Leadership Series: Is All Action Created Equally?
In the introductory blog on leadership, I made the statement that we are always leading in one capacity or another whether that is in our work, relationships, or even the stories we tell.
Leaders are expected to perceive what needs to be done, make a judgment call on the action to be taken, and behave accordingly. Most leaders operate on a continuum with unconscious reactive behavior on one end and inspired action with self-awareness on the other. For us to evolve, we need to investigate how we respond to the call of leadership.
External circumstances present the need and therefore give us the opportunity to act. In business, we may have a new competitor, a key employee leaving, or a recessionary economy. Personally, a relationship may dissolve, a conflict with a colleague may ensue, or family dynamics change. We are interacting and engaging in the business of life constantly. We know that there are times when we just need to act and be decisive. Leaders are not only expected to act, but they are paid to act.
However, questions arise: Is all action created equally? Do we react from our blind spots or respond from an expanded self?
Blind spots -- we all have them. How dangerous they can be, especially because we are not aware of them. Just think about driving down the road immersed in your own thoughts and you decide to change lanes without checking your blind spot. That’s possible disaster waiting to happen. And, not only do our own blind spots effect our judgment, but also those of others. On the back of 18-wheelers you are warned to keep clear of the driver’s blind spot. How often do we heed warnings in life?
In the mid 1990’s, the term emotional intelligence was developed to describe our ability to identify and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. It soon became a popular new term in business circles even though there was not a prescriptive way to obtain it or even describe it. While it was a nebulous term when introduced, there are many today who advocate that emotional intelligence is revered as being more important than IQ.
Being emotional is part of our human experience. However, many of us were conditioned early on to not show emotion. While emotions were discouraged from being displayed, even more importantly they were not supported in being understood. They were and still are always operating within us. When our emotions are not understood, they cause us to react from our blind spots.
Let’s look at some blind spots and how we operate from them. As we travel through our day, a situation arises that we perceive to be a problem. We make a judgment that we need to have an answer, appear smart, and look like we have our you-know-what together. What emotions lie behind the judgment? Could we be experiencing disappointment, frustration, stress, helplessness, being overwhelmed, or feeling inferior? Whatever emotions we are experiencing can lead to reactive behavior.
One of the skills needed to have emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Self-awareness is the gateway to being the leader who allows their soul to guide their actions. So how do we cultivate self-awareness and allow our emotions to be our teachers? First, recognize and name the emotion(s) being engaged. Do not be triggered into defaulting to the inner critic. Leave space and time for wisdom and intuition to come forward. Not only does that give us permission to choose a higher thought, it allows us to take inspired action. Power has not been transferred to the problem but remains with the choice of how to respond, resulting in solution.
Reactive behavior then is a product of an emotional reaction based on a judgment we have been conditioned to believe. While inspired action is based on self-awareness.
External Circumstance + Perceived problem + Conditioned Judgment + Emotional Reaction = Reactive Behavior
External Circumstance + Self-Awareness = Inspired Action
Leadership is about self. The question is what self-lens are we looking through: the one that contains our blind spots or the one that increases our vision in all directions? When it is about our expanded self, it naturally extends to others creating conditions of collaboration, connection, creativity, and community. All action, even when we forget and react unconsciously, provides us the opportunity for self-reflection and therefore the potential to increase our self-awareness.