Why You Should See What You’ve Been Missing

goandsee Observe: to regard with attention, especially so as to see or learn something

When did you last make time to observe?

Notice I did not say analyze, examine or diagnose.

This is an important distinction.

Now consider the opening question again. What is your answer?

Better yet, why does it matter?

You have data.

You have reports.

You have intuition.

You have much to do.

Why spend time observing?

You might struggle with anything the requires you to quiet your body or mind and simply pay attention.

It doesn’t feel productive.

That’s because the act of observing isn’t shrinking your to-do list. And it’s probably not one of your performance objectives.

Maybe it should be.

To observe is to learn.

Throughout the centuries scientists, philosophers and yes, even leaders, have harnessed the power of observation to solve problems and make new discoveries.

  • When you take time to go see for yourself you discover details and make connections that would otherwise be missed.
  • You are better able to understand how work really gets done, regardless of what you think or have been told.
  • The observations you make can be confirmed with data to improve the accuracy of your conclusions and decisions.
  • Your visibility sends the message you are paying attention and you are interested in understanding how your choices affect people.
  • As you increase your understanding of the process your competence improves and your big picture view has a basis in reality.
  • By noticing how people interact in the workplace you have greater insight into how the culture is evolving.
  • Learning to quiet your mind and observe will help you gain valuable insight during difficult conversations or negotiations.

This is only a partial list of benefits.

Consider these eight steps to build the skill of observation into your leadership.

  • Schedule time for observation
    Put it on your calendar.
  • Have a plan
    What will you observe? Where? For what purpose?
  • Set your mind in neutral
    Try to see what is there not what you are looking for.
  • Let people know why you are there
    Help people understand you are there to observe, not judge.
  • Allow enough time
    Try to allow at least 1 hour if possible.
  • Don’t intervene
    When you see something you want to fix, resist the desire to act; just make a mental note.
  • Capture your thoughts
    When you return to your desk jot down your observations.
  • Apply what you learn
    Engage others to help you test your observations and take action where appropriate.

Observation should be intentional and it can also be natural. Every meeting, interaction, stroll through the office, etc. will present you with new opportunities to observe and expand your awareness. You can learn to practice observation through personal habits as well such as meditation and nature walks. When you learn to observe your world expands.

At 100 miles an hour everything is a blur. Slow down occasionally and see what you’ve been missing.


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Leadership is a Promise Kept


Leader Beware

The mantle of leadership is bound to a set of unspoken promises. These promises are born out of the paradigm followers develop about the role of “leader” and are shaped by society, personal experience and individual priorities and values. They may vary somewhat based on context or culture but the important thing to remember is that these promises are very real and always active. No amount of rationalizing or excuse-making will free us from the implications they represent.

You might call them “table stakes”.

When these promises are clarified, understood and reflected in our actions the results are trust, support and influence. When they are not…the game is over before we even begin talking about change, vision, goals, etc.

From the Perspective of the Follower

“You promise to operate with the same level of accountability that you expect from me.”
“You promise to live by the values you tell me are important to our organization.”
“You promise to tackle the issues or questions you tell me you will address and keep me informed.”
“You promise to listen to me without checking your email or taking phone calls and give attention to my ideas.”
“You promise to be consistent in how you enforce organizational standards and yet treat me as unique.”
“You promise to help me focus my time and energy on the things you said were most important.”
“You promise to keep the things we discuss in confidence, confidential.”
“You promise to give me a chance to prove myself trustworthy and then give me the freedom and resources needed to do my job.”
“You promise to let me learn from my mistakes rather than treat me as a failure.”

How Do We Know?

If we truly want to know which promises we are being held to, with or without our agreement, the best approach might be to sit down with our team and simply ask. Conversations along this line can be quite enlightening for all parties since these “promises” generally operate at a subconscious level until they are triggered by something in the environment. Another benefit is the opportunity to bring our expectations into the open so that an effective and co-created working agreement can be established.

Conflicting Promises?

I remember one particular experience from early in my career that demonstrates how these promises can appear to be in conflict depending on the context. An employee on my team routinely challenged me on whether or not I was being consistent in how I enforced the standards for work and behavior within the team. This belief was rooted in the perception that I did not follow the same approach with every person. Because I felt the need to keep my individual performance discussions confidential, (another promise), I really had no means to “prove” otherwise.

The day came when he was faced with a difficult conversation resulting from a violation of the attendance policy. Suddenly his expectations shifted from my being consistent to arguing that I should consider his unique circumstances and make an exception because, after all, it’s only fair to appreciate that “every situation is different”. Knowing his expectations of leadership enabled me to bring the conversation full circle and reach a resolution that was both fair and consistent.

Moving Forward

We are rarely going to effectively meet all the unspoken promises that come with our role as leaders but by understanding that those expectations exist and factoring them into our choices we can avoid the problems and pitfalls that distract the team from the more critical mission.

What step will you take today to make sure you are keeping your leadership promises?

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