The ancient book of 2 Esdras has a saying I like:
"I said to my spirit...." (12:3)
I like this combination of words because it implies self-awareness and self-reflection. Even more, it points to the notion of common sense.
Common sense in its ancient form is not how we use the phrase today. We use it to mean a piece of wisdom or practical sensibility that most everyone knows. Originally, however, it meant the thing to which all of one's senses point. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. They all agree. The senses hold a perception in common. This checking in with one's senses, one's self, is a reliable starting point for profound insight if one takes the time to stop, check and then ask why or what from there.
An example from some recent client experience: I barely remember a fifteen-mile bicycle ride along the Boise River because I was distracted by a problematic set of e-mails I was managing. The inability to enjoy the ride led to some deeper reflection. The client company, some board members, and some ownership family members had been battling competing agendas, personalities, and long-standing hurt. This combination interfered with the ability to move forward in the mission of the organization. My consultative ability to influence a healthy direction was disappearing as the hurt kept leaking out of the closet in which they were trying to contain it.
Why was this happening? Looking externally for the rational, data-driven answer, I got lost in reams of data and endless circular conversations with everyone talking past each other. But, looking internally and asking what my spirit spoke out of what my five senses had collected, it ceased being difficult. These were all people who wanted to live meaningfully and contribute meaning to the enterprise. Unfortunately, they surrounded current leaders who wanted the same but were yet been able to adjust their style to include new and upcoming voices. This inability to involve new and committed talent was the source of what had become a toxic culture. I needed to look no further.
We can do all of the strategic planning, building renovations, and equipment or process upgrades we want. A toxic culture brings it all down. So, I said to my spirit...I need to get in touch and then remain in contact with this core anguish. As a consultant, it helped me listen for what each of these leaders was listening for. "Listening for" is a deeper level of listening than just listening to what people were saying. I was then able to facilitate more sensitively to create space where people were not directly triggered to fight, flee or freeze. And, I stopped being an unconscious enabler for the crazy.
If I condense all that I've written above, it is simply to say this: if one's senses are in agreement in what they observe, it is wise to pay attention, not just to point out what you see and hear --as in the fable of the Emperor's new clothes -- but to ask why it is you see what you see and why you hear what you hear -- as in the wolf dressed in sheep's clothing. Asking this, we become better equipped to get at the real issues underneath the ones on the surface.
Our next Maestro-level leader's cohort begins in January.