This post takes its title from a workshop I was invited to give this week to a global leadership academy. Leadership begins with the self and I wanted people to gain insight into the many thoughts and feelings we have every day, and to share their respective experiences. When we harness the information our mind and body continually make available to us, we become incredibly effective. Observation, reflection and feedback are the mainstays of this work but, ultimately, it’s about connecting with the self first, in order to be able to connect with others.
Longer-term, as people begin to calibrate their thoughts and feelings, they see how beneficial it is to connect and listen more closely to the self. Furthermore, they will begin to see the same potential in others. In this way, connections are made which make leadership more natural and more powerful. I asked them all to do a breathing exercise and answer three simple questions, after which they were to reflect and write down their observations of themselves during the whole process (which lasted no more than six minutes).
Everyone wrote – in varying degrees of detail – what they had observed about themselves during the exercise, including what their answers to the three questions said about who they are. The idea was that they would share their reflections with each other, first in smaller groups and then in the main group, thereby gaining further insight into themselves and each other. The session lasted 90 minutes, but after half an hour something simple happened which highlighted my point beautifully.
As they were writing, I noticed some of their nameplates had been decorated. I commented on this and was told the artwork had all been done by one person. I asked her about one particular nameplate which had caught my eye. She described how she had initially drawn something which depicted the strength of (and was also a play on) her colleague’s surname, but was then inspired to draw a strong, solid tree trunk with its roots firmly in the ground. When I asked the man himself what he had thought when he received the artwork which adorned his name, he said he had felt overwhelmed.
Quietly, and almost to herself, the artist whispered that she had not known how he had felt. Here was a perfect example of what I wanted to demonstrate in the workshop. She had observed her thoughts and feelings, reflected on what her colleague meant to her, and found her appreciation of his strength and grounded nature. Through her artwork and her words she connected with him, and he took the opportunity to voice his gratitude.
It was a simple and subtle connection. But a powerful one too; and one which had come from within. It is a single example of the many available to us every day. Life has a tendency to drown out the messages our minds and bodies offer us. We are also too keen to ignore or dismiss them; but if we listen closely and connect with our own humanity, we are able to touch the same humanity in others. Those are the leaders we need.