How do submarines ‘see’? Well, everyone knows that submarines ‘see’ by using ultrasound…essentially submarines see by hearing, by using their ‘ears’. So should leaders.
Social intuition is the term used to describe the ability to spot and read clues around you very quickly without knowing how you are doing it. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about social intuition in his bestselling book titled, Blink. He referred to it as, ‘listening with your eyes’. Nainoa Thompson, the Wayfinder (Navigator) of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s vessel, Hokule’a talks about navigating the notorious doldrums with his ‘eyes shut’ as the only reliable way ‘to see’. Terminology that seems contradictory, paradoxical and nonsensical.
Or is it?
Learning to see by hearing remains the internal work that leaders need to recognize and cultivate. It forms an essential part of the leader’s ability to navigate uncharted territory. Learning how to do this, how to cultivate this inner skill can begin by learning how to surface underlying theories. Doing this starts by mastering what Bill Lucas (rEvolution: How to Thrive in Crazy Times) terms the, 3 A’s’:
Assumptions: finding words for underlying hypothesis. This can be accomplished by asking the question, ‘what is going on here?’
Analysis: undertaking more detailed analysis to produce possible solutions. This can be achieved by asking the question, ‘on what basis do we think this?’
Actions: moving from mature analysis to implement specific activities. The question to unlock such activities is, ‘so what should we do then?’
The inner work of leadership, or what I term ‘inner landscaping’ – is the most neglected work amongst leaders. Yet, most contemporary research on leadership indicates that the leader’s ‘character’ is fundamental to effective leadership. The corporate leader has to take seriously this aspect of his or her leadership. It is not work ‘done’ but remains ongoing and dynamic in nature. One pathway to such work begins by repeatedly asking the questions posed – they offer insights that sit beneath the surface and it is this terrain that leaders need to know how to negotiate and navigate.
A further compelling reason why smart leaders understand that doing this work is essential has to do with leading diversity. As I write this I am Moscow bound to present / teach a module for a leading business school on leading diversity. The client is an international pharmaceutical company that have recognized the need for their senior leaders worldwide to firstly understand the importance of diversity and then to develop the necessary competencies required to effectively lead diversity. Part of the programme in Moscow will involve an immersion experience in the city in order to better understand diversity. Next week I will be involved in a South African based programme with an international wholesaler where the participants will get to spend a couple of days in a ‘township’ for the same purpose. Both promise a degree of discomfort and are certain to create some disequilibrium. The degree to which this is the case is likely to be the degree to which the benefits extend.
When learning about diversity ‘seeing with your ears’ or ‘listening with your eyes’ is essential. When learning to lead diversity, doing ‘inner work’ – understanding one’s own biases and filters’ is a necessary part of the process.
Smart leaders understand this and so cultivate this awareness and skills in themselves as well as ensure that they form part of any leadership development within their company or organization.