Questions for Conscious Leaders

Posted 06.19.2009

Questions1 My goal this Friday morning is to leave you with some food for thought over the next few days.  This has been a week when I’ve had the opportunity to coach leaders in a number of different situations and settings.  I’ve been impressed and humbled in each instance by the conscious nature of leadership that I’ve seen.  My main contribution has been to frame up some questions and create some space for the leaders to observe themselves and determine what their next moves should be.  I thought I’d share some of those questions with you today.

On Monday night, I had dinner with a senior management team that has recently concluded that they need to do more to regulate the pressure on the leaders in their organization.  We built the conversation around one of my all time favorite articles, “The Work of Leadership,” by Ron Heifetz and Donald Laurie.  (Yes, I mentioned this article a few days ago in my post on LeBron, Kobe and Phil Jackson.)  In a relaxed dinner, the senior leaders talked through three questions with each other:

  • In regulating the pressure, what do we push for?  When and where should we back off?
  • Where are we in the balance between support and control?  What do we need to be doing more of and less of on that front?
  • What are we doing to build and nurture confidence in the broader leadership team?   What are we doing that breaks down confidence?

It was impressive to watch these folks really tune into what’s going on with themselves and their organizations.  They were honest with themselves and each other and, with great ease, came up with some insights that they had not stopped to consider before. They gave themselves the space to get up on the balcony and pay attention to what’s going on and what’s needed from them.

On Tuesday, I spent the day with a group of high potential leaders from a defense technology company who are participating in our group coaching program, Next Level Leadership™.  This was the second of five sessions that we’ll have over seven months and the broad topic was the Personal Presence component of executive presence.  One of the frameworks that I usually introduce in session two is Tim Gallwey’s brilliant equation:

P = p- i

P stands for performance, p stands for potential and i stands for interference.  In other words, the only thing standing in the way of you performing at your full potential is whatever interference you create for yourself in your mind.  (As it happens, the Wall Street Journal ran a great article on the impact of one’s inner critic this week.)  As we often do in group coaching, I asked the group members to pair up and coach other around some simple questions like:

  • What words describe your most common versions of interference?
  • When do you notice the interference?
  • What happens when it becomes too loud?

When we did the debrief, I was so impressed by how articulate everyone was in describing their interference scripts.   What was also cool was how much power some folks were seeing in recognizing and articulating that interference.  When you’re conscious of it, you can make choices about how to focus on the potential rather than the interference.

On Wednesday, I spent a couple of hours as a speaker in an orientation program for about 50 new executive level leaders for a global energy products and services provider. Through our work with our Next Level 360 instrument, I’ve learned that the number one opportunity for rising leaders is to pace themselves enough to leave space for thinking about what they’re trying to do and how they need to do it. This point seemed to resonate with these new execs.  

Everyone immediately engaged with each other in pairs around these two questions. For any given event coming up on my calendar next week:

  • What’s the outcome I’m trying to create?
  • How do I need to show up to make that outcome likely?

There was so much energy in the room around those questions that I had a hard time bringing everyone back when it was time to do a debrief.   When you’re a new executive you find yourself doing a lot of things that you’ve never done before.  That can be a confidence killer.  By asking yourself those two questions about the desired outcome and how you need to show up you can develop a level of consciousness that will build your confidence.  What can be even better than asking those questions of yourself is to do what the folks did on Wednesday and pair up with a colleague where you each spend five minutes asking those two questions of each other to help your peer get up on the balcony an visualize what success will look like and how they need to show up to make that likely.

So, here are a couple of questions for you.  First, which of these questions or stories hit home the most with you?  Second, what questions have you been asking yourself lately?