All leadership acts, from the smallest to the boldest, begin with it.
We are sensitive, intelligent whole human beings – with a great capacity to be tuned into our internal and external ‘environment’ at any moment. Awareness is the core of our being. Even if we usually notice things that confirm our beliefs, values, interests and discard things that don’t match – we still have this innate ability of a broader perception.
Yet sometimes we just pretend not to notice. We ignore that thought, feeling, perception, that stirring within us. Because if we didn’t, it would mean that we may just have to do something about it, accept it or confront it. By giving it attention, we may need to have some ‘tough’ conversations with ourselves or another. We may have to change our deeply held views of the world. We may have to make some ‘tough’ decisions. It may mean we need to get out of our comfort zone. Or retreat. Or let go. Or dig deeper. Or compromise.
By pretending not to notice, we can miss opportunities for change. For the right sort of leadership action, be it individually or collectively.
Certainly as organisational mindfulness experts Weick et al. (1999) point out, organisations are defined by what they ignore. Complex human factors theory will tell us that disasters will result in the accumulation of small moments that build into something. Small moments that often go undetected or ignored. Often it is because we are unconscious of our behaviours or what drives them. We remain fixed in our own beliefs, thought patterns and behaviours and filter out ‘evidence’ that contradicts our view of the world.
We may pretend not to notice for a multitude of reasons, usually grounded in fear and ego. As Gopalakrishnan highlights, “the spectra of authority and the trappings of power conspire to plug the leader’s ears” (2009:234). And we have seen it has disastrous consequences. The Oxfam scandal unfolding before us is a case in point.
So it starts off with you asking gently...
What am I pretending not to notice?
And then notice the response.
By doing this, we are acting from a place of awareness, consciousness, not of automaticity. From such a place, we have more control and choice of what we do next.
Penelope Mavor is a Consultant at Impact Italia.
Gopalskrishnan, R. (2009). The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons for Managers on Intuition, Revised Edition, New Delhi, Penguin.
Médecins Sans Frontières (2015) Pushed to the Limit and Beyond: A year into the largest ever Ebola outbreak, Médecins Sans Frontières (released 23 March 2015)
Scott, S (2002) Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, US, Berkley
Weick, K.E, Sutcliffe, K.M and Obstfeld, D. (1999). “Organizing for High Reliability: Processes of Collective Mindfulness” in R.S. Sutton and B.M. Staw (eds), Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 1 (Stanford: Jai Press, 1999), pp: 81–123