Leadership – words of wisdom
Sometimes I read or hear something that is so perfectly well worded that I wish I had come up with it myself.
In a coaching session my client described her professional philosophy to me. It applies to every single person in a workplace, but I think it is even more applicable to leadership. It goes like this: Don’t take things personally and understand why you are at work. I was exhilarated when I heard this statement, which may be the most succinct summary I have ever heard of the system-centred concept. In short, being systems-centred means that you are focused on the context at hand, its goal and your role.
What else could someone put in the centre of the world? Well: Their person. If I do that I will follow my whims. For instance, in a meeting where we are deciding about something important I might suddenly remember that I need to buy a bottle of wine. I’ll then interrupt the speaker and ask if anyone knows where the nearest wine store is.
The next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to the extent to which you and your colleagues raise irrelevant issues, change the topic in the middle of a conversation or interact with mobile phones without explaining why (which can trigger mind-reading episodes in others). If you conclude at the end of the meeting that all the participants have been 100 per cent system-centered and performed their roles consistently, send me an email and I will gladly buy you lunch.
I’m guessing that everyone agrees with my client's philosophy. To make it easier for us to live up to it, I have some advice. At the beginning of any meeting, start by negotiating the purpose of why you have gathered together. It is also a good idea to agree on the participants' roles. Who should lead the meeting, who is responsible for which issues and what does each person's mandate look like? If you follow this advice it will be easier to understand why you are at work, enabling you to perform your roles in the most functional way possible.
The concept of not taking things personally also connects to the system-centered concept. My client told me about a meeting where she asked questions in order to understand how a particular financial figure in a follow-up report had been calculated. The person being asked the questions felt challenged and reacted strongly. How could she have handled this situation in a more functional way?
In order to answer that question let me start by adding some helpful complexity to the concept of not taking things personally. For a start, since we aren’t robots one could ask if it is even possible. A clever thing about the system-centred approach, however, is that it allows you to feel the irritation, embarrassment or unfairness of a given situation. But then, after a few seconds of experiencing inner turmoil, you should take a deep breath and remind yourself of the context and its goal. In doing so you’ll move from being centred around yourself to being mindful of your role. If the person that felt challenged in my client's story had done that, they would have realised that it is my client's responsibility to keep track of the numbers and that the question didn’t necessarily express distrust in the individual. Then they would have been able to give a straight answer unclouded by emotion.
Don’t take things personally and understand why you are at work. Do you agree with these words of wisdom?
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.