14 - 7 - 2021 - Insights

Self-leadership is all about choices

In this blog post, our director of strategic change programs, Tania Jarrett, reflects on how working with others is a form of self-leadership. The ability to be truly present and open in a moment is at the heart of success and is difficult for many of us. There are different ways to get support for your personal development in leadership, but in the end, it is essentially a matter of your own choices.

We always lead something, including ourselves. In a role of a boss, you need to practice leadership, but we often forget that leadership is present in all of our daily lives; whether you're coding or doing installation work – you constantly lead your own actions and how you work with others. These are choices, and that's why I want leadership development at Insta to be not just a matter of bosses and team leads but a topic for each one of us.

Practicing listening to others and also to yourself

In this busy world, we get many different inputs, stimuli, and signals, making listening and hearing, a skill to acquire and hone for all of us, even more difficult. Especially if you're a sort of fireball like me, who doesn't always have the patience to focus when there's so much interesting going on. And I'm not talking now about concentrating in specific stressful situations, but about your everyday choices in how you work with others. Leadership at its most mundane and at its best is the kind of peaceful presence with another, interacting, listening. I think that it's through listening and asking questions, helping another person find solutions, and not giving them. This asks for the ability to stop for a moment, and this ability, too, can and should be learned and practiced.

When it comes to leadership and teamwork, one of my favorite themes is inviting different perspectives and being open and curious about things. When discussing in groups, we easily drift into confrontation. I often talk about De Bono and his six different hats – could we choose to look at the thing at hand for a moment, all of us through the same lenses, with a particular point of view? For example, what are all the risks or opportunities in this case we’re considering or discussing, instead of one of us talking about risks and the other one about opportunities, and then colliding into a confrontation that at worst might switch off the other's thinking and halt all progress we could have made together. De Bono's methodology is already many, many years old but still very functional and easy to adopt!

Not only will the discussions become more constructive, but you also have an excellent opportunity to develop your own thinking to become more diverse. We all have ways of thinking that we naturally use more, while another manner can be very foreign. It serves us well to put a different colored hat on our heads and look at the issue from different angles. For example, I am in a change management role and out of habit, and inherently, I immediately start looking for opportunities when someone else can look at change from the viewpoint of risks and fears. It does me good to force myself to think about how others can experience or see the situation when I put on a more unfamiliar hat.

Of course, you can debate and disagree with yourself, too. Once a colleague gave me a refreshing hint: when you are strong in argumentation, try arguing against your own opinion in a group situation sometimes. This advice was eye-opening and instructive, and I continue to try to remember that technique. Of course, it is worth agreeing on using this means, in a psychologically safe environment, that today I will be a devil's advocate and take such a role. Otherwise, your colleagues or team members may be perplexed when your thinking is completely unexpected for them at that time.

Support for leadership development

How could an organization support its leaders in developing their leadership? It is a tremendously big question. One easy way is to encourage people to read certain good books that support your company's desired leadership culture. Even the selection of books can lead you to a good and exploring discussion, which easily illuminates how different information or tools we each have in our backpack. Coaching is, of course, another fairly obvious way to develop and evolve in leadership, and you can actively seek a mentor or a coach either inside or outside the organization.

I think it has a significant impact that our own leaders would simply, by their own behavior, truly begin to live what we have defined as the principles of leading our organization. If we have said that we want to help our team members perform and succeed better than we do, then as leaders, it's our place to show our true will to evolve and find ways to make it happen. We humans always observe each other's behavior, even as children, we learn strongly through modeling - the power of example is enormous in both good and evil, so what kind of model do you want to live or what type of mark to leave?

For me, leadership is not mysticism or rocket science. Since it should be genuine and each of us has our own tone, I would recommend reading a few inspiring books, reflecting, and even having a conversation with a colleague, grabbing the in-house coach's sleeve, or getting an external coach. An organization should also give people time to develop themselves while at the same time requiring a commitment to development. Receiving feedback and letting it sink also has a place in learning.

Remember to take care of yourself

For most of us, our biggest asset is the level of our brain's well-being and resources, and how we take care of these. Sometimes I wonder why I still don't systematically apply the doctrines that came in 2012 in the book 'Työkirja' by Saku Tuominen and Pekka Pohjakallio. One should often take a small break, reset for five minutes, or even focus the eyes on another subject for a few seconds, which is beneficial for brain function. Interruptions are also mainly due to our own choices: you interrupt what you do, you choose to do something else, you do constant task shifting, the transfer of thoughts.

Then there's another thing, compassion. Doing small-scale is enough, and we are all human: we make mistakes, and sometimes we fail; we are all on a learning journey. What matters is how you react to these faltering steps, that you don't cover them up but admit that it wasn't a good day, I couldn't act or behave as I wanted to, and would instead think through how to improve in the future.

For example, I sometimes find that my focus narrows in a stressful or hectic time because I only deal with the acute issue, and my communication can get quite terse. This can lead to friction when someone else doesn't work in the same context and perceives the communication as rude (and it easily is in those circumstances). Even then, authenticity and openness would help: to say out loud, that hey, I now have this phase and tasks, I'm sorry I may not be present mentally at all for the next three weeks. It's also wonderful to have colleagues who boldly bring up these things if I don't notice them myself (so thank you, Marika!).

Tania Jarrett

Tania Jarrett

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