Tag Archives: self-awareness

Listening Deeply–Essential for Leading

Considering that it is so essential for leadership, listening deeply sure is hard. I catch my mind wandering during meetings—making a grocery list, thinking of errands. I hear my inner judge evaluating instead of listening to the person talking to me. Sound familiar?

Four Levels of Listening

Recent work by Otto Scharmer sheds light on why really listening is hard. Presenting at a recent Community of Practice meeting, my colleague Cathy Geib explained Scharmer’s idea that there are four levels of listening.

  • At a superficial level, we hear through thick filters of assumptions, judgments, and confirmation bias. Instead of hearing the other person, we are locked inside the mind’s distorting echo chamber.
  • To go to deeper levels of listening, we have to listen with curiosity, seeking information that disconfirms our biases about the other person or point of view.
  • This curiosity, and the new perspectives it yields, prepare us for the fourth and deepest listening level, where we bring an open mind and can co-create real dialogue.

Heightening Self-Awareness

I’ve been using these levels of listening to heighten self-awareness and, using the practices I am learning, to help my clients. Heightening self-awareness begins with watching how we listen to our own thoughts and feelings.

To speak of my own journey of learning: I’ve lately been paying attention to my grief-transition process since losing my husband to cancer. One inner conversation goes like this. One voice says, “All the changes, all this newness, together with grief, tire me out. My old, striving life just doesn’t fit any more.” “Yes, but,” a second voice responds. “I’m a goal setter and achiever; I plow through to-do lists no matter what.”

The second voice often prevails because I’m very attached to achieving, having learned this “should do” script from my dear parents. I quickly label and then dismiss new needs for rest, a pause, and re-inventing my life. I am only listening to these emerging needs at level one, in other words, not listening at all.

A Way to Listen More Deeply

How can you and I dive below the surface to deeper listening? A practice of loving kindness helps re-pattern the mind. It works like this. Bring loving kindness to each thought—in my case, to both voices in my head.

Whatever is “loving kindness?” First, I acknowledge that both voices are real and true. Secondly, I gently accept both. Both voices are part of me; what if I were to accept and even welcome them? Embracing both voices frees me to accept my new needs for rest, for pause, and for re-creation. Acknowledging my goal-setting voice releases its defensive stance, and thereby loosens my white-knuckle grip on achievement as the one right way to live.

As a coach, going to and staying in a generative, deep-listening place is a core competency called “coaching presence.” To earn and maintain an International Coaching Foundation professional certification, coaches have to demonstrate skill in this and all thirteen other competencies. Check out the fourteen competencies. They are useful reminders for all supervisors and leaders.

10 Ways to Be an Effective Leader

shutterstock_282591626What can you do to be the most effective leader you can be? A Center for Creative Leadership report affirms that relationship management,” that’s, “how you interact with others,” is key to leading effectively. How can you assess how you are doing, and then improve?

Start by asking yourself these ten questions:

  1. Do I follow through on commitments?
  2. Do I stay curious in conversations, and listen to others?
  3. Do I mentor others?
  4. Do I give tough feedback in straightforward and relationally savvy ways?
  5. Do I work through conflicts in productive ways?
  6. Am I clear with others about their role in decisions (for example, giving information as input, giving informal advice, giving a recommendation, or participating in consensus-building)?
  7. Do I say when I’m wrong, and apologize when I make a mistake?
  8. Do I explicitly acknowledge others’ achievements and contributions?
  9. Do I actively promote diversity and inclusion?
  10. Do I have a reasonable, sustainable work/outside-work balance?

There are many ways to use the ten questions. For example,

  • Answer each question using a scale: always, most of the time, often, sometimes, no.
  • For every question, ask yourself, how do you know? What information supports your answer? Is there information that contradicts it?
  • Get other people’s input. Your leadership coach can do this through 360 degree interviews or surveys.

In other posts, I’ve explained how to use the Learning Compass as a tool for improving leadership. The Compass, a visual representation of the Learning Cycle, brings awareness to your thinking-learning-doing process. As you follow the steps below, notice that you are moving clockwise around the Compass to learn about your leadership and then commit to action.

  • First, gather information by asking the ten questions. (Compass Northeast: Imagining)
  • Then, reflect on your answers and analyze them by asking, for instance, where am I strong and what are areas for improvement? (Compass East and Southeast: Reflection and Analysis)
  • Next, stand back and reach conclusions. What do your discoveries add up to? (Compass South: Thinking and Synthesis)
  • Finally, make a plan and commit to carrying it out. (Compass Southwest and West: Deciding and Planning for Action)

It isn’t easy to be a leader. Nearly half of new CEO’s fail. The good news is that with attention, and supports like coaching, you CAN succeed.

Speed Limits and Slow Living

railbed_1893My town recently lowered speed limits from thirty to twenty-five. Adjusting to a slower pace set me thinking about habits, change and slow living.

At first, driving more slowly was an unwanted constraint. Over time, my experience shifted. I brought the shift into clearer focus by reframing, a skill that is useful in coaching and conflict management. To reframe, we put a new frame around an experience in order to shift perception and try on a new reality. For the new speed limit, my new frame is, “I drive more thoughtfully.”

Reframing a negative experience may take effort and seem artificial. This time, however, reframing arose spontaneously from a new internal experience. I noticed myself paying closer attention to driving. As I drove along, I also noticed that spring was coming on, kids were walking to school and the street sweeper had wiped away the winter detritus. I enjoyed being part of the scene instead of racing by it.

Learning #1. Speed is limiting. Like you, I have projects and deadlines that make me speed. Oops, notice how the phrase “make me speed” attributes my behavior to external causes? I bet I have more choice about varying my pace, and I imagine you do, too. How can we deliberately and thoughtfully vary our pace throughout the day and work week?

Learning #2. Only after the town speed limit changed did I notice that driving fast was a habit. By circumventing choice-making, some habits helpfully guide our behavior and simplify life. Habitually pushing the speed limit is not this kind of habit. Pushing the speed limit took me away from being present to safety, responding to the weather, noticing my internal “weather conditions” and much else around and inside me.

Learning #3. Watch the rush: rushing to get there quickly, cover ground and get work done. “Watch the rush” suggests noticing any internal “high” like, “Wow, what a lot I did today!” “Good for me, I beat that deadline!” or even, “Aren’t I valuable. Look at all I do!”

Learning #4. Don’t rush to change. I am inviting us to heighten awareness before making any change. When we rush to change, in this case, hurrying to slow down, we miss information. We rush past “ah-hah’s” that would suggest new behavior to try on. The “ah-hahs” are also valuable because they propel and sustain motivation to change. This “notice more and don’t change anything” dynamic (called the paradoxical theory of change) is a way of thinking about change that is key in my coaching practice.

Learning #5. Learning takes practice. On a recent vacation to Lisbon, I noticed myself rushing around (again.) Over many days, I slowly slowed down. On the last day, I ambled along the riverfront watching fishermen catch blowfish. Even on vacation, I confuse accelerated output with quality results.

I learned to slow down my driving. When I went on vacation, I went back to my speeding habit. I need more practice. So, some tips for you and me.

  • Notice what rushing is like. How and where is the breathing? What is happening in muscles, head, trunk and limbs? Track thoughts. Try exaggerating any one thing, for example, shallow breathing, a tight jaw or a pattern of thought. What is that experience like?
  • Vary the pace of the work day. Take short breaks to get up and stretch.  Breathe slowly for a full minute, focusing only on the breath or on a pleasant experience or loved one.
  • Practice saying no. Start with oneself, saying no to the inner perfectionist or achiever who tempts us to agree to unrealistic tasks and deadlines. Negotiate with these inner drivers.

Take Time to Save Time

Where does all the time go? Not enough of it, too much good work to do, and the pace of change is fast.

shutterstock_207716527With such challenges, can we make space for “think time” so we learn from successes and missteps? Here’s the thing: if we DON’T make this space, we risk working in the same worn grooves and getting stuck in the same ruts.

A paradox: take time to save time

My experience is that making a space for reflection can actually SAVE time. How? Well, first of all, reflecting and analyzing are a practice, like doing yoga or playing an instrument. We get better when we have a disciplined approach.

My colleague Kay Peterson and I teach a framework that helps people:

  • Understand day-to-day work dilemmas, successes, and missteps.
  • Get perspective on one’s actions by seeing how we get stuck, find new choices, and move toward action.
  • Do things better next time–and continually learning over time.

Use a compass to navigate

We use a new version of David and Alice Kolb’s Learning Cycle (2011). We call the Cycle the Learning Compass because it helps us navigate. The Compass helps us quickly locate where we are, on-the-spot, experience by experience. Then it helps us decide which direction to move toward without either idling or racing our motors.

The Learning Compass shows four main directions, North, East, South, and West. These correspond to the four ways we learn, by experiencing reflecting, thinking, and acting. (There are actually nine “styles” or directions embedded in the compass–but that’s for another blog post.)

Compass-4-Modes small image
The Learning Compass

We begin in the North with an experience that is direct and concrete. Moving clockwise to the East, we reflect on this experience, for instance by thinking about our assumptions and how we feel, and noticeing the experience from different perspectives.

When we are ready to use more rational analysis of the experience, we move toward the South. In the southern hemisphere, we form a plan for our next actions. Moving around to the West, we take action, the result of which is a new experience that returns us to the North. A new cycle begins.

How Holly used the Compass

My client Holly recently told me about a perplexing work dilemma. She invited an employee to a planning meeting, and her offer was rebuffed. Because the meeting concerned the employee’s future at the company, Holly wanted to do all she could to lead in the very best way. The Learning Compass gave us a map for working through the situation.

Since the experience with her employee, in the Compass North, Holly had been turning the experience over and over, wondering what to do. She realized that she was getting stuck in the Compass East, in reflection. At the same time, as Holly told her story, I noticed that she kept pushing herself to find a quick solution, in other words, toward action, in the Compass West. Holly knows she is a doer–that’s one of the reasons she’s an effective COO, but in this case she was uncomfortable with the one choice of action she kept coming back to.

I suggested that we move back to the Eastern hemisphere of the Compass, to reflection. She played with looking at her encounter from different perspectives. She got curious about her feelings and indecision. Before long, she began to come up with more choices for what to do. Following her energy, I encouraged Holly to “move South” on the Compass, where she could decide which option made sense. This question resonated: “Going into the next meeting, which choice(s) will give you the greatest satisfaction that you’ve been your best self as a leader?”

Holly decided pretty quickly. She was ready for action, in the Compass West. After trying out this action, Holly can “debrief” the experience on her own because the Compass, with its different ways of learning, is easy to remember and use.

Leaders as Catalysts

lighthouse_0968The term “Executive catalyst” catches my attention.  Who are they, and where do their capacities come from?  A study  of such leaders says they,

  • Are highly self-aware as continuous learners and seekers.
  • Encourage others to act from their real selves.
  • Sparkle with ideas and spark them in others.
  • See potential everywhere in ideas, people, and partnerships.
  • Inspire others with their passions and through their values. (Akrivou and Brandbury-Huang, 2011)

The study about Executive catalysts found that self-understanding and continual self-learning are predictors of a leader’s ability to be a catalyst in the organizations they lead.

Wow. Such predictors have striking implications.

It suggests that we have to PRACTICE taking time to reflect, analyze situations and dilemmas, and carefully think through how to lead and influence. Executive catalysts are present to themselves as agents of action and as disciplined observers–including taking the time to observe themselves.  My client Cheryl has this ability in spades.  She senses that when a work dilemma stumps her, it is because there is something “out of awareness” about herself that she needs to explore.

Getting better at self-understanding implies that we have to take time to know and work with our inner “self-system.”  Like so many of us, my clients often come to me saying that they lack for time.  And yet, in their coaching sessions, they have decided to commit to reflection and discovery.

Because I love reading history, I think of how Abraham Lincoln was able to assess his strengths and limitations, as related in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  Another catalyst who is a hero of mine is Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, whom you can read about in Kirstin Downey’s biography, The Woman Behind the New Deal.

Executive catalysts are able to watch themselves learning–they know how to learn how to learn.  What does that mean?  I’ll talk about this capacity in another article.