In a glass office building downtown, there’s another business meeting at the newest startup. Although the company is less than a year old — barely old enough to launch their first three apps — the employees know the drill by now.
They expect to hear about a change at the company. Those among them who have been there since inception have seen more than 12 such “revolutions” unveiled with much excitement, only to watch them peter out within weeks while the company went on much as it had before.
There was the time the company decided to embrace a more participative leadership approach. Once everyone filled in their comment cards, however, management became overwhelmed and dropped the project. Then there was the time the company set up an accountability board in the middle of the office to encourage workers to meet deadlines. That board is now gathering dust in the corner.
Sure enough, today the company founder comes in, all enthusiasm and glow, talking about the latest leadership book he’s read: “We have an important opportunity here to change our leadership. I’m implementing four changes in how we interact, and I think we’re going to see great things.” George beams as he looks around at his team, sure this latest maneuver will improve productivity, boost sales, help company morale, and all around change the strategy of the company.
George is only half right.
Leadership approach changes can have that kind of impact — but only if they’re authentic shifts. Simply trying out different leadership styles for the sake of trying every new trend can be a little like changing up your lunch menu once a week. It can be fun, but it’s not going to impact your overall health.
What is an authentic shift in leadership exactly? For an executive, it means implementing changes that align with the core purpose and vision of a company to intentionally create transitions at the fundamental levels of an organization. And, if that’s not enough, authentic shifts also create meaningful and positive change across all levels of the team.
That can look downright terrifying on a to-do list, but the good news is that authentic transitions happen naturally once you commit to them. As you start working on a few small authentic changes in your leadership approach, the ripple effect will touch all areas of your group, sparking more shifts and changes. Pretty soon, you’ll be on a whole new path of opportunity.
How can you get started? Seeking an authentic shift in leadership approaches can begin with three basic elements:
1. Observing The Flow Of Thoughts
An executive who looks at a record sales low and asks, “What can we learn from this?” will implement vastly different processes than George who looks at the same numbers and thinks, “Why did this happen? The sales department isn’t doing its job!”
The problem is that our flow of thoughts rush by quickly and we’ve become attuned to blocking most of them out. As leaders, we need to tap into this personal source of data. Capturing and noticing our thoughts and reactions is the first step.
Once we step back and allow our ideas to surface, we begin to appreciate that we are separate from our thoughts. These are stories we’re telling ourselves, and they may not be rooted in reality. Before George reacts to the latest sales figures, he needs to recognize he is not his sales numbers — or his thoughts about them.
Of course, it’s difficult not to react personally. But that’s why CEO offices have doors. Close the door, brace yourself for the news, and recognize you’re going to take it personally. When sanity returns, though, remind yourself it’s not personal. It’s just a story.
2. Consciously Choosing Our Flow Of Thoughts
Once there’s a realization that our minds are always reacting, we can get back in the driver’s seat. Once George accepts he’s worried about his leadership style, and his internal conversation is projecting all kinds of insecurities that he’s allowing free reign, he can wrestle that gremlin, take back control, and shift back from a place of reaction.
There are really two types of thoughts: intentional and automatic. Automatic thoughts are formed from assumptions, past experiences and learned behaviors. Intentional thoughts, however, put us in the role of creator. An executive engaged in intentional thought is playing an active role in formulating the kind of thinking that creates a space for action.
For instance, a CEO who observes himself thinking some employees are “wrong” can choose to start thinking, “If this employee were more effective, what would it look like?” Every time the CEO notices herself thinking the word “wrong” she can choose to get curious, precipitating the possibility of action.
3. Step Outside To Start Supporting Conversational Spaces
The first shifts any leader makes are internal. However, once there is a shift in internal dynamic, it’s important to support a parallel shift in relationships with others. Once George starts thinking he is enough as a leader and creates a new thought about putting employees first, his relationship with his team will change.
In making shifts with others, it’s important to recognize that there are two conversational spaces happening. There’s the conversation I am having inside my mind and the one you are having inside yours. Between us, we can create a conversational space where we can communicate. To do that, we have to be aware of our own thoughts and respect the internal conversations others are having — even if their ideas are dramatically different than ours. Once we create a space where both our ideas intersect, we create the possibility for true teamwork.
The actual process may feel a little stilted at first. Trying to consciously think new thoughts to replace what we truly think can feel fake or strange. It’s a matter of faking it until we make it.
How will you know when you’re in the midst of an authentic shift? Four basic things change:
Are you experiencing authentic shifts? What thoughts are running through your mind right now, potentially keeping you from making the transitions you need to make?
By Lori Darley, Founder/CEO of Conscious Leaders, LLC,
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