Keep looking for those ah-ha moments

Updated: Mar 2

One of the things I love about what I do is that I learn so much about myself as a leader and a person every time I host a peer-to-peer coaching forum – even now at this stage of my career!

A recent forum shone a light on not one but two aspects of my career: one for each ‘half’ – the half as a manager and the half as a coach.

I’ll come to those personal lessons later on, but here’s the scenario that led to those ‘ah-ha’ moments.

Leadership growth is a journey

A participant explained how, over the past few years, he has worked towards a vision which revolved around developing a more empowered culture and has experimented with developing his key team to take more responsibility by making decisions they would previously have left to him.

He practiced the skills of asking questions, doing more listening and encouraging others to trust their own judgement. He developed his awareness and patience to let go more control at meetings and allow the team to take more ownership of the decision-making process.

Overall, he was very happy with the way his managers responded to being given more authority and responsibility for decision making. They were more motivated, and he was enjoying feeling less pressure and stress.

Clearing the fog of assumptions

Recently he had begun to notice that the more he slowed down and discussed different projects, either with individual team members or at team meetings, the more smoothly the work got done. There was less of a need for people to come back to him between the original discussion and project completion.

He said it took a while for the penny to drop as to why this was happening and what he was doing specifically that made the difference. His ah-ha moment came when he realised that slowing down, asking more in-depth questions and having more discussion at the outset led to greater clarity between him and his managers. This involved both parties being more specific about what the final outcome of a particular project would look like. For important projects, they would agree when it would be delivered, what resources were required and other details both parties thought relevant. He likened this to ‘clearing the fog of assumptions’ in his mind as well as in the mind of the person who had ultimate responsibility for delivering the outcome.

Another ah-ha moment came when he realised what had held him back from doing this in the past. He had assumed that delving deeper into discussions might mean he was going back to his old ways of taking control of everything.

The more he became aware of the benefits of gaining greater clarity at the beginning of each project, the more he is practicing this approach and as a result the more free time both he and his individual team members have.

So, what was it about his experience that resonated with me?

Well, I had considered my ability or propensity to make quick decisions – to be decisive, as I saw it – to be a strength, but after hearing from this man about the benefits of taking time to delve into the detail, I now see that it can be a weakness. When I look back on it now, there were definitely times when slowing down and thinking things through or getting more information would have yielded much better results.

The hit and miss fallacy

Then there was his revelation about what exactly it was about his approach to project meetings that was having these great results – having more time, everyone feeling less stressed and his team members taking more responsibility. When I started out on my own coaching and facilitating journey, there were times when I would be on a high after leaving a client because of his or her positive reaction to a session. On these occasions, I went away thinking I had ‘cracked the code’ only to be brought back down to earth at a subsequent session where I might have got a lukewarm response or, worse, did not get a repeat booking. It took me a while to realise that in the ‘successful’ sessions, I had not figured what I was doing right and vice versa.

The power of relaxed and non-judgemental reflection

After much agonising and spending plenty of time reflecting did I have my own ah-ha moment. This only happened when I figured out what I was doing right. From that point on, I started to get more positive reactions from my sessions. The more I repeated this approach, the higher my success rate became. It also took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t just particular actions that achieved success but also my state of mind and attitude towards the client.

Never stop learning

My final reflection today is encapsulated in a story about Renoir the painter. On his death bed at 84 years of age, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Lord, what a pity, I was just getting the hang of it!’

So now it’s your turn. Do you know what exactly it is that you do that brings you success or makes you a better leader?

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