skill 1: awareness
You cannot lead if you don’t have reliable data:
Data about you,
Data about the context,
Data about the other person.
In order to lead you will need to have a lot of reliable data to inform your decisions. You will need to be exceptionally present to what is happening in that moment. Faulty data will drive you crazy, because by working with faulty data in leadership you will choose faulty leadership actions.
In order to gather leadership data you need to know that leadership is not just the leader influencing what another person does, leadership is in the dynamic between two people, or a leader and a team. Leadership is about the quality of that interaction, and through that interaction you actually lead.
Leadership is about influencing what someone does, but you are not the sole influencer in that context. What someone does is influenced by that person, by their environment, by other people and by you. When you gather data you observe all those influences, their impact and the size of the effect, the dynamic system in which it happens.
So, let’s see how you gather data and what kind of data you gather in your database.
Your skin separates you from the “non-you”. I know, very philosophical. Remembering that you have skin, will probably be the most giving part of your leadership skills.
When you remember that you have skin you will be able to separate raw data from the outside from your own triggers, projections, judgements or emotional reactions. We are not robots, so we will not work on shutting those down. We will need to just be mindful of them and their influence on us when making leadership decisions.
So, how is this relevant for leadership?
Well, just the mere practice of awareness will reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing, which is a cool feature in leadership, but this is a side-benefit.
When we practice awareness in leadership it is useful when being aware through the five senses TO SEPARATE that input from our interpretation. IN THIS WAY we bring data that can be useful in deciding leadership actions, but RAW data. This is where we strike gold in leadership.
For example, think about a feedback session situation. When we are not purposefully aware we might work with biased data.
Let’s say that I tell someone in my team that I noticed an error in their work output and work process. I tell them that the solution they applied led to results that are not what I was expecting and I think the solution was not effective in their context.
While I say this the person reacts with a certain face mimic and a certain behavior. It is really easy to interpret and take that interpretation as valid.
Let’s say that the person does not change anything about their mimic, even more, they do not have any facial movement and do not say anything back when I make my statement. This could be interpreted in a number of ways, and we usually interpret it. The problem is that if we take our interpretation as valid from the get go, there is no turning back realistically speaking from that.
If I assume that they poker-faced, my reaction will be from that data. I might even go further and assume how they interpreted and how they feel about what I said. I could find myself believing that they don’t agree and even that they got angry with what I said and I might react by rambling on and on about what they did and how I think they should have done it.
step 1: awareness building
step 2: awareness building
If, on the other side I practice awareness I might approach the situation like this:
I see that the facial expression hasn’t changed after I said what I said and I observe that I interpret that as the person showing me a “poker face”. I notice that I assume that when a person “poker faces” as a reaction my interpretation is that they feel angry with what I say.
As you notice, when I am aware I just put hypothesis out-there that can be tested. I don’t just react, I can leave a bit of space to actually validate my interpretation of the data before coming up with a reaction on my part.
When we are aware we remember that the other person also has skin, and we cannot see beneath their skin. That means that I can only create a hypothesis about what they think, feel, or need that I can validate with them. The only way we can perceive someone is through the five senses, anything more than that is just hypothesis.
This is crucial in leadership as humans are notoriously bad assessors of the other’s internal states and drives, even the empaths. Most of the time our hypothesis might just be projections (of ourselves, our judgements, expectations, prejudices or needs). This is not a moral thing, something a leader should do, it is more about awareness being a tool, highly effective one, and we use it when we can, how much we can and relax about all the situations when we won’t.
Being able to separate our OUSTIDE awareness from interpretation will be immensely valuable in day to day leadership, in feedback, coaching, performance planning, and any other organizational process. When you practice this and you do it most of the time with most of the people you will find not just more valid and more raw data, but also more data, in quantity. More data will allow you to do not just effective leadership, but also smoother leadership. This is what makes it fun.
This is where things get really interesting. When we are aware of our OUTSIDE world, we can also include ourselves there. Because we can also hear ourselves and see ourselves (and of-course the other three sense with which I won’t get into details as they become dirty jokes material :) ). Well, now that the cat is out of the hat, I’ll go with it, we can also smell ourselves, touch and taste. :) Ok, said it!
When we are aware of ourselves from the outside, we allow space to hear what we are saying, the actual words and see what we are doing, not just know what we say and do.
When we are aware about ourselves from the outside, we make an effort to see and hear ourselves with the same separation that we see and hear the others.
For example, I might know that I want to give positive feedback and know that I give positive feedback in a specific situation and I can be aware of what words I am using, what sentences I say and what I do when I say those things, what happens with my face and my body when I say those things.
Off-course, “one cannot see the eye with which it sees” so my awareness here will not be so clean but it can provide more data in terms of quantity and more valid data in terms of quality, and allow me to not just know what I say and do but actually hear what I say and see what I do.
You will notice that the practice of awareness will be more difficult in the beginning, but as you progress (practice for two weeks or so) it will become second nature.
step 3: awareness building
Inside Awareness is a tricky business. Practicing OUTSIDE warms you up and prepares you to work on INSIDE.
This part is valuable from two perspectives in leadership:
1. It allows you to see what happens inside you. Your "inside" can influence your actions and reactions in your leader role, but it can also inform you, so that you lead how people need to be lead, more than how you need to lead. An important lesson in leadership is to lead with what works with people. It also allows you to have material to lead yourself. (For this you can access the Self-leadership course)
2. When you are aware of your INSIDE you can start creating more probable hypothesis about what happens INSIDE other people. When you lead, you work with the INSIDE of another person. When you motivate people or you grow them you need to work with their thoughts, feeling and emotions. If you are not proficient in that you will find it very hard to influence their inside world so that you influence what they do.
When you are aware of the INSIDE of you, you are aware of what happens beneath your skin:
When you pay attention to what happens beneath your skin you have a few areas to untangle:
1. The first one is about sensations, which are bodily sensations like heat or cold (beneath your skin), pressure, tension, temperature, energy or movement.
When you are aware of your sensations you can feel those sensations and be aware of them. Usually here we interpret a lot, we say “I feel a heaviness on my chest” or “I feel like jumping off my seat”. It helps if we can separate the sensation from interpretation just like we did in the case of OUTSIDE awareness.
2. While being aware of our sensations we might notice that our interpretation of bodily sensations are also what we would add in the realm of feelings or emotions.
For example, pressure on my chest could be interpreted like “heaviness on my chest” that could also be reported like “I feel frightened”. None of those reportings are wrong, however it is more useful to separate when we are aware what we perceive as sensation and feeling, even though the two come from the same sets of data.
3. Another area of awareness beneath our skin is our mind, our thoughts, or mental activity. This area is about all the processing and conclusions we have from that processing of information. In the realm of thoughts we find all of our judgements, interpretations, expectations, needs, desires, plans, and so on.
These are the three areas to be aware of when you observe your INSIDE.
All leadership actions are aimed at influencing these three areas of INSIDE. When you are aware of your INSIDE world you:
See how you react to your outside and learn about your workings
By seeing how you function you can infer how others function and are able to find leadership actions that will work on their INSIDE
Influence your INSIDE world to self-lead. Self-leading (motivating yourself, self-feedback, self-growth, self-engagement, self-nurture, and self-collaboration) allows you to lead yourself but also, really lead by example.
As you know, people mostly do what leaders do not what leaders say they should do
To gather data you need to be aware. To be aware means more than just being aware of what happens with the person you lead, it is equally about being aware of what happens with you.
WHEN YOU ARE AWARE, YOUR SKIN IS YOUR GUIDE.