Far too many “leaders” are overly invested in their own ideas, opinions, and directives.
They are me-managers and me-leaders, as in, “me think this, so you do that.” They are somewhere between partially and totally blind about how things look from their people’s points of view, and how they come across to them. While they may strike others as uber-arrogant, it’s often just a bad habit, or self-taught way to manage. For many, it’s coachable, and worthwhile to fix.
Why bother? Without trying on (and trying out) others’ points of view, and monitoring how they land on people (which I call Second and Third Positions, respectively), over time, me-leaders de-motivate, un-inspire, and shut down their best people. They dampen or kill the highest potential of whatever they are “leading.”
So what?! First, consider three points of view
Imagine three points of view we can take when in conversation with others, much like an author’s narrative perspective (e.g., first person, second person, and third person):
I take my own point of view—my ideas, questions, and opinions. For example, “I think you should do X,” and, “You need to revise that projection.” When our own expertise or opinion is called upon, or our ego gets the upper hand, or we need to “prove ourselves,” then we take the first position point of view. First position may be summarized as “It’s about me.”
I take your point of view—take a look at the world through your eyeballs–your ideas, questions, and opinions. For example, “I can see you think I should do X,” and “If I were you, I may be worried about that project.” To negotiate effectively, deal with an opposing view, or simply empathize with another, taking second position is a powerful tool. Second position may be summarized as, “It’s about you.”
I take the observer point of view, like a satellite hovering overhead, watching me interacting with you. I’m asking myself, “What needs to happen?” and adjusting my actions and words to draw out your best. For example: “I was dismissive with him, and need to acknowledge that” and “I should stay quiet here; that will encourage my team to figure this out for themselves.” Third position may be summarized as, “It’s about how I impact you.”
Next, practice the solution
Leaders who have an unintentional discouraging or negative impact on others, be it minor or more major, tend to overuse first position, and avoid third position. Here’s my suggested Third Position practice:
In several upcoming meetings and one on one discussions, take a small piece of your attention, and (metaphorically) float it in the air above the room like a satellite for the duration of the meeting. Imagine it’s observer-you … watching you, the other(s), and your impact on them. As you do this, silently ask yourself three questions:
1. What most needs to happen in this discussion?
2. How am I helping—or getting in the way—of that?
3. How should I adjust what I’m saying and doing to draw out their absolute best?
Ask yourself these questions and adjust how you participate once or twice during the discussion. Your answers may be to say less, say more, read others more carefully, ask different questions, etc. Try again in the next meeting or discussion, then the next one, etc.
Keep at it!
We are made up of two big ingredients: identity and reputation. Identity is what we believe ourselves to be, inside, under the hood. That is at best a creative and interesting story, yet only (and mainly) of interest to ourselves. Reputation is how others know us and see us. So to all you who say, “Leadership is not a popularity contest” or “Who cares what they think of me?” I say, the extent to which you tune in to others isn’t just helpful, it’s the difference between okay-ness and greatness.
Just like any new mindset or behavior, it takes practice. You will lose awareness of it, try again, regain it, etc. When new to it, my clients say it’s like learning a new language—exhausting and headache-inducing. To find and maintain your best impact on others is leadership at its best. You will be surprised by what you discover—and do differently—from the third, or observer, position. Many former clients have told me that learning to use third position deliberately was an extraordinary upgrade to their leadership, one which I hope you will find equally useful.
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