Expanding awareness

A series of surprises.
“I’m really disappointed in Mary’s performance. I may have to let her go. It’s sad. She was clearly the best candidate for the job when we recruited her last year.” But Bill was hard pressed to give his executive coach one concrete example of her sub-par performance. Asked why he had changed his mind about Mary, he suggested, “Well, in important meetings she sprawls in her chair, with her arms and legs all stretched out. It’s unprofessional.”

Bill was asked to mimic Mary’s posture, then describe what HE felt. He reset, thought a moment and frowned, puzzled. “Uh, very relaxed, comfortable, sort of opened up!” And how would he approach a problem if he were sitting like that? To his evident surprise, he blurted out, “Differently. Kind of curious, no holds barred.” Keeping this in mind in the coming months as he assessed Mary’s performance, Bill began to recognize that her results were in fact outstanding. Her next performance appraisal put her at the top of Bill’s team.

Future blog topics
Where are we going with all this? Last week we noted that smart and successful leaders can make poor decisions without being aware why. Here are several types of internal processes and some organizational processes they can affect.

Internal processes:
Somatic: Bill, above, almost made a bad personnel decision by misinterpreting Mary’s body language. And in mimicking her posture, he learned he learned he could change his own awareness. Our mind and body are tightly integrated.

Emotional: the Greeks and Descartes tried to separate rational and emotional thought. But research over the past twenty years has shown that they are tightly linked and you ignore this at your peril. Many of our memories and schema are steeped in strong but unconscious emotions.

Thinking, deciding, doing: much, probably most, of our mental life is unconscious; sometimes this is useful, sometimes it is toxic; but unless we are aware of and manage our awareness of these states, our decisions and behaviors may be more random than intentional.

Creative: our brain creates models (schema) in part to husband limited energy. We run our brain on about 40 watts, like a dim light bulb, much less than a typical PC. So many thought patterns are learned, then shifted into unconscious and more efficient memory. Trying to be creative runs against this default mode and requires effort and practice.

These can either distort or improve key behaviors. Self-awareness is the first step towards enhancing in using them to enhance how we create and lead the following

Organizational processes
Managing
Developing and influencing others
Improving team performance
Leading change initiatives
Innovating
Designing and facilitating effective strategy development and implementation
Building high performing, sustainable organizational cultures

In upcoming blogs, we will explore how to increase self-awareness, then try new practices to boost leadership skills. Here’s another exercise to try:

Where have I been?
1-On a plain sheet of paper placed sideways (landscape mode), draw a line down the left-hand side. Put a plus (+) at its top and a minus (-) at its bottom. Now draw a horizontal line at the middle across the whole page. The horizontal line represents the passage of time in your life. The vertical line marks how happy or unhappy you were as time passed.

2-Place your pencil at the intersection of the two lines and, as you reflect on your life to date, draw the line of how you felt as your life unfolded.

3-After you complete the line, write in key events that correspond to the high and low points of your line. At each event, stop to think about your surroundings at the time, what you saw, what you heard, what you felt. Take time to focus on each of these senses until you are almost back in the experience. Then shake it off and relax. DON’T READ FURTHER UNTIL YOU COMPLETE THE EXERCISE

Look back at your exercise
Now review what happened. How vivid were your memories? Did they evoke sights, sounds, other sensory recollections? Did you experience different emotions? If so, how strong were the sensations and emotions?

Jot down a few sentences about, first, what you observed about your reactions during the exercise, then what you learned from it. When you’re done assess and write down your willingness to do, and to engage during, the exercise using a simple scale:

Supple/Stiff/Resistant/Rigid
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Supple: easy
Stiff: took time to begin or get into it
Resistant: very uncomfortable, hard to finish the line
Rigid: coudn’t finish the line or couldn’t even begin it

Lessons learned
There’s a lot going on inside our minds in many different ways that we may not be aware of. All of it can dominate our leadership behavior without our knowing it. And our disposition to explore this phenomenon can range from very willing to totally averse.

Next blog (NOTE: beginning bi-weekly posting, Friday, August 9th)
PACEM and the new management paradigm.

Tom is founder of Thomson-Roy Advisors, a firm providing international strategy consulting and senior leadership development. He is also a Program Director at The Mahler Company and an instructor in MBA and Executive Education programs in business schools in the US and overseas. He was an international executive with the Michelin Group for nearly thirty years, working in over forty countries while holding positions in law, finance, emerging market business development and global strategy. Tom is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Virginia Law School. Please contact him on LinkedIn or at tomroyjr@gmail.com.

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