This post was originally written in April 2010. It is meant to illustrate the importance of self-awareness in leadership and the value of really listening to the feedback we receive, even when it contains information we’d rather not hear.
Once upon a time, there was a Boss who was very sure of himself. He was strong and competent. He had built some admirable relationships with his peers and was well liked by his customers and the community at large. But he was also puzzled.
He was puzzled because it seemed, to him anyway, that every time he walked into the same room as his employees, the place went from being lively with conversation to something that was subdued and controlled. And, when he attended meetings with his team and a question came up, they all looked at him before even attempting to address it. Similarly, when they talked about problems, the team members always looked his way before, or while, giving their opinions.
On the one hand the Boss kind of liked it. It made him feel, well, in control and more than a little powerful. But, on the other hand, he found it irritating and unproductive. Surely these people were fully capable of drawing conclusions and deciding on courses of action without waiting for his blessing all the time. Did he have to do everything? What was wrong with them?
Then one day, a Brave Soul approached him and said, “You know, you can be pretty intimidating sometimes”
The Boss looked at Brave Soul with eyes cold enough to freeze mercury.
He said, “What? What do you mean? All I did was walk into the room and sit down for heaven sakes!”
Slightly shaken but undaunted, Brave Soul went on. “Well” she said, “It’s not just that you walked into the room but how you did it”
“Okay”, he said, “Now that really is ridiculous. How could that possibly make me intimidating? I’m interested in what people have to say. I want some healthy discussion and debate about the issues we face. I need them to be fully present when we are together so that we can work together and get things done. Don’t they get that?”
Brave soul replied, “I’m pretty sure that’s what they want too but the effect your body language and behaviour has on the team makes it difficult for them to participate”
Unconvinced but intrigued now, the Boss said, “Okay then, tell me more”
“Well, when you came into the room this morning, you didn’t acknowledge anyone. You probably had a lot on your mind and so you were frowning too. You walked straight to your chair at the head of the table and sat down without looking at anyone. You looked at your watch instead. You opened your book; peered over your glasses at the assembled group and said, ‘Okay, let’s get to it. We have a lot to do and, I’ve got another meeting to go to after this’
“After that, I imagine it seemed to the team that the goal of the meeting changed from one that involved sharing ideas and making productive decisions to coming up with enough “right answers” to keep you from getting too impatient and ensuring that you got away in time to get to your next meeting”
“ But that’s not what I intended at all!” said the Boss. “I didn’t realize I could have such an effect on people. ”
Brave Soul smiled and said, “I don’t think any of us knows how we affect others unless we take some time to think about it and ask. Sometimes how we are can get in the way of things, that’s all. Just thought you should know.”
As Brave Soul walked away, the Boss began to make a mental note. He had learned something today, about himself. He didn’t like it but, if what Brave Soul had said were true, it would certainly explain the behaviour he saw and felt in others whenever he was within earshot of them.
So what could he do differently to become more aware of his impact on others without pretending to be someone other than himself? Here’s what he came up with:
I will make an effort to become aware of the clues that people are sending me when we are in each other’s company.
It seems reasonable that if people can pick up and act on clues from my body language and behaviour, I can pick up clues about how I affect them by paying better attention when we are together
When in doubt about my impact on others, I will ask someone I trust to tell me the truth.
I get that I will not always be able to see myself as others see me. So, I guess I will ask someone like Brave Soul to watch me from time to time and let me know how I’m doing.
I will be conscious of my moods and do my best to manage them in a way that does not negatively affect those around me.
I realize that when I am deep in thought, or worried about something it isn’t difficult to convey it, through my body language, to those around me. So, either I must explain myself or I must discipline myself to convey a more open posture.
Not bad for a start. What would you add to the Boss’s list?