Something I’ve noticed when working with leaders in coaching or facilitated sessions is our natural tendency to focus outside ourselves. We spend all our time concentrating on the things that are visible to others – our behaviour, language or body language - but not really noticing what’s going on inside.
Recently, a client described a heated ‘discussion’ they had with a member of their team. A big announcement was due to be made to the organisation and the leader called the team together for a quick update on what was going to be shared. Unfortunately, one team member took the opportunity to share how they didn’t feel involved, or trusted by the leader. The leader felt let down by this, and outlined all the reasons the claim wasn’t true. With time running out before the big announcement was due to be made, the leader’s words got stronger and louder by the minute.
It might have ended up OK in the end, but the leader did manage to come across as confrontational and this didn’t go down well.
When a client brings up something like this, the logical next step is to dig deeper. This usually involves looking at how your external behaviour is connected to your internal ‘stuff’!
The leader was focused on the subject of their heated discussion and what was happening between himself and the other person. Looking back, he could recall the words being said and how they were being said, but little else. He was unaware how the other person saw him, or how the other person was feeling during the discussion.
To encourage the leader to start thinking about himself, we changed the focus to his internal ‘stuff’.
The NLP ‘Mercedes Model’ shows the connection between our external behaviour and the thoughts and feelings we experience at the same time.
Although we can sometimes only focus on what’s happening on the outside, this model shows in order to understand more about our reactions to situations, we need to look at our internal ‘stuff’, which includes our feelings and values, and our thoughts, beliefs and self-talk.
After explaining the model, I then asked the leader to think of someone else he knew, and replay the ‘heated discussion’ with this person playing his role.
We then went on to explore the situation, internally:
Before finally asking:
This exploration was very reflective. As the leader imagined what was going on for the person in his position, he was able to see how what happened was a direct result of his internal ‘stuff’. He suddenly became aware of himself; how he was feeling, what he was thinking, how the other person saw him, and the impact of his behaviour on his performance and the member of his team. By stepping outside of himself, he was able to see the part he played in the ‘heated discussion’; something he wasn’t aware of before.
Of course, it may be uncomfortable in the moment but with this awareness comes the ability to change. Every one of us, if we want to, can take charge of our own ‘stuff’, which allows us to become better leaders as a result.
My client and I went on to explore how he’d like future discussions to go, and how his ‘stuff’ needed to change for this to happen. We talked about how changing his inner dialogue, which calmed his feelings, could lead to more positive outcomes when talking with his teams.
Taking time out to reflect on your leadership practice allows you to understand how your external behaviour is connected to your internal thoughts and feelings; and how changing the latter will lead to a positive change in your working relationships and ability to lead.