Three Philosophies That Shaped Me
A peek inside my mind
I love a good behind-the-scenes look at someone’s life. I want to see the unvarnished side of them and how they look at the world. I thought I’d give you another glimpse of the worldviews that guided me as a COO and now as a leadership coach.
All you have to be is you
Sometimes words grab me immediately, holding me in their grasp for a long embrace. The phrase came from a 90s perfume ad of all things. I dislike the mental sleight-of-hand in most advertising. This maxim might be trite and a little bit naive. Still, it remains burnished in my memory. Whenever I'm lured to conform or compare this phrase reminds me to follow my own path. To be willing to stand out, even if it’s not the mainstream way. It reminds me that there’s value in diversity.
Early in my career, I felt tremendous pressure to look a certain way, act in unnatural ways. I did whatever it took, no matter how inauthentic to stay employed. There were practical reasons for this behavior. After several layoffs, I realized trying to fit into some idealized version of being the perfect professional wasn’t working. I dropped the act and started embracing my natural tendencies. I focused on finding those who understood and valued me. It didn’t solve all my career dilemmas but it did help me be a more authentic leader rather than adopt a fake persona. I still work hard to have a flourishing career but without the stress of trying to be something I’m not.
When I work with leaders the focus is on helping them be the best version of themselves rather than what an idealized version of a leader should look like. This philosophy guides my work as a leadership consultant. It shaped the Leadership Archetypes framework and informs the work I do with leadership teams.
p.s. I’m wary of embracing this philosophy without restraint. “I’m just being myself” should never be a justification for poor behavior. Be yourself but be mindful of your impact on others. Self-awareness is key.
Seek to understand, then to be understood
There’s a day from my teens I’ll never forget. I stood at my parent's kitchen table arguing with my sister. The air was thick with emotions. She was expressing a strong opinion, I held the opposite view. The stronger she insisted hers was right, the more I resisted, the less I listened. Our conversation spun round and round like a top that doesn’t stop.
I’ve seen this pattern repeat over and over again. In my own conversations and while observing others. We prepare our rebuttal while the other person speaks. We don’t hear them. We only hear the voice in our head. We’re so hurt, so convinced that we are right. We get stuck trying to be understood. We shut down new information, going back over the same loop in our head again and again. The conversation stagnates, eventually, it accelerates until intractable conflict sets in.
In my conversation with my sister, I finally stopped arguing my point. I just listened. I set aside my concerns, trying to understand her point of view. The conversation temperature lowered enough for us to agree to disagree. The relationship remained intact. It was a big a-ha moment. Trying to be understood gets in the way of relationship building, especially when emotions are elevated.
Adopting the ethos of first seeking to understand was helpful as a leader. Others tended to feel understood by me, even if we didn’t always agree on an outcome. Leaders often have more power than others in the conversation. Pausing on trying to be understood ensures others have a better chance to be heard. When leaders listen more than they talk, the team has a better experience. Yielding control of the conversation also happens to allow new perspectives and solutions to emerge.
We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are
I heard this quote in college, attributed to the writer Anaïs Nin. It changed my understanding of myself and others. Humans are meaning-making machines. It’s a big part of what distinguishes us from other creatures. When we look at the world, we see it through a filter. Each of us carries an inherent lens that informs how we see the world. It’s unique to our experiences, the life tenets transmitted to us by others, creating a bias in how we see things. Even if we share a conversation, we may not experience it the same way. What might be a lively conversation for you, might feel like an argument to me. What I think is the proper thing to do might be different for you.
The trick is that we can’t always see the filter. This makes it difficult to recognize how much it influences us. We can’t see our bias. This filter is also the cause of many disagreements in relationships. We become convinced that the way we see the world the way it is, rather than our lens on it.
Self-awareness is a superpower. First, we must understand that each of us walks through the world with a filter running in the background. We need to remember there isn’t only one way to see the world. When we understand ourselves we can begin to see our unconscious patterns at work. From here we can see others as separate individuals with their own perceptions, values, and opinions. We don’t need to convince others that our way is right. Rather, we become more open to different ways of seeing the world, enriching us.
Until next time, be well.
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