As leaders become more prominent in their organizations, they tend to have much to do and a few key people to do it with. To zero in on their vision, they might create their dream team and continue to explore new ways of changing the world they are a part of. Whether formal or informal leadership is at play, success in getting others to follow creates a new set of challenges for all involved. Especially for leaders. When all is well and they are feeling focused and useful, staying open to a wider perspective is a step that should be taken purposefully, if only because it will not naturally happen.
Many leaders are great thinkers and connectors, always having their curiosity lead them in different directions that enrich their current worldview. Still, they are committed to their cause and prone to ignoring anything beyond it. How, then, might they assure they do not disconnect from that natural exploration that led them to lead in the first place?
At a recent gathering, one of the people I currently work with, a talented individual with a brilliant mind and boundless energy, was having a conversation with another top-notch coach and mentor that I had introduced to him. The three of us were engaged in sharing our views of the business world, entrepreneurship and growing opportunities.
It was evident to me that they both brought a lot to the conversation and also that there were moments of puzzled looks and baffled expressions. The next day, I asked my colleague what he made of the night. He said to me: “It seems like his world is not very wide!” It was true. He was a man of his country, savvy in the workings of business in his part of the world and blind to the existence of other economies, ways of being and societies beyond the borders of his own home. His vision was skewed by this, and his great character, hard work and laser-focused comments did not translate well into the rest of the world.
What was most impressive to me was how his natural curiosity, so present in other aspects, was totally blind to the missing element in the conversation. It took the outsider to see it, and he had not mentioned it.
This got me thinking about the great benefits of widening perspective and listening differently to each other. I started to wonder how to expand my own vision of the world and what I could tell my friend to assist him in seeing beyond his worldview. So far, this is what I have come up with:
The circle down: Deeper into the tribe
As leadership succeeds, the tribe grows and so does the distance from the leader to the follower at the front line. This happens in communities, all sorts of organizations and, certainly in the corporate setting. As the distance grows, the leader still thinks she knows the pulse of the tribe and tribe members believe they read her correctly. But is this the case?
Often, walking down the ladder is much needed. Honest, true conversations, smart questions and candid answers can go a long way to bridge this gap. It is up to the leader to create a context in which this conversation becomes possible, to make sure that communication remains open and truthful.
The circle out: Listening around
It is so tempting to listen only to like minds that many a fabulous leader succumbs to this song of the sirens and is lured into friendly shores. It is surprising to see smart leaders hearing only what they want to hear and becoming increasingly disconnected from the rest of the world.
In our globalized, brave new world there are many ways to expand the circle out and a myriad of tools to do so even from the comfort of one’s inner circle. There’s Twitter and other social media to put an ear on the ground, there’s LinkedIn groups to participate in, global summits and meetings and, quite frankly, the people around the corner. There’s groups by industry, there’s competitors, strong leaders committed to their own causes, experts, laymen.
Listening around can bring new questions to your own table and strengthen the resolve to make an impact in a world you understand, even if you do not agree with it. Weak links that are furthest away will bring new winds. I am always impressed by the breadth and depth of answers in a good LinkedIn question, for example, or in a global gathering where you allow yourself to speak to the people you find most different from you. They could be sitting across from you on the train, too, you know.
The circle beyond: Mastering the bird’s-eye view
I like to say that you can truly be yourself and still be open to the messages that are above your understanding. What is it you do not yet grasp? Does it make you curious or frightened? What does the fear show you? It is in the questions that great leaders ponder that they find light.
Even more that just listening around it is about this drive to understand it all, to grasp how things and events and people are connected to each other. Leaders are not oblivious to this bird’s eye view of the world. They are fascinated by it, even more so when it becomes scary or foggy. Ask yourself what is missing in the picture, what you have not explored yet, what is beyond your current understanding. You may always be enriched by the answers.
In all of these circles, and others you might find, it is in the listening that you can truly widen your perspective and make and even larger impact in the world. Powerful listening as well as total presence have long been underestimated as central to a leader’s ability to affect change. It’s time to change this, to use active listening skills and insights to widen perspectives and remain aware of the circles each leader allows herself to be a part of, expanding their reach. How aware are you and in which way can you expand them?
Monica Diaz is the author of “Otheresteem: Regaining the Power to Value Others.” An active member and instigator of Lead Change Group, she is an entrepreneur, a consultant, a coach and a speaker, living in Mexico and enjoying her travels worldwide. She can be contacted on Twitter @monedays and through LinkedIn.