A key part of leadership is being able to work with a group to establish where they are heading for and help them get there. Are you clear about where you want to get to and how you are going to get there? Having this sense of direction is an important part of spirituality and can be a great personal resource. We may wander aimlessly without it.
Self-awareness is an important basis for reflective practice. It involves being able to tune in to: (i) what effect you are having on the situation; and (ii) what effect the situation is having on you. When we interact with other people, we become part of that dynamic; we shape the situation to a certain extent, and so we will be in a stronger position to influence that situation in a positive direction if we are aware of what effect our presence and contribution are having. It is also helpful to be aware of what effect the situation is having on us: Are we anxious? Are we rushing? Are we tired? All these things can have a significant bearing on how the interaction develops, so we would do well to be alert to what part they are playing in shaping the dynamic.
There are things that we can change directly, things that we can change indirectly (through influence), but there are very many things that we cannot change at all. When we encounter these we basically have two choices: (i) we can learn to accept that we cannot bring about change, make the best of the situation and invest our energies in those things we can change; or (ii) waste a lot of time and energy trying to do the impossible and/or become negative, defeatist or even cynical about the fact that there are certain things we cannot change. Which option we choose will have major consequences for ourselves, our colleagues and the people we are seeking to help. So, make sure you choose wisely.
Some people can be quite dogmatic and stick to their views despite evidence and argument to the contrary, and that of course is not helpful. However, it can also be problematic when some people go to the opposite extreme and simply assume that they are wrong whenever they encounter any resistance or disagreement. What is needed, of course, is a balanced approach. Being dogmatic does not help, but nor does abandoning your views prematurely. Being open minded is essential, but that need to include being open to the possibility that you were right all along.
The importance of listening is well established, but what is often not realized that the most effective for of listening involves paying attention to what someone is not saying, as well as what they are saying. Just as silence is an important part of music, working out what is not being said is a key part of genuinely connecting with people, of forming an effective rapport. To hear what is not being said involves tuning in to the situation, considering the context, the emotions involved, where the conversation is coming from and where it is going. These are quite advanced skills, but they can be developed over time.
Sadly, it is often the case these days that we feel the need to make a complaint. What is even sadder is that so many organizations seem ill-equipped to respond positively to people’s concerns – and that can lead to considerable ill feeling and an intensification of pressures. What can make such situations even worse is when the complaint is made to someone who cannot do anything about it (and who is perhaps not inclined to pass the concerns on to someone who can). So, whenever you need to make a complaint, make sure that you complain to the person or body that has the power to do something to address the problem. Working out who that is may not always be easy, but it saves an awful lot of frustration compared with raising issues with people who are not well placed to solve the problem.
There is a common misperception of conflict. It tends to be assumed that everyday reality is basically harmonious and conflict is an exception – conflict ‘breaks out’ to shatter the normality of harmony. However, we don’t need to pay much close attention to what actually happens to realize that, in fact, conflict is an everyday occurrence. Day-to-day reality is a mixture of harmony and conflict. We learn basic conflict management skills as we grow up, and so we have a good foundation on which to build so that we can take our skills to a more advanced level and become more confident and competent in dealing with those situations in which conflict starts to escalate. Continuing to see conflict as somehow abnormal leaves us ill-equipped to rise to some of the more challenging aspects of conflict.
Are you looking for a solution without really knowing what the problem is? Very often we can find ourselves in a pressurized situation where there is a strong sense that ‘something must be done’. If we are not careful that pressure can lead us to trying out solutions without really knowing what the problem is. Sometimes we will get lucky and we will be able to resolve the situation purely by chance, in the sense that our ill-defined ‘solutions’ just happen to address our ill-defined problems. However, what is much more likely is that we will make little progress by being so unfocused and may, at times, actually make the situation worse. So, it’s important that we spend some time and effort in trying to define what the problem is before we try and come up with ways of dealing with it. This is an important aspect of reflective practice.
We get so used to seeing the world from our own point of view that it is easy to forget that how other people see it can be very different. For example, what is routine and straightforward to you can be quite scary and unsettling to someone else who does not have the experience of that type of situation that you have. So, it is important at all times to remember that other people are not inside your head with you – we need to be careful not to be ‘egocentric’ by assuming that our ‘take’ on the situation is the only way to see it. The idea of perspective taking is that of putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes as far as possible. This can come from a mixture of imagining how they might be feeling and actually checking out with them what their perspective is.
Sometimes the difficulties we face in organizations can seem so deep rooted and so extensive that we can feel there is nothing that can be done about them. A pervasive sense of defeatism and hopelessness can easily set in. This is especially the case where morale is low. The result can be a vicious circle: defeatism contributes to low morale and low morale makes people feel helpless. In reality there is often much that individuals can do – especially when working collectively – to make a positive difference. Organisational cultures – whether positive or negative – are basically sets of habits, and habits can be changed. Start to explore possibilities rather than assume that there aren’t any.