Leading without 'authority'. The days of hierarchies and traditional leverage like salaries and vacation time are dead or dying.
The world of work has phenomenally shifted in the past decade. Today we have to deal with work swarms, solopreneurs, freelancers, remote workers, and millenials that quit to take a year sabbatical to find themselves in the outer reaches of Mongolia.
'Authority' as we remember it, or at least some of us, is a thing of the past. Today's workers want more than money, they need meaning, and crave community in place of colleagues.
How to lead in such a world is the question. Leadership is necessary if you want to go somewhere and even with the rise of the robots you still need people to help you get there. The unfortunate truth is the usual levers just don't work anymore, and to be frank, they sucked to begin with. So what to do?
The absolute most important lesson, and I'm still learning, in leadership was and is to learn to listen.
It's that simple, people that take the lead, need to first learn to listen.
It is that simple and it is that hard. A quiet leader seems counter intuitive, counter cultural even. It feels like all common wisdom says the exact opposite: Leaders need to take charge, take action, be assertive, be bold, be loud, not back down [insert gray scale image of lion here *roar*] The truth is, as a person that understands leading will tell you, is that it is listening that is the groundwork for action, and movement.
"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what the other person has to say"
Listen YOUR Way Forward
Great leaders learn to listen their way forward, like a submarine uses sonar to 'see' if there are any obstacles, or like the bat that uses echolocation to find it's prey, leaders needs to use their listening skills to move forward in a world that is increasingly dim and chaotic.
Leaders need to listen to culture, to politics, to news, and to their employee or volunteers. And listening doesn't mean merely waiting a polite amount of time for your turn to speak either. Listening is firstly about creating and holding a space.
Hold the Space
Hold the space, or hold the line if you prefer that metaphor. To hold the space means, first, being completely present with the person opposite you, open to what they want to voice and two, do this without judgement, in other words, the space needs to be a safe, trusting, and a confidential space
To be fully present is a rare commodity these days. In our conversations we flip through notifications, quickly check email, make coffee, and (my current pet peeve) popping a quick glance at your apple watch, just in case.
I used to be pretty bad, I used to check my phone over 200 times a day. There is an app to measure that, Checky, I'm down to under 50.
Presence is an unbelievable gift. It is the gift of ourselves. Think about it like this, you have a finite amount of time on this earth. I know that might come as a surprise, but let me be the one to tell you, that you will die.
So when you spend your time, and give it to someone, or they give it to you. It is the most valuable thing that they have, and the most valuable thing that you will ever have. They are in fact giving you a piece of their physical existence. So, don't squander it, honor it.
That being said, the bar is very, VERY, low at this point in time. Just even a slight presence, like not checking your phone or smart watch during a conversation is already going to put you in the top 5%.
Larry King said the other day in an interview that this simple principle was a massive part of his success as an interviewer. Having done nearly 60 000 interviews in his 60 years, he says that no matter who was opposite him the day before, Al Pacino for example, and no matter who is on tomorrow, even Barack Obama, he is totally with, present, with the person in front of him.
Hold the space, at whatever cost.
When you find yourself drifting to another thought, or have the urge to take out your phone, or glance over their shoulder to see if there isn't someone more interesting or more important to talk to, just return to the space. I do this by refocusing on my breath, similar to mindfulness meditation, or just tasting what my mouth tastes like, trick I learnt from Madineyah, a friend and personal mastery coach. Both rip you back into the present, and into the space.
The second thing that exist within this space, is that you should try your utmost best to not judge what the person is saying, and at the least delay decision making and response for as long as possible.
People that are great at leading are able to hold the tension and live in the grey areas, suspending decision making till the perfect moment. Judging what the person is saying while they are saying it sends them the nonverbal clue that you are or have placed yourself over them, and that will break the space and the trust. And jumping to conclusions, and quickly heading into advising, or fixing, robs the other person of discovering the truth, or the best decision for themselves. The only advice we ever really take is our own, isn't?
So after the person has said their piece. Give it some time to hang in the air and wait to respond, take a deep breath, and give it a few seconds. The silence honors what the person has just told you, and it gives you the time to gather your thoughts before you respond.
"I remind myself every morning: Nothing I can say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening"
We are afraid to ask questions, especially in a work environment, fearing that it might make us look incompetent or foolish. Yet, asking questions goes hand in hand with listening, trying to 'get' the other person's world. This takes some practice, but it isn't hard.. most people love talking about themselves..., next time, ask open and honest questions, trick I learnt from Palmer Parker. Think of the type of questions a toddler asks, they ask because they truly do not know. We ask because we have an agenda, a goal, and we want to steer the conversation or give advice 'hidden' in a question.
Tell me why you are not committing to the project? Bad question.
What is happening with you right now? Good Question.
The sooner leaders realize that you have little to no idea what is going on inside another person the better. The exact reason we need to be inquisitive, asking open and honest questions whilst suspending judgement.
What Listening Does
People want to be heard, they want to be seen, and recognised. Listening is just this, when you are truly listening the person will feel validated, respected, included, and seen. Which is what we all want to be honest. It is a basic human desire hardwired into to us to be included in the group.
The sad truth is that people are hardly ever listened to. Just a few short minutes on the internet will tell you this, everyone is screaming to be heard, posting on social media, running click-bait-y email campaigns, pixel tracking your every move so they can re-market to you. It feels like walking down a super touristy alley way with 40 sellers, selling the exact same thing, all screaming louder and LOUDER to be heard, and no one is listening. Social gatherings can be just as bad, everyone clamoring to be heard, or at best on their phones. Networking events are the worst, hidden agendas and perfectly prepped elevator pitches.
But when we listen, truly listen, not wait for our turn to speak, and not prepping our answer in our heads, just being present, looking the other person in the eye, opening up ourselves for them, we are actually giving them consent to be themselves. We create a safe, and I would say sacred, space where they can voice what they need to voice.
Listening opens up creativity in the person being listened to, for once they are heard and not judged. The more you listen to your team, the more the trust and the creativity will grow. To be listened to is an honour, the greatest honour in the world. It is an exchange of precious life itself.
Just to be quiet is the most powerful tool any leader has. Guaranteed.
Have a look at the keynote: Leading without Authority
I am a flâneur, which basically means I spend a lot of time in coffee shops watching the world go by.