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"I never know what I’m gonna say, so it just kind of emerges"

One of the most common patterns that I see holding leaders back is acting on the belief that they need to have everything figured out before... 

We do this in conversation all the time and it hinders our abilities to really listen and co-create. We are thinking about what we are going to say, or how we are going to respond, instead of being present and connecting with what the other person is saying. 

Some of this, without a doubt, is linked to our education system, and we perpetuate a culture that celebrates getting the answer right within organizations too. I've spoken with employees that have been trained to not go to their bosses with a problem unless they also have the solution. As a result they habitually waste a lot of time and energy "figuring it all out."

The drive for this sense of knowing runs counter to what we, as leaders, really need to bring to the table to guide our teams in genuinely finding solutions to the wicked problems we are facing. As leaders, the greatest gift we can give our teams is openness and trust that the answers will emerge.

In her recent interview with Krista Tippett, Sharon Salzberg observed, "I never know what I’m gonna say, so it just kind of emerges."

And this is true of all great leaders who are committed to co-creating new possibilities for positive change.

The other week I was putting my daughter to bed and she asked me to tell her a story. I've been making up stories on the spot to tell children since I was in college, so this wasn't out of the ordinary. But I happened to "not be in the right frame of mind" to be creative like that, or so I thought.

Not wanting to disappoint my daughter, I took a few deep breaths and set an intention and openness for letting the story emerge. I started without knowing what I was going to say next and continued on that way until the story was almost done.

What emerged was a story of a rabbit who was looking for their long lost friend. They (yes this rabbit's pronouns were they, theirs, them) had been searching far and wide, for a very long time without any success. Finally, after the rabbit became exhausted and hungry, they stopped to ask for help.

While eating a delicious bowl of stew with the squirrel's family, the rabbit shared why they were on this adventure. Upon hearing about the rabbit's friend, the squirrel became excited because she not only knew the rabbit's friend, she knew where he was. And so the friends were happily reunited.

The moral of the story also emerged as I told it - asking for help is a virtue and not a weakness! 

Of course, I used a lot more imagery and descriptive words when telling the story to my daughter. Slowing down and building the story by setting the scene (like that it took place a long time ago on a planet with three moons, which were my opening words) was part of how I made space for it to emerge to me in the moment.

Letting ideas and words emerge is how I approach every talk I give, workshop I lead and meeting I facilitate. It is a gift we all possess the capacity for, we just have to cultivate it. 

The first part of cultivating this gift that enables words and ideas to emerge is by doing things, like journaling, that builds the neural pathways in our brains to connect our language center with our more intuitive or less conscious parts of our mind. Neurons that fire together wire together, which is why it is important to establish the pathway. That is why I was able to take a few deep breaths to trigger my abilities to allow a story to emerge with my daughter. The neural pathways were already there!

We have all experienced those moments where we know something we can't explain. Or those times where you're in the shower and suddenly you've got a brilliant idea, but you have no clue where it came from.

We know these ideas are there but we can't force them out either, which is the second part of cultivating this gift. You have to learn to quiet your mind and let go of the incessant mental chatter. By letting go of all these thoughts pestering - "I'm not in the mode" - "I can't do this" - "I'm not good enough" - "They're going to find out I'm a fraud" - we are taking the power away from our inner critic. 

This building of neural pathways and quieting of the mind leads to a third part of mastering the art of letting ideas emerge, which is trusting yourself. One of the things I talk about frequently is learning to distinguish between the voice of your inner critic and the wisdom of your inner genius. The inner critic casts doubt, plays upon your fears and generally leads to questioning yourself and eroding your confidence (except for those instances where someone has an inner critic that creates a sense of false confidence, I am not one of those people).

We all have an inner genius that resides in our less conscious or intuitive mind. When we trust ourselves, we are open to letting the inner genius bring forth new insights. Because we trust ourselves, we don't need to know all the in's and out's to continue letting the ideas emerge because like any creative endeavor, the process is very fluid.

At the same time, we need to have some boundaries. This is the fourth part of the process of letting answers emerge. We need boundaries because it is a fluid process, water without a container would spill everywhere. For the story that emerged with my daughter that night I had some clear boundaries in mind. It needed to be whimsical, it needed to reinforce our values and there needed to be a story arc. 

So if you're thinking, that's nice but I can't do that, graciously and with compassion say, "thanks but no thanks, inner critic." And begin to rewrite that limiting story. Humans are prewired for language and communication from birth. And while it might appear to some that this comes very naturally to me, I have done tremendous work over my lifetime so far to build the neural pathways, quiet my mind, trust myself and know my boundaries so I can show up as a leader that is open to letting ideas (like this very blog post) emerge.

Would you like to practice building your neural pathways, quieting your mind and trusting yourself? Join us for the next Journal Jam on Thursday October 29th!

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