In the executive leader peer-based advising teams I chair, the hardest work is to keep us curious. A CEO's working day is too often conversation after conversation of needing to provide perspective without really being able to listen. CEOs get into telling mode too quickly because of the constant press to move on to the next item.
So . . .as we work on the big challenges we face together, we have to make sure we are listening well before we start offering counsel. And listening well starts with BEING PRESENT, and then moves to ENGAGING CURIOSITY, and then to DEMONSTRATING UNDERSTANDING, before we start TELLING.
We do our best work when we follow this sequence. We admit this is the case. We also admit that it is hard to cease the less productive momentum of telling without listening and move in this new and proven direction as a course of habit.
There are a number of methods we can use to keep the reminder to be curious first in front of us without getting discouraged. One method I've been using is to have the following on the back of the name tents we put on the table:
- I am not omniscient (I am open to learn).
- I am not omnipotent (My weaknesses are in this room with me).
- I am not omnipresent (My cell phone is off so I can be fully here).
- I am not sovereign (I seek to be a better steward leader).
- I am not infinite (I am still discovering my capacities and limits).
We see each other's names when we look around the room, but when we look at our own name tent we get the reminder that we are not God along with an invitation to keep our curiosity alive. I'll change this up from time to time so that we can keep the reminder fresh.
We also grant permission to each other to point out that we shifted to telling before we demonstrated understanding, or to tease each other by asking "do you want to change our statement to a question?"
It is harder work to keep this focus than it might sound. But, oh, the rewards of engaging the curiosity drive before launching into telling someone what we think! Problems not only get managed, sometimes they get solved.