I once thought I knew what a Leader was!!
There was a time in my life when I truly believed that all I had to do as a leader was to have the answer to the questions I was being asked. What do I do here? Go and do such and such!. End of story. I even thought that as long as I kept people happy with directions as to how to do life then they would appreciate me.
I came unstuck early in life when at 12 years old, I attempted to tell the kids around my area, (I lived in a large block of flats with a lot of open space and numerous families surrounding our flats), as they gathered to play cricket on our disused tennis court how they would do it, guess what, they all knew better, even though I knew my idea was better than theirs and it was their solution to their issue.
It was suddenly back to the drawing board. I had not even found out if they had a problem with how they would play their game. (I always volunteered to keep the score), So what is it that I could do to help? Maybe if I asked what was the issue.
So I did. They told me what was going on. I asked some questions around what I heard. They answered those questions, I thought and asked more questions.
Obviously I had thought I knew what their issue was and got it wrong. So I needed to find what their issue was and as I wasn’t able to second guess it, then I needed to put a far greater effort in having them define it for me.
That process was a lot slower and a lot more frustrating, however it was a lot more successful. It achieved what I had not been able to achieve.
I could work at giving people the answer to their problem, as I saw it, or I could seek to find just what the problem was that they had.
Funny, in so many case I have now been involved in, the answer was the same. What then was the difference?
I was a bit of a slow learner, however, I finally realised that the person who had the issue seemed to feel happier when they came up with the answer themselves. They also seemed far more committed to making it work whenthey believed it was their solution. So I learned to let them and in fact complemented them when the Ah ha moment arrived.
This was the beginning of my journey. When I realised that people responded better to their own contemplations of the problem that to my telling them what they needed to do.
Some 50 years later I found that this is the essence of coaching. The consultant and sometimes the therapist come in and tell one how to run the business, how to solve the problem, basically how my answers will deal with your issue, even though I have no idea what the real issues are.
Rather, the question asks, tell me about your issue? How is it truly an issue for you? It then goes on to ask questions about how else is it an issue for you, searching to find how this issue can truly cause you a problem.
It then searches for how, you may consider, the problem could be dealt with. Challenging the client to stretch at finding possible responses to the issue. looking at those responses and contemplating the value of each considered response.
By a process of elimination and brainstorming, somewhere, the real answer to the issue appears to turn up, out of nowhere.
It didn’t turn up out of nowhere really. I turned up within the process of searching ones own data base and being willing to be open to the searching process.
Rather than be driven by the fear of not knowing what to do. There was an openness, a vulnerability, to allow oneself to be in a searching role but not yet have an awareness of what the answer may look like.
This is the creative role, the leadership role. To be willing to sit within the space of not knowing. Not needing to answer any questions. Just being open to the realisation that the answer will arrive, as long as we are faithful to the process and to trust it, letting go of any desire to control the outcome.
Sometimes very hard to sit there and shut-up when others started solving the problem that I believed I was the one who had the answer to it.
My response. Let it happen, after checking if there were ways I might be able to be involved.
I had achieved the miracle. I now saw a Leader in a different light. A new role, to facilitate, empower, stretch people to come up with their own solutions.
Interesting when this happened, I could actually take a breather because I was no longer needed to be the person who had to have all the answers. I could delegate to others and forget about the issue until they reported in later.
One of the last businesses that I led was one where we were all leaders, sharing the roles, bouncing ideas off each other, all coming up with ideas, all taking responsibility for where we were heading. It was really quite fun.