A beautiful little boy entered my life this past month – my first grandson Harry. Looking into his eternally wise and absolutely innocent eyes leaves me feeling humbled by the miraculous nature of a child being born. He’s just started to smile, and we’re all feeling the excitement of living every day to come with him seeing the world with fresh eyes. Everything will be a new experience and his curiosity is sure to bring many laughs and happy times to our family.
Harry now has the epitome of shoshin, a “beginner’s mind”, and his adult life challenge (as it is for all of us) will be to hold on to this precious way of looking at the world as his brain starts to form patterns of expectation, biases and preconceptions of what ‘should’ happen.
When we’re a true beginner, our mind is ‘empty’ and we’re willing to learn and consider multiple perspectives and many options (like a child discovering life for the first time).
Sadly as we experience life, get educated and grow our knowledge/expertise, our mind tends to become more and more closed, and we find ourselves blocking any information that doesn’t align with what we already know and feel to be our truth. We start powering through conversations, addicted to being right, positionally guiding people to our way of thinking – until we hear something that fits our current beliefs or previous experience!
It’s a slippery slide to arrogance and trips up many of our leaders who lack the awareness raised by honest self-reflection (often only brought out into the light by Emotional Intelligence coaching). Most leaders aren’t that interested in hearing exciting new information, they feel more at home with comfortable validation.
Unwitting arrogance in leadership is very unattractive to others and drives people away in droves. What leaders would do well to realise is that when they’re experts at something, it’s a wake- up call to pay more attention to others’ thinking, and a time to ramp up curiosity and humility.
Simon Sinek wrote about this so well in his book ‘Leaders Eat Last’ where he describes a kind of leadership that inspires so wholly that people will put their lives on the line for you!
To quote Zen master Shunryo Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Through Emotional Intelligence coaching, leaders explore ways to discover a shoshin mind and the gems hidden in VITAL leadership, where vision and purpose, inspiration, trust, awareness and a love of learning energise and excite those around them. It’s fuelled by shoshin, and a style of communication that searches for the possibilities in every situation.
Emotional Intelligence coaching challenges STUCK leadership, where siloes, toxicity, unhappiness, cancerous cultures and the killing of ideas abound – all disastrous to trust, intrinsic motivation, engagement and performance. People don’t’ leave companies – they leave Stuck leadership!
Here are a few ideas to help you shift your own leadership to more of a shoshin style:
- Let go of your need to be right in your conversations. Start observing your own patterns of conversation – how often do you feel the need to correct someone, to butt in with your own point of view before you’ve heard all they have to say? It’s OK if you were right all along – there’s no benefit in putting others in their place!
- Stay curious longer. A great tip is to ask questions for which you genuinely don’t know the answer, listen to the response and follow up with more curious questions
- Listen more. Listen and Silent share the same letters, which is a stark reminder to challenge ourselves to stay quiet longer and not dominate conversations
- Ditch your need to add value. Giving other people the chance to find their own solutions energizes them, whilst providing them with all your ‘fantastic’ solutions demotivates them! Marshall Goldsmith’s excellent book describes What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (audiobook) the benefits leaders can have when they step back and observe more, giving others the opportunity to do the thinking for themselves
- Get off autopilot and show people daily that you care. A few words of gratitude, encouragement and genuine human connection from a leader inspires hours of intrinsic motivation in an employee – so leave your office more often and show up to connect more.
Leadership is a journey, and the higher up the ladder we go, the lonelier it becomes and the less likely it is that the troops below will tell you the truth – until it’s too late and your culture starts showing signs of being STUCK.
Embrace your shoshin, your beginner’s mind. Daily practice will sow seeds of trust which will grow into a leadership tree bearing much fruit.