I remember when I stepped into my first leadership role where I actually had power. All the times before that I was leading without authority. I hadn’t been in a formal position of authority before, yet I was able to influence the direction a group went in many instances in my life prior to this.
But being in a formal position, one where I had power and authority added a layer of responsibility.
“People are waiting to hear what you have to say about this.” A mentor advised me.
As a formal leader, my words carried greater weight. My position amplified my voice by shaping the way we as a team approached a problem. I could no longer sit back, and wait to see how other people responded until I chose to speak up. Yet speaking my mind; sharing my thoughts in a way that was insightful and empowering took a lot of work.
One of the most valuable skills I developed before stepping into this formal position was listening. In addition to improving my ability to listen to connect with others. I also worked hard to learn to listen within. It turned out that cultivating my ability to listen was crucial in enabling me to speak up and show-up as the leader I wanted to be.
Within a manner of hours of stepping into my new found position of power, I was faced with guiding the team through a heated conflict. Emotions were running high. The situation was complicated. And the way I responded was going to set the tone.
By listening to other's, I was able to respond in a way that honored the various voices in the room. I not only showed everyone that I was hearing what they were saying, I also demonstrated that I cared.
By listening within, in that moment, I openly shared that I did not have the answer to resolve this conflict but that I was committed to finding a way forward. And in my heart, I knew that the way forward was for me to spend more time listening to the voices of concern that had been brought forward. I also knew, that there was a lot of common ground which we could build upon.
So, I communicated all of this to the team and in doing so I was saying - I acknowledge you, I value you, I am committed to working with you and here's how we are going to move forward.
The only reason I was able to maintain my composure and speak in a tone that reassured the team and built their trust in me as their leader was because I was listening within.
In the moment, when the conflict was coming to a head, I was freaking out inside.
I was blindsided by this conflict. I had no idea that tensions were brewing as my predecessor was quite disengaged and therefor oblivious as well. In my thinking mind, I was saying every expletive out there as I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. I knew I was stepping into a messy situation, but what I thought was just a little puddle quickly turned into a mudslide.
But I didn't listen to the voice in my head that was freaking out because I knew better. That small yet loud voice was filled with fear and annoyance and was completely counterproductive. It was my inner critic and I had become skilled at spotting it long before this moment.
Instead of listening to my inner critic, I dug deeper to ask for guidance from my inner genius. Listening to my inner genius is tricky because it doesn't use words that permeate my thinking mind like my inner critic does. My inner genius offers guidance through a calm knowing that comes from inviting stillness and allowing insight to rise within me.
If I had listened to my inner critic in that critical moment I would have said something like, "I don't know what the heck to do. This is ridiculous. You're all ridiculous. I can't believe I accepted this position. This is a huge pain in my ass. Can't you all just drop it and get along. I mean come on, you do know that we have bigger problems to deal with than this stupid disagreement."
Invariably, saying what I was thinking verbatim would have driven us apart as a team. We have all experienced the troubles caused by leaders who react harshly in the heat of the moment instead of responding with integrity. They instill fear, drive wedges and devalue their team to a point of ineffectiveness.
Whether you're in a formal position of power or are leading without authority, learning to listen is an essential skills to develop. This is a skill that must be cultivated with intention and continuous practice. That way, the neural pathways are there, ready to be utilized when you are in the heat of the moment.
Cultivating one's ability to listen starts with finding stillness. Calming your mind, quieting your conscious thinking brain and letting go of the needs of your ego. As a result you're able to listen to connect with others. The stillness also allows a voice from deeper within you to rise, you're connecting with your inner genius. Those times you experience an insight or have an idea and wonder where it came from, that's your inner genius speaking.
When I experience this, it’s as though I am tapping into a wisdom beyond me. My sense of self and my ego are eclipsed by this bigger thing of which I am a part. It is both freeing and reassuring. As a leader I have to speak up, but I don't need to have all the answers and unlike my ego or inner critic, my inner genius is comfortable with that fact.
So, how does one develop their listening skills?
Journaling is a great tool for cultivating one's ability to listen, both within and to others. It is a practice that enables you to invite stillness, deepen awareness of your thoughts and distinguish between the voice of your inner critic and the wisdom of your inner genius.
Would you like to learn how to listen to your inner genius? Save the date for the next Journal Jam on Wednesday 8/26 at 10:30am MST and cultivate your listening skills in order to effectively navigate complicated situations.