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Leadership and the Value of Insight

I've spent a lot of time over the years in the leadership development space - as a learner, facilitator, coach, avid reader and observer. 

One of the things I've learned along the way is that much of the literature and research in this area is focused on seeking answers to questions such as "What is it that constructive leaders DO?", and "How do great leaders BEHAVE?". Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the emerging and current leaders who reach out to us for support are also primarily focused on what they can DO/what ACTIONS they can take to drive better results (because, after all, that's what leaders do isn't it? They take action!?).

Increasingly however, I've come to realise that this often urgent push toward action, while admirable, is in many cases premature (akin to the putting the cart before the horse, as the old expression goes).

I've become an avid believer in the value of INSIGHT as a precursor to action. If as leaders we don't take the time to first gather and reflect upon reliable information - to truly understand who we ARE, the IMPACT we're having on others and who we want to BE as leaders - our headlong sprint towards action will in many cases be doomed to failure, at least in the longer term.

While what we DO as leaders is of course important, it is to a large extent what we THINK, who we ARE, and who we make a conscious effort to try to BECOME, that will determine our long term effectiveness as leaders. Sure, we can all fake jt for a while, and ACT in ways that may project us as constructive leaders, but truth consistently wins out in the end. 

Constructive leadership demands that we first be constructive people. We need to THINK constructively before we can reliably ACT constructively. 

As I write this, I'm reminded of an equation that I came across many years ago when I was completing the process to become an accredited practitioner in the Human-Synergistics methodology, which supports much of our development work with clients. The equation is: 

S+T=R, or
STIMULUS plus THINKING equals RESPONSE.

The equation neatly summarises and reinforces the notion that what we do/how we act (our RESPONSE) is the result of the STIMULUS to which we are exposed, combined with our THINKING in relation to that response.

In the vast majority of cases as we go about our complicated, all-too-busy lives, we can't completely control the STIMULUS we are exposed to (we hear things, we see things, "stuff" just happens, people react in ways we don't expect, and others tell or at least infer or suggest to us what we should be thinking/feeling/doing etc…). 

What we CAN gain insight into and control however, is our THINKING in relation to that stimulus. And, for better or worse, that thinking will facilitate our response.

Let's look at a practical example of the equation in action:

  • Stimulus - you've got an upcoming meeting with the CEO at which your performance is to be reviewed
  • Thinking – you think of it as a negative event within which mistakes are emphasised
  • Response – you enter the meeting in an anxious state of mind, you become defensive and become reluctant to input to the discussion

In the above example, seeing the event as a potentially positive experience could well change things: it could instead be seen as an opportunity to work with the CEO to give and receive feedback, identify needs and plan to further develop your skills and experience.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

by Viktor Frankl in ​Man's Search for Meaning

There's no doubt though, that controlling our thinking can be a challenge, and many of us are quite simply out of practice. We've been primed, especially as leaders, to "be busy", "be decisive", "take action". It takes insight, discipline and practice to think (and subsequently respond) in ways that are helpful to ourselves and others. 

So, please, pause…take a moment…and reflect….

• How healthy/constructive is your thinking at the moment?
• Is your current way of thinking helping or hindering you, personally and professionally?
• What personal and professional experiences might have played a role in determining your primary ways of thinking?
• What impact is your thinking having? On yourself, your team, the broader organisation/business, your family?
• Do you need to change elements of your thinking in order to achieve better results?

If you're keen to explore this further, give Greg a call to discuss opportunities to gain insight into your predominant thinking styles, enhance your constructive thinking and therein improve your personal effectiveness.

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