• Ruth Dettman

The ceiling is the limit!



I was drooling over the OFF-white, limited edition, Boori wardrobe for the nursery. It did not matter that all my newborn was going to be wearing was white Target onesies. The onesies were going to be folded and put away with style!


The day finally arrived, and my newfound obsession (not the baby, the wardrobe) was delivered to the house. It looked a bit bigger than I imagined but, that’s ok, right?


Wrong. When the grunting started, I knew that we had a problem.


The wardrobe could not be taken up to the bedrooms on the second floor. It kept hitting the ceiling over the staircase.


Let’s not talk about it


After I quietly sold it on eBay for a fraction of what I paid (what’s the deal with everyone wanting PURE white nursery furniture?), my husband looked at me and said, “We will never speak of this again”.


Twelve odd years later, I can only now begin to quietly laugh (not talk) about it.


The developmental ceiling


The 'never to be talked about wardrobe' also causes me to reflect on constraints in life, especially at work.


In my role as a coach, I have worked in corporate cultures where people also feel constrained. They are reluctant to try out new things for fear of making mistakes, especially in front of people more senior to them. It's what I call the 'developmental ceiling'.


In my experience, the developmental ceiling shows up in both pressure-cooker environments and in more subtle settings where the ‘walk’ doesn’t quite match the ‘talk’.


Regardless of where it shows up, one of the primary building materials to create a solid developmental ceiling are behaviours called controlling tendencies.



The quiz


What are the signs of a controlling leader? I’ll give you a few statements to ponder.


I am a perfectionist.

I have incredibly high standards.

I push myself hard.

I tell people what to do, not try to work with them.


Whether you are thinking about your boss or yourself, if you answered ‘yes’ to most, then there is probably a ceiling under construction!


The impact of the developmental ceiling goes well beyond employees who are not motivated to stick their necks out. It affects retention, profitability, delegation, and political maneuvering, to name a few.


Raising the ceiling


If you have a sneaking suspicion that you might have some controlling tendencies, I’ll leave you with one thing that is super easy to try out.


In your next meeting, talk a lot less and listen a lot more. Place your full attention on people who are talking. Listen intently and reflect what you are hearing so well that people really do feel you are listening to them.


If it’s appropriate, ask them for feedback afterwards. What was different for them? They may not describe it this way but what you’ve done is raise the ceiling a tiny little bit.


Now THAT’s worth talking about!