I’m grateful to Bob Hursthouse for sharing this month’s image with us. Bob so wonderfully describes it this way: A fabulous sunset enjoyed sitting by the fire is the perfect place for quiet, reflection and gratitude. I breathe into what went well that day and exhale through things I could have done better. I express gratitude for all the day offered and rest in the wonder of creation.
Story Behind the Story
[Note: As I noted in last month’s announcement (Beyond the Front) you will notice a new look and a new approach. The Front Porch is now simply THE PORCH — no longer just my thoughts but rather a monthly connection and curation. This year’s theme is awareness — a theme fully inspired by 18 years of sitting on The Front Porch. Every month will feature a new image of “a porch” most often submitted by others. While I will continue to offer thoughts and reflections, you will very often find fresh new content by others who have and who continue to inspire me. I thought it was only appropriate to start with thoughts from the one who first inspired me to leave behind an 18-year career at Arthur Andersen to follow my dream. For me, Kevin Freiberg has gone from mentor, to friend to brother. What I love most about Kevin is his authenticity that is refreshingly raw and real. I hope you will enjoy sitting with us on The Porch this month and Kevin’s insights that follow.]
The Two Sides of Awareness by Dr. Kevin Freiberg
Awareness … self and other. Every great leader has it. And frankly, it is a characteristic of every great human being.
Great leaders look for the story behind the story — to find the person behind the person. This is extremely hard to do in a society that loves to put people in nice, neat categories. If you fit into the left-wing, liberal category we no longer have to get to know you. We already knew who you are because all liberals are the same. If you are a right-wing, conservative republican we already knew who you are because all conservatives are the same. Whether you are gay or straight, the category I put you in creates a long list of assumptions I make about you. You get the point.
How many times have you missed an opportunity to lead or teach or influence because you stereotypically thought you had a person already figured out? Whether it’s an employee or a customer, how often do you look beyond what meets the eye and ask:
What’s the story behind the story …
What’s really going on in this person’s life that I need to pay attention to? If I knew and I cared, would it — change my approach? Change the design of my product or service? Change the way I relate to my spouse or children?
Awareness creates empathy and empathy is one of the most underrated weapons in a leader’s arsenal. People — customers and employees — are not categories, retention costs or statistics on a spreadsheet. They aren’t market segments, purchasing patterns or lifetime values. They are, to use Martin Buber’s term, “Sacred Thous.”
Great leaders understand this. While not every person is a cultural fit, they see the unique worth in every human being. Their curiosity accentuates their awareness. That’s why they work at mining the story behind the story by asking, “Who is this person … really? What are their aspirations and frustrations? How have life events – celebrations and wounds – shaped their worldview? What do they truly care about? Who do they trust?” Then, they stop talking, become the coached and probe and explore to “dig deeper.”
Does this require time and emotional labor? You bet. But this is what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary people we love to follow.
Everyone operates with blind spots or a lack of self-awareness. But there is a difference between those who win the love, affection and admiration of friends, family and colleagues, and those who climb the ladder of success stepping on people along the way. The former are people who have the vulnerability to open the kimono, look in mirror and ask:
- What are my blind spots?
- How do I land on people?
- What about me needs to change?
- Where am I playing small, not bringing it?
- What strengths am I leveraging? Not leveraging?
This kind of self-awareness is rare. Truly assessing the impact and influence we have on others at a deep, introspective level is not the norm in most businesses — or families for that matter. Confronting the dark parts of ourselves is scary. It takes guts to risk emotional exposure. Yet, there is no personal growth or growth in our communities outside the comfort zone, right?
Self-awareness, if we act on it, is contagious. Your personal reflection and vulnerability opens the door and gives me more freedom to do the same. If we can do this without guilt and shame we are more likely to find a way to row out of our murky waters together – and grow.
Here’s the thing. Life is too valuable, time is too precious and people are too important to have it any other way. Self-awareness is a gift we give others.
That’s why our willingness to wrestle with our demons causes our angels to sing.
I would love to hear your thoughts, insights, and comments below!