One of the things that holds organisations, teams and individuals back is the inability to see ourselves as others see us, we get locked into a view of the world that is framed by our perceptions and assumptions, which by definition are self-limiting. A case in point was a recent training experience with Tiggy, the gun dog I am training; recently I experienced the sobering and frustrating reality of realising that what I thought was real progress was in fact not. My commands for ‘back’ had got sloppy, my arm moved and I was pushing her away with my body, all points that would mean I would fail in a working test. I had got fixated on the result and been blind to the ‘how’ I was getting the result, more effort, less efficient and not sustainable. It took my gundog trainer seconds to spot this and point out the error of my ways (painful, embarrassing and annoying) but hugely valuable. We have now gone back to basics with this command and it is proving a ‘character building’ test of my patience.
I have been doing a lot of coaching recently which I really enjoy, team coaching as well as coaching the individuals in the team. I really appreciate when people make great progress and in the last couple of weeks I have a couple of examples of people who have taken big steps forward to realising their potential at work and at home. Now I realise that I am not doing any of the hard work, it is the individuals who are making different decisions, building different habits and pushing themselves to do more. But I believe, that like any good coach, I provide the magic mirror, a chance for people to get a view of themselves from the outside in. It doesn’t matter what I say or which questions I ask, if people are not prepared to look beyond the reality they have created and feel comfortable with, nothing is going to change. I think this ability to be open is one of the keys to growth, in a High Performing Team sense it is what I call having a ‘permeable membrane’, the ability to let new information, ideas and perspectives in that enables a team or an organisation to continually challenge the status quo, shift and evolve.
The status quo is mostly safer, easier and more comfortable but rarely is it conducive to making progress. I had got myself into a comfortable routine with Tiggy, but it wasn’t going to get me any further. Seth Godin talks about ‘reality based reality’, he says that it’s ever easier to weave our own reality, to find a bubble and to reinforce what we believe with what we hear. We can invent our own rules, create our own theories, fabricate our own ‘facts’, but that constant invention, scanning and fabrication takes time and effort. It turns out, though, that when your reality is based on actual reality, it’s a lot more stable and resilient, because you don’t have to be so vigilant about what you’re going to filter out. I think this is really interesting, it is the point about stability and building on a platform that is sustainable, the key to all organisational, team or personal growth.
So what can we do to improve our ability to see our own reality, to see from the outside in?
The first step is to be clear about the why – to challenge and question and strive for growth requires effort and emotional energy, why do you want to invest that energy when you haven’t bothered before? What are your intentions or your aspirations, what are the benefits, the goals and the opportunities associated with change?
The second step is to enlist support – a friend, a coach, a trainer or just someone with a different view who can help you see what others see and you don’t. This doesn’t need to be formal, it just requires us to ask the question of someone to share what they see and observe what could be different.
The third step, obvious but often the hardest, is to actually listen – there is no point in enlisting support if we allow our defensiveness and the ‘perceived reality’ Seth was talking about to maintain dominance. If we bend what we hear to suit our beliefs then we are going to learn nothing, so it is the simplest and hardest of the steps I think, but critical to make successful change. We have to expose and disconnect our ego (the most fragile organ in the human body) which requires a conscious effort. Reminding ourselves of our ‘why’ helps, writing things down as we hear also helps because it means we disengage at least part of our emotional response. We are busy scribbling and it also means that you can revisit the facts later when our emotional response has receded.
Whatever the situation or circumstances we can all benefit from a little look in the magic mirror.