As leaders, we wear a lot of hats. We have our own work for which we are responsible. We also manage or influence the work of others.
We are problem solvers, innovators, mentors, and coaches. We are strategists, execution ninjas, and decision-makers. And we form opinions and make judgments every day.
We look into the future, and we look backwards to determine how our teams are performing. We conduct ‘post mortems’ on projects to understand what worked, what didn’t ……. and why. We analyze systems and processes to understand successes and failures. We evaluate our employees’ performance and recommend compensation increases.
As leaders, we ask questions seeking to understand.
“Why did you make that decision?”
“What were you thinking?”
“Who’s responsible for this?”
And based on the responses to these questions, we make judgments that can impact careers:
Employee Y has poor analytical skills.
Employee Z doesn’t collaborate effectively.
Employee X crumbles under pressure.
As leaders, we spend a lot of time looking backwards. We believe that knowing the source of an issue will resolve it. We believe that challenging someone’s thinking will improve their future performance.
Here’s the dilemma. Looking backwards and focusing on the problem only deepens its connection in the brain. If your goal is to help a colleague identify new insights, think creatively, and set the stage for improved performance in the future, looking backwards accomplishes exactly the opposite!
Questions that require a backwards look and challenge someone’s thinking, statements that embarrass a colleague – whether in private or public – take energy from the prefrontal cortex (the executive control function of the brain) and move it to the primal brain. The brain’s threat response kicks in…… and here’s what happens.
The brain’s field of vision narrows so we have less ability to clearly see issues. We take in less data so the opportunity to find solutions diminishes. Tunnel vision sets in. We focus on details and drama. The ability to be creative and to collaborate – key ingredients for success in today’s workplace – is significantly and negatively impacted.
As a leader, you have positive intentions …… to understand, to be proactive. You want to help your team learn and grow. But your approach as it stands today won’t accomplish that.
First, you need to reconfigure your own thinking about leadership and, only then, will you be positioned to leverage the full potential of others.
Are you IN?