Are you a "Captain Oblivious"?

Another article I found to be helpful in these interesting times......

Are you a 'Captain Oblivious'?

I have been fortunate in recent months to have had the opportunity to work with Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, two of the most innovative and provocative thinkers on the authentic leadership landscape today. Among their many pearls of wisdom is one that has struck me as being essential in these other-worldly times: Leaders must be skilled situational sensors. Everyone seems to agree that there is no true precedent for the tumultuous times we're in and thus no obvious road map or playbook that leaders can consult. The situations change so fast that we need to continuously stay attuned to the mood, context, emotions, subtle forces and shifting plates of the workplace and marketplace. Otherwise we risk being 'Captain Oblivious,' joining that rogues gallery of leaders with tin ears so obtuse that our jaws drop when we hear them try to convey empathy with the world around them. As they appear in front of lawmakers, the press, shareholders or their employees, we cringe as they seem so out of touch with their constituents.

The exercise of leadership is clearly contextual.

Effective leaders understand that there is no universal formula, no guaranteed way of ensuring their leadership impact. On the contrary, they practice and hone their situational sensing skills. They observe and collect 'soft data', picking up behavioral cues and reading the atmosphere or 'vibe'. They confirm their assumptions and analyze the data to understand its implications for their leadership actions. The antennae of effective leaders are continuously at work because situational sensing is not at all episodic. Less-effective leaders think "I took the pulse last month; I know what's going on." Yet everything is changing, new news is being processed. You can't assume you understand how people feel right now if your data is a month old. There are two critical questions that authentic leaders constantly ask:

  • "How can I be sure I am collecting soft data all the time?"
  • "How can I be sure I am interpreting the soft data correctly?"

You can improve your situational sensing:

Increase your observational prowess. Keep a journal to record as much soft data as possible over a fixed period of time. Stay alert to your dark interludes, when for whatever reason your antennae are down and you seem to go on autopilot. Give yourself a second chance to read the data and interpret it. Test your assumptions with others to identify patterns where you tend to misread signals. Widen your lexicon. The depth and breadth of the words you have available to describe a given situation will enable you to more accurately sense what may be going on and also help you remember finer details. Malcolm Gladwell's Blink highlighted many instances where a superior lexicon allows the observers (or wine tasters in one example) to notice, remember and categorize senses to a finer, quicker and more accurate degree. Understand your own network. Pay attention to the origins of information, quality of the information and lens through which your contacts interpret things. Is your network just an echo chamber repeating your views or is it a true source of fresh information? Is your network broad enough to provide all the perspectives you need? Go to the conversations. Don't wait for soft data to come to you. Bring yourself — and your antennae — to the communities that exist and the conversations already occurring throughout your organization. Join weekly sales meetings, drop by lunch groups or walk the halls to listen to what is being talked about — and what is not being talked about (in front of you, anyway).

Ask the difficult questions. You already know what you would like to uncover (innovative thinking, hard work, loyalty, determination), and you, like all of us, have filters that cause you to see the world in a certain way. To cut through these barriers you need to ask the tough questions — those questions that make people nervous or for which you may be a bit afraid to hear the answers. If you don't reveal the elephants in every room — repeatedly — then you will quickly go the way of every historic regime that believed its own rhetoric and carried on eating cake. We all know a Captain Oblivious. Sometimes this leader's problem lies in personal stubbornness or is born from too lofty a view of his or her own purpose. Sometimes the leader's heart beats too loudly and drowns out external voices, and occasionally Captain Oblivious just lacks curiosity and is aloof to the surrounding world. Whatever the root, the same chain of frustration, mockery and poor results will flow. Clearly, we all have our own Captain Oblivious moments as we get overwhelmed by the challenges we face or as we too quickly proceed from a bias for action. So make sure you tune in more consistently to read your leadership context effectively. Successful leaders also rewritecontext in order to achieve the organization's goals. But that is a topic for another day.

By SVP Consulting, Stephen Parker

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