The Shortest Distance Between Two Points May Be Your Undoing
Every day I think I experience another realization of what it looks and feels like to be a lifelong learner. Seems like for years I’d been considering “just” the head-stuff, the cognitive learning. Thousands of repetitive cycles later, I’ve come to see that the learning comes through multiple dimensions – head, heart, and will (spirit). I think about this a lot these days, especially when helping leaders like you recognize your capacity to envision and foster greater impact throughout the ecosystem where you’re engaged.
I’m inviting you to consider that your work is first and foremost inner work, which involves navigating a path to greater opening, letting go of habitual patterns, and being still long (and regularly) enough to “see” with new eyes.
Likely, the demands upon you today come hyper-charged with a sense of urgency. If you’re like me, your typical response is unconscious—not necessarily kneejerk, but familiar, usual. This linear approach usually results in your downloading your current default thinking, ideas, and opinions (aka, reacting; trying to “fix” current problems), which so often results in your achieving what later turns out to be typical and limited results.
No doubt, the demand for your leadership impact has something to do with accelerating adaptation, transformation, and growth. You’ve been asked to be a change agent; to shift your culture toward more lift, innovation, and higher performance. It’s important to remember that your team, organization, company, and community aren’t “entities,” their collections of individuals who, like you and me, default to the negative, are drawn to habit, and desire action with speed.
What’s required, then, as you consider your leadership role in fostering a positive disturbance of the status quo is to recognize your own individual “posture” and—very likely—that of your surrounding colleagues. You can either continue the linear “downloaded” approach or you can practice walking an appreciative, adaptive path.
We’re taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line (A B). However, the most adaptive leaders know that shifting culture and building cooperative capacity for lift and innovation requires your own process of “letting go,” a process of opening at three levels: mind, heart, and will.
In an earlier piece, you may have seen my reference to the three barriers you run into when trying to open and go beyond the default linear approach: 1) the barrier to opening your mind – judgement; 2) the barrier to opening your heart – cynicism; and 3) the barrier to opening your will/resolve – fear. Otto Scharmer, on whose ideas I’m drawing here, reminds you to practice and trust your implicit toolkit. When confronting the mind-opening barrier of being judgmental, employ curiosity. When recognizing the heart-opening barrier of cynicism, embrace your compassionate voice. When attempting to open your will and resolve, act with courage.
Some say that as your conscious awareness shifts and opens, your language begins to shift. As your language shifts, your behavior follows. In appreciative inquiry we learn that we move in the direction of what we attend to most closely.
So, one of the hardest leadership lessons you may have to learn is that your ability to foster change around you is directly connected to your posture for change within you.
As you continue to open at these three levels, you’re going deeper; moving to a point of greater clarity, insight and breakthrough. You’re opening to a new conscious awareness, enabling you to see with new eyes that which has always been there but has been in your blind spot. As you do, you become much more accepting that there is no separation between you and the other (the colleague, the team, the organization/business, the community). You’re moving from an “I” posture to a “we” posture.
In fact, positively disruptive leadership roles may be more about eliciting what is already here, rather than convincing people against their will or imposing a set of rules and metrics to push performance and productivity. This requires you to draw upon your own inner resources (curiosity, compassion, and courage) to address the typical barriers as they arise. If you’re not consciously aware of your own posture, you’ll tend to react from those places of judgement, cynicism, and fear. That’s why you have to be clear about your own “letting go” in order to be optimally impactful on the “letting come”/culture influence/positive disruption side of things.
Navigating this path is a way of flexing your appreciative muscles. In so doing, you expand your “relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power – to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance – to make a positive difference in the world.”