Earlier today, I read a post by Martha Bird (@anthro_tweeter). She is a business anthropologist at ADP focused on understanding the cultural contexts of work and workplaces. In the post, she talks about the importance of “Leading with Intention and Attention”. You can read the entire post here on the MIT Sloan Management Review site.
Personally, I believe that one of the key skills that differentiate good leaders from great is their abilities to spot things that are not spoken or shown.
Over time, they have developed the uncanny ability to know when there is more to a presentation or a conversation or an email than what is visible. There is more to a “I am fine” than is being communicated.
The presence of mind to spot who hasn’t shared their perspective or thoughts in a meeting, whose voice hasn’t been heard. As I have mentioned above, this is a skill, one that we can all develop, with a bit of practice.
Here is how we can get better at this:
It all starts with our intention. We need to think about these questions and be truthful about our responses. Do we really want to “see the unseen”? Why do we want it? Does this need come from a place of love and concern for the people we serve? How much effort are we willing to put in to learn this skill?
There are varying levels of effort that we can put in place, depending upon how important we think this is.
We can create a policy (can be shared with everyone or not) – we will always end a meeting by asking an open ended question like, “whose point-of-view are we missing?” or “Who did not contribute?” or a simple “What else”.
Once we have this, we can work towards create a system (with reminders to keep us on track, when needed) – where we set up rituals around what we talk about in our meetings (1-1 or with teams).
When this system has become embedded in our conversations, we will usually find that we have ended up creating a culture that is open and one that encourages sharing of differing opinions or perspectives.
While it is important to have the intent to be open to different perspectives, it is not enough. In addition to being open and asking the questions and staying curious, we also need to pay attention to what is being said / shared.
We need to pay attention to who are contributing and who are not. We need to pay attention to what is being said and what is being left out. We do this by asking them for more.
One of my favourite way to do this is to ask them an open question like “what do you think about this or what else”, and use “the power of silence”. Again, this is still lip service, if we don’t do the rest of the steps.
Just because, as leaders, we are now intentional about including voices that were not heard or perspectives that were not seen before, doesn’t necessarily mean that people will open up. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we will start seeing the unseen. But by being persistent, we will have an opening and someone will say something or show something that was previously unsaid or unseen.
What we do then, will have the biggest impact on whether this will continue or if this will be another one of those things that leaders want to do but no one else wants. If we take action on the input or feedback or suggestion, we will promote more such sharing to happen. No action is also an action. However, if we take that route, can we explain our thinking or rationale behind that? If yes, it is good as well.
This is not about accepting and implementing all the ideas or acting on all feedback. This is about ensuring that every idea and feedback has been heard and given the due consideration that they deserve. Once we have done that, we can decide on the next course of action and this may or may not include all the ideas / suggestions or feedback that we received.
What is important is that the people felt heard and seen.
The last step in this process is our ability to reflect on what we learnt.
Is there a pattern in who speaks up first? Is there a pattern in who always requires prodding to share their ideas? Where are the most ideas implemented coming from? Who hasn’t shared their perspectives in a long time?
Whom do we need to have 1-1 conversations to get them involved as they are not able to share in the group?
Did we talk more or listen more? Did we act on our intention? Did we pay attention to ensure that all the voices were heard? Did we explain the rationale behind our decision?
This type of reflection is all about getting better at “Seeing the Unseen”. The better we get at this, the more diverse will be the perspectives that we will see emerge in our conversations. The more diverse the perspectives, the better are the chances that we are able to make creative and interesting decisions that can lead to us achieving our goals.
In conclusion, I would only want to say that the leaders who leave the biggest impact on the people and the organisations they lead, are the one’s that make their team feel at home, seen, heard and listened to. Usually, such teams are the most motivated and go on to achieve great things. I sincerely hope and wish that you are the one leading or are a part of one such team.