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.