectives, dispersing their energy in a variety of directions and ending up with no time left for strategic thinking. Carlo Moïso’s 5 Us theory is a highly powerful coaching tool that’s proven to be able to change how Executives employ their resources within the organization, redirecting their attention on what’s most important in their role as leaders. Bringing into play the 5 Us during our coaching sessions, we can help Executives gain more focus and allocate their leadership skills where these are more needed, without dispersion.
Carlo Moïso and the 5 Us
Having had the chance to work with Carlo Moïso (1945-2008) as supervisor it is an honor to present a resume of some very powerful concepts. Among them is the “5 Us” concept, which has a major impact on our professional and personal lives.
Unchangeability of the past
We all know that the past is unchangeable, for the past is made of events that can no longer be altered. Nevertheless, thanks to memories, the past lives within us and past experiences can condition many of our choices, our actions and our goals. However, it’s not always easy to realize how the past influences us and how much past experiences can affect our lives.
A full awareness of the unchangeability of the past, enables us to adopt the following approaches, which are very effective in helping us live the present fully and at the same time remind us of the possible impact of the past on our present lives:
Forgiving ourselves and getting rid of guilt feelings
- Do I spend a lot of time blaming myself and regretting past actions or thoughts, instead of rejoicing over my success and making the most of what I have today?
- After making a mistake, do I focus on what I should have done, instead of drawing a positive lesson and bouncing back?
- Do I waste energy reproaching myself over past actions and thoughts, instead of devoting my energy to finding new solutions for my present and future life, as well as my professional and personal life?
- Do I spend a lot of time reprimanding my family/my colleagues over past events or actions instead of conveying positive energy and thus encouraging them to move forward?
- Do I concentrate on regrets and on analyzing the whys and wherefores of past events instead of looking for the best solution for the present and the future?
- Do I want others to be different, instead of appreciating them as they are?
Coming to terms with grief
- Do I hide my sadness behind a different emotion (anger, for instance) instead of accepting it as a normal feeling?
- Am I haunted by the feeling of a lost past, instead of admitting that life is in a state of constant flux and that what’s gone is gone?
Living the present moment instead of idealizing the past
- Do I often take refuge in wistful reminiscences of a positive past, instead of living the present moment, however difficult, and investing in the future?
- Am I the kind of person who likes to think that “life was better before”, instead of trying to overcome present difficulties and live fully the happy moments of the here and now?
The past, especially when we look at it from a positive point of view and as a source of self-confidence, can help us to endure, and draw energy from, difficult situations in the present and thus move forward.
The awareness of the unchangeability of the past, enables us to live in the present moment, coping with its hardships and living its joys fully. Furthermore, it helps us to grow and blossom in the present and in the future, and to convey this feeling of self-fulfillment to our family and friends, in our workplace or wherever we may be.
Unpredictability of the Future
This “U” invites us to consider the future as unpredictable by definition and warns us against wasting our energies in the vain hope of foreseeing it.
During the course of my professional life I have seen projects and businesses fail because, although they had been carefully prepared, they had not foreseen EVERYTHING, simply because foreseeing EVERYTHING is not within the realm of human possibilities.
We delude ourselves if we think that if we had a crystal ball to foresee the future, our life would be happier and more serene: the crystal ball myth is very appealing, but if we give it some thought, are we quite certain that foreseeing our future would be a real advantage?
I suggest that we turn the subject around and push the paradox to its limits: what if the future were predictable? We could foresee our careers, the reactions of our colleagues and our boss, market trends, the future of our enterprise, our love life, our children, our health, our vacations, our death…
What would life be like within the determinism of a predefined future? We would no doubt be much calmer…but, let’s be honest, perhaps too calm, even bored! If we think about it, we must conclude that life is worth living precisely because of the future’s unpredictability. Thanks to this unpredictability, we wake up in the morning thinking that we have a goal and that we are going to do our best to have a favorable future.
That’s precisely why:
- We go to work to finish that project that might get us a promotion, even if completing it seems terribly complicated.
- We give feedback to our colleague hoping he will do a better job next time.
- One morning we decide to take our son/daughter to school because we think that spending a precious moment with his/her mother/father will make him/her happy.
- Our heart skips a beat when we think about the person we love: will he/she continue to love us?
- And so on.
Let’s face it: if we could predict the future, would we do all the things that require some effort? Would we make an effort if we knew that our colleague is in any case hopeless, that our son/daughter will in any case have a happy life? And would we get up in the morning if we knew beforehand the outcome of all our efforts?
Let’s dig deeper and ask ourselves: what would be the meaning of LIVING in a preordained life?
Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World” in which men’s destiny is predetermined, as well as many other books and films along the same lines, send us the same message: since everything is predetermined, the fiction hero tries to escape the determinism and to break through the predictability of the future so as to return to a more uncertain, less predictable world, similar to the one we are living in.
Why? Since the future is unpredictable, we face a world of possibilities and move towards a wealth of solutions. Some of them depend on ourselves, others on the world we live in. This abundance of options offers numerous choices:
- In the first place, the choice to act responsibly so as to attain our goal;
- Secondly, the choice of giving our action a specific direction so as to obtain the desired results;
- Finally, the choice of either congratulating ourselves for having achieved the desired objectives or having learnt from our mistakes.
Unpredictability sometimes frightens and distresses us. In this case, I invite you to think about a predictable world, about the apathy that it would engender, leading us to appreciate a future that is unpredictable regardless of what we do.
The positive side of unpredictability is that it is a source of movement and hence of life. It also allows us to learn from our mistakes, as well as our constructive experiences. In short, it teaches us to live.
Let’s stop hoping or striving to foresee the future; it is a losing battle, especially in today’s world where everything moves at a very fast pace. We should rather live the present and appreciate everything life has to offer; let’s live our life trying to give the world and our fellow humans the best of ourselves. Let’s remain humble vis-à-vis the future, because, although some experts (in finance, real estate, insurance, etc.) take the opposite view, the future is, and will always remain, unpredictable, whatever we do.
Unfairness of life
Carlo used to say that, whether we like it or not, unfairness exists in our lives. A wise man should actively accept unfairness, which is inherent in life, instead of wasting his energy to fight it. He should accept that which he cannot control, he should avoid useless resentment, and act in the here and now, targeting events on which he can have a real impact.
The uselessness of revenge
Dan Ariely gives us an example of the uselessness of our fight against life’s unfairness. One day he lost control of the brand-new car he was driving, because the car was not responding properly. As a result, he almost died. Luckily, he pulled through and, in a state of shock, he called the automobile company to report the car’s hidden defect and ask for assistance. To his astonishment and anger, he was told by the company that the car had no such defect, that the accident was therefore his own fault or else that he had made it up and that any assistance, repair or replacement of the vehicle was out of the question. Given the situation, he had two choices: sue the automobile company, a long and risky procedure with an uncertain outcome, or have the car repaired as soon as possible and move forward. Dan Ariely’s work shows that human beings would rather let themselves be guided by the desire for revenge (entailing expenses, waste of time, administrative procedures, etc.) than try to find an advantageous solution through reasoning and cost evaluation. Human beings harbor a desire for vengeance, which will, unfortunately, nurture a psychologically damaging sense of unfairness.
The uselessness of regrets and resentment
In addition to the desire for revenge, the sense of unfairness can generate another harmful consequence: regrets and resentment. This often happens when some external event hinders or disrupts our expectations and causes us to waste a large part of our psychic energy in useless recriminations, such as: “if he hadn’t done this, I could have succeeded in…”; “if this hadn’t happened, I could have become…”.
Desire for vengeance, regret, resentment, brooding: our sense of unfairness leads us to harbor these feelings at certain moments of our lives. It is only afterwards that we realize that these reactions are not only a waste of time and energy, but also add to our malaise and do not lead to a positive outcome.
The outside culprit shortcut and the three attitudes toward unfairness
Irvin Yalom, one of the most important representatives of existential psychiatry in the United States, as well as an acclaimed author of several novels, wrote that, rather than admitting their responsibility in a particular event, human beings have a tendency to look for an outside culprit. Similarly, they perceive unfairness as an external element. Obviously, as in Dan Ariely’s accident, a negative experience may be due to bad luck. Yet it is our attitude toward this kind of event that determines our destiny.
We are fully responsible for the choice of our reactions:
- Be victims, crushed by events
- Be executioners, looking desperately for revenge and punishment
- Be masters of our own life
The last attitude is indeed the most difficult to adopt, since it forces us to look realistically at the situation, with responsibility and awareness of the control we can exercise on our life. This will enable us to consider every experience as a learning process and an opportunity to move forward.
The three different attitudes at work
Let us consider a typical example of life’s unfairness: someone whom we consider less capable than ourselves is promoted. When we learn about it, after a perfectly normal and healthy feeling of disappointment, we face several choices:
- Become a victim and complain (“poor little me!”). This attitude will not get us a promotion; on the contrary, it will eventually tarnish our image.
- Become an executioner: seek revenge on the person who was promoted or those who promoted him/her by belittling their competence, putting a spoke in their wheels. This will not make us any happier nor will get us a promotion. On the contrary, it will probably make us look unreliable and possibly dangerous in the workplace.
- Act properly: face the situation with courage and open-mindedness, and finally ask ourselves if we are not partly responsible (even by a mere 1%) for a situation that we perceive as unfair and undeserved. It is essential that we assume our part of responsibility in order to become masters our own life. If we have, even partially, been the cause of a particular situation, we also have the power to change it. We can then look at our future (with reference to this or that job or this or that company) with a sense of responsibility and the power to act.
We adopt these three natural attitudes at different times. The route of responsibility and action is of course the hardest one to pursue. Nevertheless, according to Carlo Moïso, the difference between a happy person and an unhappy one is that the happy person quickly understands that she is wasting her energy when she falls into one of the “U” traps, such as the unfairness trap, and consequently she wills herself to change attitude and act responsibly.
Unfitness of human being
I can foresee readers’ reactions: “unfit for what?” or “I am not unfit; I am perfectly competent in my field” or yet “of course we are all unfit; nobody is perfect.” This is all true. In the realm of evolution of the species, man is a perfect example of nature’s capacity to adapt: our body and our brain have enabled us to evolve and to contribute to the world’s development, reaching unthinkable levels at an ever-faster pace. And yet, today more than ever, people are talking about “adaptability”, “flexibility”, “resilience”, but also “complexity”, “stress”, “burnout”,…
Society’s demand for perfection
Companies today, more than in the past, set up leadership programs that define an “ideal” pattern of behavior which employees within the organization must learn to conform to. This pattern of behavior often includes management of complexity, adaptability, ability to react, empathy, sharing among colleagues, implementing innovative solutions, etc.
Society, like companies, defines an ideal model we must conform to at every level of our lives: we must succeed in our work, be an attentive parent, have a gratifying relationship with our partner and be in top form. From childhood onwards, our children face the same quest for an absolute ideal: they must excel in school and in at least one sport, play a musical instrument, learn two or three languages, do an internship abroad, etc.
The “all-in-one” principle seems to be the be-all and end-all of a successful life. A person MUST have unlimited knowledge AND perfect social skills AND an exemplary savoir-faire.
The super-power illusion
In such tense situations, the rush towards perfection encourages the illusion that there are no limits to man’s power. It is true that it is both stimulating and useful to strive towards an ideal. Yet reaching this ideal is limited by our structural unfitness, as Carlo’s “U” appropriately reminds us. In fact, even though it is difficult to admit it:
- We are not an ideal, we are quite real
- Reality never reflects 100% of an ideal
- Should we really become perfect, what would be left in life for us to do or to improve?
The illusion of perfection
We are all familiar with this universal truth: perfection doesn’t exist. Then, how can we explain that we strive to attain that illusion of perfection and consider certain persons as the perfect examples of success?
These life models, these great managers, these “superstars” are in no way perfect, but they possess two secrets that convey the illusion of perfection:
- They know better than others how to hide their imperfection
- They know better than others how to highlight their qualities
The ability to hide our imperfection advantages and disadvantages
The great advantage of knowing how to hide our imperfection is that it conveys the illusion that we are perfect, suitable for a particular situation and powerful. Such a skill can be very useful under certain circumstances: for instance, when we try to sell a product or a service to customers, when, facing a crisis, we have to reassure our co-workers, when we try to motivate our co-workers to move forward…
Yet there is a major drawback: the more a person rises in the company ladder or gains competence in a particular field, the more he or she risks forgetting that he/she is unfit by nature. The risk is falling into the trap of the super-power illusion, acquiring as a consequence an unshakable conviction that the social mask has become a reality.
This is dangerous, because it leads us to neglect two resources which are at the root of every inner renewal and which push us to move forward, instead of resting on our laurels:
- humility: accepting our mistakes and turning them into sources of learning;
- awareness of other people’s worth, for others can help us to move forward and can provide new resources.
This tendency to hide our unfitness and consider ourselves perfect, besides wasting precious resources, has a negative consequence: solitude.
In fact, who would want to share his/her life, his/her work with a man/woman who thinks he/she knows everything and who makes it clear that nobody is good enough to contribute to better his/her life or company?
Solitude does not necessarily mean that we are physically alone: we could be surrounded by lots of people who admire and respect us but are afraid of us.
The kind of solitude I am referring to is much deeper and reveals itself through precise indicators:
- Spending more time than necessary to convince our co-workers, trying to impose our ideas rather than listening to others, asking questions, exchanging queries and doubts;
- The same problem arises at home when we concentrate exclusively on our well-being, thus eluding problems, failing to see that our child has difficulties at school or doesn’t want to play the piano or go in for sports and scolding him/her because “he/she can do better”, in sum imposing rather than listening and sharing. It is so much faster and effective to function this way!
Our illusion of perfection can keep us from perceiving these indicators; rushing blindly towards perfection at all costs can lead us astray…
Let us highlight our uniqueness
Let us examine the second asset necessary to convey the illusion of perfection: the enhancement of our qualities. Carlo Moïso claimed that we are all UNIQUE.
Each one of us is made up of a unique alchemy comprising great qualities and great shortcomings. As a result, each one of us resembles no one else. Our uniqueness is made up of our natural talents, our technical skills and our experience. Finding our uniqueness is the secret to learn to accept ourselves as we are, which means being fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses that would lead us to gradually build our personal “trademark”.
Our experience is the precious tool that will ultimately create our uniqueness, provided that we manage to learn from our mistakes and our accomplishments and look at them with humility. This is how we will build a solid basis for our personal identity. In order to achieve this goal, I often give the following advice to managers, much to their amazement: accept the possibility of making mistakes, dare to look at these mistakes and learn from them. There is, however, one condition: be creative, don’t make the same mistakes over and over again, for this would mean that you have been unable to look at them with courage and to learn from them!
The questions we must ask ourselves in order to draw a fitting career path
The current western culture drives us towards a “royal” road: rise in the company’s ladder, take on management responsibilities, work harder, earn more money, do more of everything.
Regardless of whether we have this kind of ambition, it is important that we find the answers to some essential questions when we are at a turning point of our career, be it a promotion, a change of jobs, a dismissal, the creation of a company, a change of professional direction….
- Does it fit my uniqueness? Am I really suited to this job? Does it highlight my uniqueness?
- Does it fit my profound motivations? Do I really want this?
- Does it fit my lifestyle? Does this job correspond to this phase of my life?
By answering these questions, we will become aware of, and in tune with, the person that we really are. This will enable us to make choices that will bring significant benefits. This is the true meaning of Carlo Moïso’s “Unfitness”: let’s stop striving for absolute perfection, let’s accept ourselves as we are, let’s highlight our uniqueness, however inadequate, so as to blossom in our life and in the world that surrounds us.
The Unavoidability of the end
When we start an activity, we rarely think about its end. Engrossed in the issues at stake and the desire to succeed, the notion of end seems minor and far off. It is only when we are about to reach the end of an activity, or when a problem arises in our daily routine, that we begin to worry.
Is there a new project? Will my company offer me a new interesting job? Should my career move in a different direction? What will my life be like after my professional life is over?
Different attitudes can arise when facing the end of an activity, or of anything else for that matter, since the concept of end is inherent in life:
- Ignore the ending problem and wait for it to “fall” on us. While this form of denial has the advantage of putting off the issue, it does not eliminate it. The end can appear suddenly and catch us unaware and unprepared.
- Feel anxious when facing an end, asking ourselves questions, which we can neither control nor answer: When is the end going to arrive? Will I ultimately succeed?
- Consider the end as an opportunity to give meaning to our actions. This positive attitude enables us to draw a timeline between a beginning and an end, between two moments of our life. By line we mean direction, hence meaning. We can therefore use the ending of things to ponder about the meaning of our actions, our projects, our job… Where does all this lead me? WHY am I working in this particular field or this job? WHY have I been promoted or fired? WHY have I decided to stay in this company or leave?
It is important to ponder questions on the final meaning, even though the thinking process may vary at different stages of life.
The “Why” at 20-30
People in their thirties are known as the Y generation, meaning “Why?” precisely because their main concern is the “Why” question, addressed to the outside world: “why should I engage in that particular activity or action?” “what is my purpose in life?” “does this activity connect to my inner purpose?”
They look for the answer in their inner world as well as in the outside world, searching for a good reason before committing themselves. Being aware of the effects of unemployment and work-connected problems their parents had to confront, people of this generation no longer intend to sacrifice their personal life for the sake of their professional life.
The “What for” at 40-50
This is the age when we search for “meaning” within ourselves. The “WHY” becomes “WHAT FOR?” At this stage we look at the time gone by and the time left. This leads us to use the time we have left to do meaningful things.
We look for “meaning” within ourselves, striving to understand the whys and wherefores of our actions. The quest for a meaning can at times be accompanied by a reflection on our own spirituality, leading to the need to know which ideal we should embrace. Hence come some questions: what have I accomplished so far? Why or what for? Where should I invest my energy to make my assets stand out? And also: who am I? What do I really want to do for the rest of my life? Which ideal do I want to embrace?
The “What for” of retirement age
This is when we move onto a new stage of our life. As professional and material constraints decrease, we may want to use it to accomplish some of our innermost wishes.
Those who have pondered over the question of the meaning of their life and whose choices have been consistent with such a meaning, will probably be better equipped to take advantage of the transition. They have very likely answered their calling and have devoted themselves to activities they have enjoyed.
For others, those who have immersed themselves in their work without concentrating on the meaning of their life, the transition to retirement is a time of soul-searching, a potentially traumatizing process. It may happen in fact that when life is nearing its end, we get the feeling that we have been wasting precious time.
Carlo has shown the powerful awareness of this “U”, the “Unavoidability of the end”. The sooner we ask ourselves the question of the ending of all activities, and hence of the true meaning of life, the better we can live the present moment. We will thus clearly perceive that the path we follow has a meaning and leads us in the right direction.
 Dan Ariely, The Upside of Irrationality, p. 131ss
 Irvin Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy. Some novels: Lying on the Couch, When Nietzsche Wept, The Schopenhauer Cure