In developing your leadership effectiveness you really only have 3 areas to impact - your thinking, your listening and your speaking. Since your thoughts shape your speaking and listening, that is your key leverage point, so let’s start there. Two recent events have reminded me of how completely our thoughts dominate and shape our experience and that, in turn, controls our leadership and relationship effectiveness. Before getting to the events let’s set some context. When delving into the arena of thoughts we like to talk about it by saying that each of us has what amounts to a Mental File Cabinet. Several characteristics of the ‘Mental File Cabinet” are:
1) Filters: that color your world and are unique to you
2) Storage: contents, essentially of memories and data, that are unique to you
3) Filing: the contents stored have a system of cross-referencing and connection that is unique to you
4) Retrieval: is selective, based on your filters, and is typically instant, automatic, and largely unexamined
The first recent event was an extended trip to Malaysia leading 14 workshops for Vistage groups of executives and two days of Vistage Chair workshops. The focus of that work involved examining how our thoughts set up our listening and speaking and that they are all we have as “tools” for growing our leadership and contributing to others’ growth and development. The second event was sharing by three clients who recently completed the Landmark Forum in which they are clearly seeing their lives and go-forward actions much differently.
From our perspective, it appears that the Landmark Forum has given these clients the ability to unpack their Mental File Cabinets, examine the unique contents and cross-references, and either discard or refile the contents in more productive ways. This offers them more opportunities to shape their thinking newly and thereby be able to alter their speaking and listening in more productive ways. They are able to rethink their “default actions” and redesign the bases of their relationships in a way that will set up new possibilities.
In working with the many wonderful folks in Malaysia, I used several of the “Essential Notions” from our book “Accelerate…” including our “Productive Dialogue Zone” (also called the “Leadership Effectiveness Zone”) and our Leadership Choice Point model. We worked through applying those notions to real life situations to see how past frustrating outcomes might be altered with new thinking. We then practiced giving ourselves specific brain instructions to produce first unproductive and then unproductive listening. The objective was to notice how dramatically different the experience was for the person attempting to speak into that kind of listening. The results for both the speaker and listener were dramatic. The exercise is only effective, however, when the listener takes control of the way their Mental File Cabinet is organized, intervenes in the instant, automatic and heretofore unexamined ways they have been listening, and chooses their listening newly.
So what’s the payoff of unpacking my Mental File Cabinet? No matter what pathway you find for yourself, the challenge is to intervene in the instant, automatic and largely unexamined way that your brain has collected and stored information and how it gives it back to you as you attempt to negotiate any new situation. The folks at Conversant call it “fast past matching” by which they mean that when confronted with new information, your brain will do a very fast and often sloppy internal Google search. As soon as it has identified a “match” learning stops. If you can learn to be more observant then you have more choice, which then provides you with more options for moving forward.
If you are truly committed to your development as a leader, then finding your path to managing your thoughts and your thinking processes is really critical.