I have spent the summer break writing my MEdLeadership dissertation on the relationship between emotional intelligence and effective change leadership. One strand that is clear throughout all of my research is that in order to lead others effectively, you first need to understand yourself.
By understanding yourself I don't mean at an outward level, of whether you are can 'get stuff done' or stick to a budget etc, but at a deeper level - your values, beliefs, motivations and internal 'stories'.
One of the key foundations of Neuro-Linguistic Programming - a study in learning the language of your mind is the Communication Model. To explain... an external event occurs, we delete, distort or generalise this event through our many filters; past experiences, our values and beliefs, the language used, the time and space in which it occurred or the meta-programmes we have constructed to make sense of and operate our lives. We then make an internal representation of that event based on our internal meaning-making. This in turn can change our state, and subsequently our physiology and behaviour.
Let me contextualise this for you...
In a meeting Jo made a comment that the reporting format was cumbersome and repeated itself a lot. Sarah had spent a considerable amount of time creating the format, and became upset by this, pulling her help from any further template design in the future. In a nano-second she had heard a comment and reacted to it by becoming angry, hurt and defensive. In conversing with Sarah afterwards, she recognised that she had created the template with little consultation or feedback from the team. The comment from Jo hit a raw nerve for her because she had been trying so hard to please others and to be seen to be doing a good job, she thought she was a failure; useless and unworthy.
This type of interaction is prevalent in many work environments. What goes on inside people's heads is not questioned, nor is it controlled or communicated. Part of understanding ourselves as leaders is to understand our filters - to deeply question why we behave in the way we do and to form strategies that will act as a pattern-interrupt when we find ourselves making assumptions, or jumping to conclusions. This in turn will give us greater emotional agility.
W. Ross Ashby’s (1968) research on systems theory founded the “law of requisite variety”. Within the context of human interactions, it means that the person with the most emotional agility in a group or system will have the most influence. They are able to choose their behaviour, whilst others may not, hence giving them the ability to respond to any situation in a variety of ways in order to get the desired outcome. In order to work towards this, we need to learn strategies. A couple of strategies I use include:
- Breathe!! Create space around the comment or interaction by taking a couple of deep belly breaths. In doing so I am calming my central nervous system, so I am able to relax the emotions and thoughts running through me and think a little more rationally.
- Paraphrasing - check the message you receive by paraphrasing it back to the person who stated it. eg "Ok, so you're saying the reporting format was quite repetitive and felt cumbersome to you".
- Use the phrase "Help me understand..." This is not the time for defensive behaviour, instead seek to understand what the exact areas of concern were. There is a biblical phrase that says "Seek first to understand, then to be understood"... this is the time to do this!
So, as you head into 2018, create the space to notice - to notice your behaviours and internal scripts, then gradually begin to question them, to shine a light on them and question "Why?" you behave or think in that way. Like mining for gold, keep asking yourself "Why?" until you have reached a response that is related to a core belief or value. This is the level at which you can begin to re-imagine other ways of being. Sometimes a coach is a great person to support you with this journey as they can also provide strategies that will work specifically for you.
So, this week... just begin noticing. Journal what you notice and be gentle on yourself.