How aware are you?

Let me ask you a simple question. How aware are you of what’s going on?

I mean, how really aware? What can you feel right now? What can you smell? Is it hot or cold? Can you recount everything that happened in the last five minutes? The people that went past you, the noises or changes in atmosphere? If I asked you where you were, how quickly would you be able to describe it?

Many of us will recognise the experience, whilst driving, of suddenly becoming aware of where we are and conscious that we cannot remember how we got there. Our hands are on the wheel, the road is in front of us, we are operating in the necessary way to perform the task at hand. But we aren’t present, we’re just following the flow.

Our workplaces are full of people doing the same, perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself? Performing task but without being truly in the moment, getting the job done but without really understanding how or why. Getting from a to b, or 9 to 5. And when someone asks you what you’ve been up to, you have to pause and think.

When we talk about performance, it starts with consciousness.  Consciousness raises us beyond the completion of activity into contribution and delivery. It expands us beyond the immediate circumstances and unearths previously unseen opportunities. It unlocks in us the ability to connect on multiple levels and in multiple ways, even with the most seemingly mundane of task.

In turn, when we open ourselves to the possibilities that exist in people, in our organisations and in life, when we can experience our situation with simple curiosity and avoid the obfuscation of life’s unnecessary complexity. When we can find clarity and focus when we can process the multiple conflicting views and points of view. When we can see, hear, feel and allow our heart and head to inform us.

If we can do this then we can truly lead, ourselves, our teams and our organisations, not just follow the tracks.  And we can allow ourselves to enjoy the “right here, right now”, taking pleasure in the journey and not just the goal.

Unpopular decisions can be right

Leadership isn’t a democratic art and frankly, nor should it be. There is a significant difference between listening, taking account of different opinions and decision by committee. Good leaders know when and how to differentiate between the two.

At the heart of this is my preferred definition of “to lead”, setting an example for others to follow. So much has been written about leadership and the art of listening that it is easy to forget that one of the core facets is acting first, being the one that others look to follow.

That’s why we in our organisational structures we often recognise leaders differently, whether that is in monetary reward or otherwise. The weight and responsibility of true leadership should fall heavy and with that comes the need to understand a multitude of data sets and views, but to be the one  to choose, to act, to decide…to lead.

In doing this we have to recognise that sometimes the choices and decisions we make will be unpopular. Our job is to embrace and not shy away from this fact, but to seek to explain and persuade those that we lead to follow us on this path. Our responsibility is to be the ones brave enough to step out of the line and plot a different path.

 

 

Start somewhere

Here’s a bet…

I reckon I could ask anyone in your workplace, or mine, to name one thing that would improve their work or working lives and they’d be able to tell me within an hour maximum.

And of course, if I asked you the same question, you’d be able to tell me too.

Yet we all sit on all of these ideas every day, because;

  • we don’t have permission
  • it’s complicated
  • we don’t have the time
  • they wouldn’t like it

All of those good ideas going to waste and instead we do a whole series of things that we don’t understand the purpose of, can’t define the value of, do because we’ve always done. We knowingly reduce our potential value.

As leaders our fundamental responsibility is to help teams to deliver the value that they hold, to allow them to contribute to the best of their ability and to fulfil their potential. To do this, we need to remove those things that prevent and get in the way.

Whilst changing cultures and refocusing teams isn’t easy, it is the reason we exist and the duty we have. We should ask ourselves, what other better purpose we could serve? Every transformation had a first step, everyone needs to start somewhere.

 

The power of silence

I’m going to make a sweeping statement based on nothing but experience and belief;

Too many leaders spend far too much time talking.

I’m not just extolling the virtues of listening and asking questions, I’m also talking about the ability to be able to hold silence and say nothing. Let me ask you, how many times have you been in a meeting where the most senior person has spent the largest amount of time speaking? And if you’re a leader, how many times have you come out of a meeting feeling like all you’ve done is tell people what to do?

What if you said absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Rien.

When we talk about empowerment and building sustainable, resilient teams it strikes me one of the first steps is to hold back the amount we needlessly contribute and focus more on adding value where it is asked for and needed.

The next time you’re in that situation, ask yourself:

  • Has someone specifically asked for my view?
  • Do I have information that I know will help people move forward?
  • Do I have experience that I know no-one else in the room has?
  • Would something dangerous/illegal/costly happen if I didn’t speak?
  • Am I offering something that I don’t mind being ignored?

If the answer isn’t yes to one of these, you might want to check yourself and listen to the conversation before deciding to step in.