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The inner game of leadership

The inner game of leadership
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Popular dialogue around 'noticing' as a leadership skill largely focuses on encouraging people to pay more attention to what is going on around them, intending to increase awareness of others and the surrounding business environment. This is a vital skill for a leader, particularly in turbulent times.  

What is less talked about is inward noticing – being aware of what is going on within your own self. A participant on a recent programme perfectly encapsulated the balance we need to strike between these two poles of inner and outer awareness. At the very beginning of the session, the participant introduced himself and announced that he did not expect anything to change as a result of the programme. Later, I asked him what role he thought he played in the organisation’s immunity to change – was he in fact one of the antibodies, so to speak, that held current patterns in place? As you might expect, he didn’t much enjoy being challenged so directly in the moment. By the end of the session, however, he shared that it had been among the most powerful learning experiences of his life, and that the direct challenge had helped him to move from noticing only what is going on in the business, and what others are doing, to what is going on inside himself and in his own behaviour. This shift in mindset opened up a whole new perspective for him on change and what he could do in the face of the issues his organisation was facing.   

As part of Impact’s team in the US, I recently ran a transformation-focused session for the legal department of a large bank. In trios, participants identified the barriers they felt they faced in creating a culture of innovation. We then challenged them to take the conversation to a deeper level, listening closely and asking questions to help each other uncover what was really stopping them. By digging into the context, reasoning and the emotional landscape behind the issue – things that are not normally present in an everyday workplace conversation – participants were encouraged to turn inward and ask themselves what was really going on within themselves that might have been contributing to the boundaries they identified. This exercise proved to be a provocative learning experience, with some participants opening up their thinking in powerful and revelatory ways, whilst others felt resistant to change and didn’t enjoy confronting that reality. Forcing someone to look inward in the face of a challenge can be a powerful call to action. It reminds us that we all have a part to play, that the difficulties and challenges we face are rarely entirely driven by external factors, and that sometimes, we are the biggest force holding ourselves back from doing the right thing.  

Impact believe that effective leadership action starts with developing the capacity to notice, so that subsequent decisions and action are grounded in awareness of the current reality and not reflexes based only on our past experience. In order to remain agile in this highly unstable, competitive and fast-moving business landscape, it is imperative that we learn to turn the searchlight of our awareness inward, as well as outward. This is not always an easy task, but it matters greatly if we want to break out of the habits of the past and confront a brave new world of learning and change in the workplace.  

Steven Nishida - Senior Consultant at Impact Americas