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Leadership: Hard to Imagine What It’s Like to Not Know What We Know

I recently reviewed the book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

I recently reviewed the book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

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In it, they state “To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short isn’t the mission — sound bites aren’t the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. “A one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning it. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us.”

This hit home. This sentence, so profound that a “one could spend a lifetime learning it”, being able to live that would be a dream come true for a coach. As a Shadow Coach™ I have a finite amount of time available for me to coach my clients as we run, as clients live in a world that’s at the center of complex challenges in chaotic times (their definition, not mine). Unlike most coaching sessions, mine are sometimes a matter of moments, two or three minutes where all I have time for is a laser session that zeros in on one dynamic, one situation or moment in time.

To spend a lifetime learning is one thing, but integrating, reinventing and living what is learned is what it’s all about for me in my work and for the leaders that lead organizations and their people to their level of excellence..

Often, all it takes is one statement or question that captures their attention. Then they fly.

How powerful would it be if that kind of immediate feedback, two minds working as one, was available to all organizational leaders? Have you ever worked with someone at the speed of laser? There’s nothing like it. You not only get multiple viewpoints but integrate change on the spot, review, retweak and then put in place something that works so much better. Not later, right then.

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If we held each other accountable for our leadership in all meetings and conversations, how much more effective would they be? That’s one kind of feedback or peer coaching. How would that work in day to day leadership? Heath and Heath were right when they said it’s not about making things shorter; it’s about simplicity or simplifying so the impact is at the point where there are no more questions in anyone’s minds as to what you mean and why.

Clarity is key.

Life is continually becoming more complex. We, as leaders, have to in turn simplify to the point where clarity is the standard and when things aren’t crystal clear they know to ask and make sure they get the answers. And if we’re not paying attention to what’s happening, to have a peer or coach give you the non-judgmental feedback you need to reinvent what isn’t working.

We waste so much time in life trying to figure out what’s on another person’s mind. Why in the world would we do that when it is so much easier to ask them what they did mean and act on it? Think of all the time and energy wasted when struggling could be replaced with energy, flow and evolution. Think of all the perspectives that are lost when we’re not paying attention to our own roles in the scheme of things.

There’s no place to go but up.

So why in the world aren’t we practicing these ways of being?

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Next time you take for granted that everyone in the room knows what’s needed and what you want from them, remember…they can’t read your mind any more than you can read theirs. That’s a part of taking responsibility for yourselves. If you don’t understand, ask and if you still don’t understand ask for more clarification. Why waste a ton of time and energy on something you don’t understand? One of the key characteristics of a leader is ‘getting it” then sharing it. When they don’t get it, they ask until they do. They contextualize, grow and move forward, as does everyone around them.

Donna Karlin • Executive and Political Shadow Coach™ • Ottawa, Canada • •www.abetterperspective.com

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About the author

Donna Karlin CEC, Diplomate IABMCP and founder and principal of A Better Perspective® & The School of Shadow Coaching, has pioneered the specialized practice of Shadow Coaching® with global political, government, business and senior organizational leaders in the public and private sectors. Donna capitalizes on almost 30 years of experience in coaching, consulting and training to help clients and their organizations evolve into their level of excellence.

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