As the CEO of a tech com­pa­ny, Steve’s high­ly spe­cial­ized exper­tise pro­vid­ed a sol­id base for strat­e­gy deci­sions, but he was at a loss when it came to lead­ing and moti­vat­ing the peo­ple who helped to make the com­pa­ny suc­cess­ful. Through coach­ing, Steve rec­og­nized the val­ue of engag­ing his feel­ings to improve his over­all effec­tive­ness as a leader. By focus­ing on his con­crete expe­ri­ence as well as his thought process, he was able to improve his pres­ence, rec­og­nize his emo­tions, and engage in trust­ing rela­tion­ships. If this does not come nat­u­ral­ly to you, you can build these capa­bil­i­ties by using the fol­low­ing three strategies:

  1. Wake up to new expe­ri­ences now. Lead­ing and learn­ing require pay­ing atten­tion in a par­tic­u­lar way: on pur­pose, in the present moment, and with­out judg­ment. How­ev­er, it is not the expe­ri­ence, but expe­ri­enc­ing that is the source of learn­ing and change. Because of habits and stereo­types, we live through many expe­ri­ences with­out actu­al­ly being awake. Learn­ing and change can only occur when our auto­mat­ic per­cep­tion and mean­ing mak­ing are interrupted—like when we are stuck with a prob­lem or dif­fi­cul­ty or struck by the strange­ness of some­thing out­side of our usu­al expe­ri­ence. But we can also strip our bias­es in more delib­er­ate ways. For instance, Steve under­stood that let­ting go of judg­ment strength­ened his mind and changed his actions. Oth­er­wise, he found that he respond­ed to sit­u­a­tions auto­mat­i­cal­ly, with­out ques­tion­ing his habit­u­al response, as if he was only half awake.

Prac­tice tips:

  • Aware­ness of your breath­ing is a sim­ple way to ground in the present moment. Inhale deeply through your nose to the count of five; exhale through your mouth to the same count.
  • Use your vision to scan as a search light instead of using laser like focus.
  1. Raise aware­ness of your five sens­es and emo­tions. Steve had been suc­cess­ful in tech­nol­o­gy by focus­ing on his cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and dis­tanc­ing him­self from any emo­tion­al inter­fer­ence. Through coach­ing, he dis­cov­ered that he was “liv­ing in his head” and ignor­ing a great source of infor­ma­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty. Our body medi­ates our con­crete expe­ri­ence of the world; there­fore, we can ben­e­fit from notic­ing our sen­sa­tions and feel­ings. Embod­i­ment sup­ports our abil­i­ty to under­stand change, to expe­ri­ence emo­tions and affect, to cre­ate resilience, to enhance emo­tion­al aware­ness, and to sup­port relationships.

Prac­tice tip:

  • While thoughts hap­pen instan­ta­neous­ly, feel­ings can take some time to unfold and flow through your body. Pause to allow the aware­ness of sen­sa­tion to build.
  • Take a walk in nature and place your sens­es on high alert.
  1. Engage in rela­tion­ships. Remain­ing detached and dis­pas­sion­ate may help us suc­ceed when work­ing with facts and fig­ures, but engag­ing in trust­ing rela­tion­ships is a neces­si­ty for lead­er­ship. Steve dis­cov­ered that he avoid­ed peo­ple when­ev­er pos­si­ble, even in sub­tle ways. For instance, he often talked on the phone while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly respond­ing to email, not giv­ing either action his full atten­tion. Steve learned to rec­og­nize when he was feel­ing dis­tract­ed, and to inter­vene in the moment. To engage in rela­tion­ships, he made a point to take the time to share a sto­ry, inquire about oth­ers’ feel­ings, and acknowl­edge ten­sion to defuse it when emo­tions ran high. He also paid atten­tion to the envi­ron­ment so that he could cre­ate the con­di­tions for a pos­i­tive inter­ac­tion with others.

Prac­tice tip:

  • Avoid mul­ti-task­ing and turn your gaze toward peo­ple when speak­ing to show respect and interest.
  • Build your “emo­tion­al vocab­u­lary” to rec­og­nize your own com­plex emo­tions and describe them to others

By plac­ing your own, sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence at the cen­ter of learn­ing and inten­tion­al­ly guid­ing the learn­ing process, you can recre­ate your­self through learn­ing. How and what you learn deter­mines the way you process the pos­si­bil­i­ties of each new emerg­ing expe­ri­ence, which in turn deter­mines the range of choic­es and deci­sions you see. The choic­es and deci­sions you make, to some extent, deter­mine the events you live through, and these events influ­ence your future choic­es. Thus, you cre­ate your­self by choos­ing what you pay atten­tion to and how you process and respond to that expe­ri­ence. To become a bet­ter leader, stop spend­ing all your time wor­ry­ing about the past or plan­ning for the future. Wake up to your present expe­ri­ence now.

For more infor­ma­tion about the capa­bil­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with the Expe­ri­enc­ing style, see How You Learn Is How You Live.

©2017 Kay Peter­son. All rights reserved.