As I learned from my CEO and business mentor, Annie Hyman Pratt, when a situation is easy, it is easy to show up well. It’s how you show up in the hardest moments that determines your leadership reputation.
Business is Complex
In over half a decade working within entrepreneurial businesses, the one thing I have learned is that business is complex. It is not often that there are super simple clear-cut answers to the problems we are faced with as a team.
I wish it were simple. And if it were that simple there wouldn’t be a need for business coaches or training programs like the A Plus Leader Program, of which I am proudly the Program Director. As an executive coach, I am in the fortunate position to see the inner workings of a multitude of companies. This window into other organizations has shown me that imperfection often gives birth to successful innovation and that the bumpy parts contribute greatly to our overall success. Because of this, I can have deeper compassion for myself and my own team when things don’t go according to plan. I have learned to swim in the complexity and ride out the waves.
I have also seen that what happens within organizations is a microcosm of what is happening in the world at large. The way emotions can raise when stakes are high, how it is hard to take in someone else’s perspective that seems foreign to your own, the way it is easy to feel personally slighted when your idea is not chosen…these are just a few of the challenges that happen often in business and in an even larger way in the world beyond our computer screens and outside our windows.
To anchor me, when the storms brew, I thought I’d join the popular New Year trend of picking a word for the year. A word that helps me remember my commitment to being a force for positive change in these turbulent times and helps me stabilize when the waters get stormy.
My word for 2023 is nuance. Nuance is defined as a subtle difference in shade of meaning, expression or sound. Recently, I noticed how I put focused effort into better understanding someone if we both speak different languages. It requires my full attention, and I am listening to capture the fuller meaning beyond the words. I am considering all the nuances. I am open to the fact that nuances exist, so much more so than if I am speaking with someone who speaks my same language. In truth, I noticed I make assumptions of understanding too quickly often if we speak the same language. And unfortunately, I move even quicker with my assumptions when receiving the communications of others that I come into daily contact with; be it at home, work, or in my community.
The Biggest Challenge
Active listening is not the natural default human setting. We are hard-wired to be more focused on our own survival. Which in a modern-day business setting often means that we are most focused on having the best response. That is why, we must consciously choose to be intentional and practice active listening.
What we long for is a sense of being heard and understood. Active listening, the type that listens with the intention to understand beyond the surface, is the paramount to the best collaborative thinking and problem-solving. It doesn’t matter to me if an idea I put forward doesn’t get chosen in a team meeting, but I noticed that what does matter to me is that my idea was heard, and others listened in hopes of understanding my vision. If that has occurred and it is not the right idea for the business at that point and time, no problem. I have also witnessed this being so for other business leaders.
Nuances lead us to greater understanding and therefore connection. When we listen for where we agree, we find more alignment. When we collaborate well within business, we seek out the ways our ideas build upon each other and give birth to a greater solution than any one mind would have found.
True leadership is knowing how to harness the power of the group think tank; actually, being excited that you have more than just your one brain to solve any given problem. I am so grateful to be a part of a team. And I want you to harness the joy and accomplishments that come from being on a team working together to achieve results, but please know it isn’t always easy, and that is good.
Daring to really hear and understand an idea that seems contrary to your own requires courage. Why does that other person have such a different perspective? If you listen for the nuances and choose to ask more questions of that person, often a valuable nugget is revealed. Perhaps the person’s solution is flawed, but why they are proposing the solution is because they can see a potential problem that others have missed. And now that potential problem has surfaced, and the negative impact is avoided because we work this new awareness into our overall solution. That is a big win.
Choose How You Show Up
Will you join me and look for the nuance in 2023? Listen to understand. On the surface communication can be misleading. Sometimes we are saying the same thing, or agreeing more than we might realize, but all we really hear and focus on is what we disagree with because that so strongly jumps out at us. I invite you to silence the part of you that may feel an urge to be right or make someone else wrong.
Don’t let the louder voices of the larger world, the ones that stir up our fear and keep us from really hearing one another dominate. If we do this, I believe that we can work together to turn the tide. Remember, being a human is challenging. And being in business is complex. We will face many challenges in the year ahead, but we never lose the ability to choose how we show up.
Remember, life is filled with nuance…get curious and show up. Leadership is calling!
You’ve got this!