These are challenging times. We live in a world that is testing us in ways that we could never have expected and few foreseen. As leaders, ensuring we have the skills, capability and experiences that aid not only ourselves, but also our people as we lead them to a new world, requires our focus. Through building our awareness, seeking information and knowing our own language we can meet this challenge with confidence, consideration and dexterity.
We all have biases. Our brains process 400 billion bits of information per second and they need to be able to sort and categorise as much as possible. So we generalise, link things together, file things away in our memories and disregard what we think is unimportant. This is a normal process for our brains to do because our biases help us to navigate the world and make sense of it all. Bias can be conscious or unconscious, negative or positive, and they affect the decisions we make on a daily basis.
But how many of us are truly aware of ourselves and how our biases impact things like decision making, our actions and how we interact with people? Self-awareness is a wonderful thing to have, yet it’s not something we are born with, and it’s challenging for us to develop. Understanding your biases can be confronting, because we all like to think that we are genuinely nice people.
We are often so busy in a world that is so demanding that we simply don’t seek adequate information about the people who work for us. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s fifth habit is to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. He says most of us tend to rush in with our advice or answers, without taking the time to truly understand what’s being said or what the problem is. When we take the time to actually be curious, we find out far more than we often expect to. Everyone has a story, and if you stop talking and start listening you find out so much.
Through active observation of what’s around us we can see more than we thought. How many people have seen an apple fall from a tree yet Isaac Newton saw the force of gravity. Or Archimedes, who was simply taking a bath, saw the theory of buoyancy. We all see different things in different places and seeing people is similar – until you ask what others see in them, you may not see that special thing.
Additionally one of the biggest issues that leads to miscommunication and missed connection is that we listen to speak, not to understand another’s point of view. In a conversation, we have about 12 to 18 seconds of listening before your brain starts to think about what you are hearing and what you plan to say next. Our internal chatter always trumps external chatter. One way to overcome this is to paraphrase what you have heard before you provide your answer. If you know you need to repeat back what you’ve heard you will listen more.
Know your language
As a leader, you must be mindful of your words, actions and behaviours to ensure that they align, are fair and considerate, and maintain the dignity of all. This comes naturally to some, but less so to others. As leaders we are always on show and we are solely responsible for the culture in our teams and organisations. What you step over you endorse, so ensuring that you do what you say you will, that you set clear expectations and always hold people accountable, you set the tone for how things are. Daily reflection techniques provide you with valuable insight into your own words actions and behaviours, and can increase your performance by up to 23%.
Author Reed Markham once said, “Self-leadership is the precursor to effectively leading others” and by increasing our leadership fitness we can ensure the safe arrival of ourselves and our people to the new world of working. In this challenging time are you up for the challenge?