Case study.  Client is Director, 15+ years experience. She is smart, decisive, gets shit done… and is perceived as “demanding.” She wants to shift her leadership style from Command & Control to a Coaching approach. We discussed in a coaching session different ways she can use both language and her physical presence to shift the perception others have when she asks them to get stuff done.

Excerpt from her recent email to me:  I do think I need to read the [material on] requests and commitments again. I need time to practice and reflect!

My response: Client, can I challenge that last statement? When you seek to change the way you do something that you already do every day, then the excuse “I need time” becomes irrelevant. You’re already in these conversations!  It just requires attention to do it a bit differently. Like Breathing. Striving to breathe more deeply does not take more time, just purpose, because you are always breathing!

 Instead of thinking “I need time,” consider the question, “In what ways might I remind myself, every time, to be more intentional about HOW I am making a request?”  

Is It New or Just Different?

If you decide to run a marathon but you currently have no fitness regimen, then certainly you will have to rearrange your schedule to “find time” to begin a running practice.  But if you already visit the gym 3x/ week, you just need to shift the equipment you use and how you spend that time.

So it is with any habit shift. Ask yourself if what you seek to do is brand NEW or simply a DIFFERENT way of doing something you already do?

If the former, your challenge is to change priorities – You must start saying NO to something else in your life to create a YES for this new thing. That’s very hard.

If what you seek to do, however, is modify a behavior in which you already engage on a regular basis, your challenge is to shift Awareness. While still “hard,” you cannot legitimately claim (at least to me, if I am your coach!) that you need to find time to do it.

Some examples:

  1. Making Better Requests. You’re already asking people to perform. What small shifts will move you from giving orders (one way downloads) to making requests (two way conversation)?
  2. Making Decisions. Yes, decisions must be made. AND what if you were to take a few minutes to share context and get input from others before making decisions that impact them? Or, taking it a step farther, what if you were to share context and then invite others to make the decision? Again, not much more time, but a very different outcome!
  3. Empowering Others. Sure, you are scary smart and you can clearly see what that person needs to do differently to get better? What happens when you share your brilliant thoughts and TELL others what they “should” do? Compliance, sometimes, but no commitment. Since you’re having feedback conversations anyway, what about the tiny shift of sitting back in your chair and ASKING what they believe they can do to improve?
  4. Building Mindfulness. Mindfulness is hotHotHOT right now, because stress plummets and relationships improve for people who practice it. You wanna know a secret? Doesn’t require 30-minutes twice a day. Mindfulness is “simply” paying attention to the Now. You can have conversations mindfully. You can attend meetings mindfully. You can walk, talk, sit, stand, and breathe mindfully. Just shift awareness to notice that you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing.
  5. Changing Diet/Nutrition. Do you need to “find time” for eating? Probably not. Yet you can transform your relationship with food by being more aware of what you’re eating (is this healthy for me?), when you feel full (vs. when your plate empties), and how the food feels in your body 3-5 hours later (does my body really enjoy that food I ate?). If you listen, your body is trying to reach you.
  6. And speaking of Listening… all those conversations you’re having — are you Hearing (a biological/mechanical activity) or are you truly Listening (making story and sense of the sounds?). What if you let go of multi-tasking and spent that same energy listening on three levels — to the words, to the emotions, and to the non-verbals? Are they aligned? Do you notice inconsistencies? What is NOT being said? Listening well can actually save time by eliminating the need for future conversations that occur when everyone’s hearing but not listening.
  7. Becoming More Compassionate. A skill that feels nearly extinct in today’s toxic political discourse viewing situations from perspectives other than one’s own. When you read headlines or hear about a “crisis,” it need take no more time to ask, “I wonder what this looks like from that Others’ point of view?” You don’t have to agree; just practice awareness that every story has (at least) two perspectives, and if you’re only giving attention to one, you’re missing something.

NOTE: Human Resources professionals understand this last point more than most — they’re trained to seek out the other side of the story before taking any action. It’s also called being more objective!

Remember, Leadership is not about a title.  Anyone can be a Leader who practices awareness in all things and strives to constantly improve, even in tiny ways, every day. It need not take time to be a better leader, just attention!