leadership advice: why “experiencing” is better than “showing”
As leaders, we are often in teaching mode – communicating our vision, letting others learn from our experience, and correcting and adjusting our course to accommodate the winds of change. But there are times when it’s best to sit back and let others experience the situation rather than be led through it, in other words, to lead from behind.
This was one of the hardest lesson for me to learn. Maybe it’s the mom in me. I was forever in “teaching” mode and it became very easy to carry this through to my managerial style. But there are many things better learned firsthand, by really feeling it. Here’s a few I’d like to share.
Not everybody wins
Learning to lose graciously – now there’s a good life lesson! You gave it your all, it was darn good stuff, you pitched it flawlessly and they went with somebody else. Having spent many years as a creative director in advertising, I can tell you, this scenario plays out all the time. But for every winning team, there is at least one losing team. You can’t lose sleep over it. After a defeat, the faster you can get your team to “acceptance” the better off you’ll all be. At your “post-mortem meeting,” do a thorough review of what worked and didn’t. Get everything out in the open, including time to vent. I encouraged everyone to keep a file drawer with “great work that didn’t sell.” You never know if it may find life in some other variation somewhere down the road. It also helps us remember that doing great work still matters, whether it wins the day or not. Just keep doing great work, and the rest will take care of itself.
In the book, The Zen Leader, by Ginny Whitelaw, she talks a lot about this letting go and not taking things personally in the “flip” From It’s All About Me to I’m All About It. If we peel back the layers of frustration when our work doesn’t have the desired outcome, we’ll usually find a fear underneath about not being good enough, secure enough, appreciated enough or something enough. When we quit “requiring” that our work somehow lead to personal sucess or admiration, we can put it out there more clearly, more cleanly in service of others. “When we are that leader who is “all about it,” “it” manifests more completely through us in the Now, without the footprints of self-doubt or self-glorification,” states Ginny.
Take me there with you
I’ve seen hundreds of pitches with all the best visual aids you can imagine, but those pitches generally didn’t work when people just told or showed me their solution without letting me experience it or arrive there with them. Sometimes I’d find myself thinking, “I know this is your baby and you’ve been living with it for weeks now, but I’m seeing it for the first time, so don’t just spring it on me and expect me to be as enthusiastic as you are.” If you want others to be enthusiastic about your idea, put yourself in their “beginner minds,” and take them on a journey to experience that enthusiasm for themselves. This is a “flip” from “show” (or tell) to “experience,” from thinking from your own perspective using empathy to craft a story. Set the stage with a protagonist – maybe you or a client or customer – and the key issue or challenge that must be overcome. You might share your thought process, or the other things you thought of and rejected, and the “aha” moment when suddenly something clicked. As you tell your story, it gives a chance for others to experience what you experienced, to feel the passion you feel, and for your passion to show as well. Become a storyteller when making your presentation and you’ll have more winners than losers.
Actively engage me
I was fortunate to attend a leadership program at The Institute For Zen Leadership that took this lesson to heart. During the course of this 3-day workshop, our group was physically involved at every step – from the quietness of sitting to active movement in the 4 energy patterns, where we immersed ourselves the experience of each pattern from inside out. Now, maybe it’s not practical to get people on their feet during a meeting, but there are plenty of ways to actively engage an audience. I always encouraged groups to interject any thoughts/comments when I was presenting. Some might view this as an interruption, but I never did. Getting conversations going during your presentation does two things: 1) it allows you to become the listener, giving you good feedback that you may be able to use/refer back to later in the presentation. 2) it begins to create ownership with the people you are presenting to. Some of my best presentations were when this happened and it forced me to “go off script.” I remember one in particular, where by the end of the meeting, the whole room was engaged in conversations on how they were going to roll this out internally. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What this all boils down to is that people want to feel an emotional attachment to you, your ideas, and your company. This can’t be done if you’re in coping mode, which defends or distances itself. This is probably why From Coping To Transforming is the very first chapter and flip in The Zen Leader, as it’s the starting point of real leadership. “This is one empowering flip,” states Ginny. “It reframes everything from a focus on the self-having-a-problem to the creative agent who learns from what’s going on and often changes the game…it get’s your engergy going in the right direction, which is from the inside out – adding the best value you have to offer.” I’ve included a link to that chapter above. Give it a read. It may change the way you think about transformative power that unfolds rather than pushes.