March 9, 2012

A sum of small conversations

I've been speaking a lot about the power of conscious and unconscious communicatioins in driving people's performance. The effect of small gestures and asides have a powerful impact on others that extends far beyond what you might think it possible. Recently though, I remembered my experience with a former manager and it brought home to me just how insidious those conversations can be, especially if coming from a leader, manager or someone in a position of authority.

Years ago in one of my first jobs, I had this very powerful, charasmatic manager. She was highly intelligent, creative and innovative and I remember thinking she was so much more capable and brilliant than I could ever hope to be. I also had this reoccurring concern in the back of my head, "Why did she hire me? I'm nowhere near as smart or able as she is."

That should have been my first warning sign.

Whenever I came up with an idea that was a breakaway from her direction, she would pull me back in line. If I came up with an concept that built on what she had developed, she accused me of stealing her ideas and warned me to stick with the programme. She had no interest in input from any of us. We were just there to implement.

In casual conversations, whenever someone shared a personal win or achievement, she always had something to top it with. She was smarter and more accomplished than anyone and let us know it in small and large ways. We were so lucky to have her - we never could have done the job on our own.

Of course I left that manager a long time ago. But, in looking back I remember it took quite a while to shake off that nagging self-doubt. It was tucked in the back of my brain such that I didn't really notice it too much. But it was there, asserting itself in small ways.

I was fearful of taking risks and putting forth ideas as I didn't trust myself. Somehow, that notion that my former manager was much smarter and capable morphed into "I'm not smart or capable." This is the power of unconscious decisions.

I then communicated that to my colleagues and managers in my next job in large and small ways. It wasn't until my manager pointed this out to me, taking it from the unconscious, to the conscsious, that I was able to do something about it. I was lucky to have someone who believed in me and saw the potential within, as they helped me find my own power.

We are continually communicating both conscious and unconscious concerns and intents when we speak. We relay messages to others through our body language, tone, timbre and tenor as well as or words. They all work together to form a concept that is then sent out to the other person. A large part of that communication is unconsciously accepted as truth - especially if we have a authority over that other person.

Managers, leaders, teachers, parents you all have the power to grow exceptional people or diminished automatons. It is your job, your responsibility to use your power to draw out the best within your people. We all of us have a genius within that is either going to be unleashed or locked up like a hidden treasure.

This is the first and in many ways, the most important element of the SHAPES model for congruent leadership that I've detailed in my book. While the first S - Sees - is first about being a visionary leader, it also refers to seeing the potential within of your people and ensuring your relate to them as their higher self.

As Bryan Stevenson said, "At any one time we are greater than our worst act." Whatever it is we have done, we are more than that. We make mistakes but we are not our mistakes. We are not our actions, we are the sum total of so much more. If you can work with the actions, but see the possibiliity within, then you have the chance of growing someone remarkable.

It is also a gift to someone to give them your belief in their greatness. Think of how it feels when you speak with someone who believes in you. Wonderful, isn't it? You could tell the worst joke in the world and they'll still laugh.

It takes so little and gives so much - to you and them. If you focus on the best in people, then you'll find yourself in a world populated with amazing human beings. Much better than being surrounded by idiots.

Try it. You'll like it.

Your people will thank you.

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