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March 24, 2017

Be(A)ware:  An informative skill for leaders 

by Jeanine Izzo

At the time, it didn’t make much sense to me…the thought that promoting awareness was so potentially damaging to my reputation.  It was early in my project management days when I mentioned that I had a gut feeling we were going down the wrong path.  I was land-blasted (well, not land-blasted, but certainly scolded).  It happened a few times because we were running fast and my sensory observations were strong.  In my mind (and only my mind), it seemed quicker to heed these warnings and take responsive actions.  Yet, in each of these situations, I was guided to ignore my instinct.  “Focus on the facts. We need facts to make decisions…not awareness and not the feeling in your gut.”

To be clear, this guidance didn’t come from just one person (or one gender) and those providing it were successful (if not sensitive).  Although I didn’t get a suitable explanation at the time (other than the need for facts and that using that type of language would damage my credibility), it was definitely broad reaching and covered both internal and external applications.  (Internal might be a thought, a feeling or a physical sensation coming from within yourself.  External might entail noticing someones hesitation in their voice, words, body language, or their interplay with others.  This could go as far as noticing patterns, discrepancies between someones walk and talk, etc.).

The draw of facts made sense to me and I was open to the advice as I was learning more about the needs of Senior Staff.  Plus, I certainly wanted to be viewed as credible.

Tangible data helped my teams make quality products and allowed the business to make decisions, however ignoring my gut (intangible senses) has never served me well.  In fact, following advice to ignore my gut has compromised my value system and forever changed some important relationships.  In some cases, I didn’t know any better.  In others, I knew better, but the pressure cooker pushed me and I fought for the lesser of the evilistic, blame-throwing options in order to stay in favor with my management chain (and to stay employed) which in the moment seemed like the only choice.  I was thankful to be able to negotiate a lesser punitive action, yet I still knew it wasn’t right or fair…or going to help us get our work completed.

At least…at least, I learned from those experiences.  Realizing that ignoring my instincts compromised myself and potentially others and potentially the work at hand, I vowed to find ways to stand my ground more so, even through absolutely awful pressure.

In the instances above, I allowed others to override my instincts.  I’ve also shut down and ignored my own awareness.  This has happened when I really wanted the truth to not be in alignment with my internal and external cues, when I didn’t trust myself enough, when the tangible data was compelling, when I didn’t have the courage (or time) to pursue my observations and/or the discrepancies between them and the available data (remember, data is still important).

I strongly believe that as a leader, utilizing tangible and intangible information are important elements to help inform decisions, directions and solutions.  Hard skills and data can be easier to master and seem more trustworthy, yet they can fall quite short when you are working in dynamic environments where work gets done through people.

Forward Moving Tips:

  1. In the workplace, when you receive intangible information, seek tangible data to support (or negate) your instinct.  This, as I learned, will help keep your credibility in tact.
  2. To enhance your external awareness, hone your skills to both hear the tangible words and observe the accompanying intangibles…gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, interplay between people.
  3. For internal awareness, train yourself to observe what is going on within.  This could be thoughts, feelings or physical sensations.
  4. Develop the courage and skills to probe for more information.  i.e. To others, “I hear the words coming out of your mouth, yet your body language leads me to believe there is more to the story.  What might that be?”.  To yourself, something else seems to be going on here…how can I evaluate this further?
  5. In any situation, the tangible and/or intangible information may be inaccurate or incomplete.  The more you build your own knowledge of how your instincts pan out, the more you will be able to refine and trust them over time.

Perhaps, the workplace is becoming more open to awareness and the vocabulary1 that accompanies the concept.  After all, the word mindful, used to be reserved for new age practitioners and now it’s picking up steam in corporate training offerings.  As this is an evolving topic, please share your related experiences here.

1Instinct, gut, feeling, mindful, noticing, noticed, intuition, sensed, sensation, aware, attentive, perceived, detected, hunch, observed.

For assistance with developing your awareness and probing skills…Contact Viage Partners today.

© Viage Partners 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Viage Partners with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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