As a coach and advisor to CEOs, senior leaders and talented emerging managers, one of the most valuable things I bring is stories from the field.
Coaching is focused on understanding the client, helping to unlock perceived and actual obstructions and creating a relationship through which insight and action naturally occur. Coaching is also about the stories and lessons gathered from working in rooms where these revelations happen regularly and offering them to clients as a framework for their own process of discovery.
Following are the five top ideas and concepts I have found myself sharing frequently over the past year and which clients have cited as the most valuable to their work and personal lives.
“Get me in your movie.”
Years back, I worked with a brilliant leader who is now the CEO of a major media company. What contributed to his intelligence was his belief that we learn best from great examples of what works. We learn through the stories of those who experience something firsthand. Real stories, recollections, have an unvarnished transparency. They tend to be chock full of great examples of how to do or not do something, as seen through the success or failure of the storyteller. Real stories not only resonate with information, they are also often experienced as credible.
Ask for real stories, and share your own with your listeners.
Consider who is on your personal board.
We are guided by the voices in our heads, often reacting in ways that are informed by lifelong experiences and mantras. We benefit when we take the time to think about who and what really guides us.
A client recently shared an exercise she was asked to do as part of a transition workshop she had attended. She was asked to think about the people who made up her personal “board of directors,” those whose voices regularly showed up in her head to guide her in her decision making. On her imagined board were people from her childhood and her life whose influence had been profound. The exercise was an eye opener, prompting her to re-imagine and build in real-time the board of advisors she needs for now.
Change is like a bell-curve: You can’t shortcut the journey.
Most decision makers go through a process of thinking through change before moving on it. They start off by recognizing the urgency, consulting experts, advisors and perhaps considering lessons learned from predecessors and peers. Somewhere around the midpoint of the process, decision makers devise a game-plan for how to roll this out. In the end, they pull the trigger.
The problem? Having spent a week, a month, a year, fine-tuning their ideas, they launch when they’ve decided it can work. They expect their teams and cohorts who have not been brought into the process to buy in. As a leader, consider the importance of sharing a story that narrates the journey that got you to say “Let’s go!” Be patient and tell the narrative often. Listen for good questions and value outliers’ opinions. By doing so, you create an accelerated way of bringing your team along from ideation to execution, significantly increasing the likelihood of success.
Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.
It is a familiar refrain: “I don’t want anyone to know what I don’t know.” Many senior executives fear imposter syndrome, being discovered to be not as smart as they would like to be. And so, they pretend to know the answers, while the technology, ecosystem or nuances of their industry change (often outside of their line of vision).
How do you stay on top of this? Regularly seek ways to understand things from the perspective of those who have direct experience with it. Invite people to make you smarter, help you visualize something, offer a deeper explanation. The fastest way of not knowing something is by pretending to know it. The opportunity to get smarter is always with us, way after we get our degrees and enter the work world.
There’s always room for repair.
Mistakes are usually not indelible. Maybe you wish you had expressed something differently or maybe you second-guessed something you’ve done and wish there was a re-do button. The act of repair is a powerful thing. Returning to a conversation, revisiting a moment in time and course correcting not only allows you to put something back on track, it is also a sign of emotional intelligence and personal strength. It’s OK to say “I’ve reconsidered,” “On second thought,” or even, “I’m sorry, I regret that.” Try it out on friends and family first, then bring it to your professional life. Imagine always having the prerogative to make things right.
Wishing you a year of growth and reflection. May you grow wiser every day.
By Karyn Gallant
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