What Would It Be Like?

What would it be like if you were starting fresh and looked at things with a beginner’s mind? Would you notice new and important information?  Or would you see things the same way?  If you did perceive things differently, would you act differently with the new information?

These are some of the questions that I have been introducing to some of the leaders that I am working with.  My most important criterion for who I engage in this conversation is the extent to which I feel they carry a learning mindset.  One that is fueled by deep curiosity, reflection, and growth.

The results have been shocking.  Over 80% of these leaders, once they truly reach a state of detachment and wonderment, admit to new ways of perceiving, processing, deciding, and acting on the same information.  The significance of this finding cannot be underestimated since many of them carry substantial power and influence in their organizations.  The decisions they make have significant and at times disruptive consequences.  Yet, many have not gone through a reflective exercise of suspending embedded, habitual, and often self-limiting assumptions.

Imagine if the great innovators such as Edison, Einstein, Jobs, and Martin Luther King had carried with them the same assumptions and interpretations that had gotten them to where they were when they initiated their most innovative accomplishments.  What if Edison had applied his knowledge of lighting a room using a kerosene powered light to inventing electric powered light? What if Martin Luther King had assumed that it would not be politically advantageous for Lyndon Johnson to interfere in the civil rights movements or the right to vote for African Americans.  After all, that was the politically expedient reality at the time.

How does one suspend judgement and be present to the here and now? In my experience, the journey to enlightenment travels through the following stages:

  1. Awareness – It starts with the ability to separate one’s consciousness or the true self from the events and thoughts that are constantly speaking of the past or future. It is the ability to assume an observer stance and notice what is happening inside one’s mind and body and in the outside world.  Once this state is achieved, the gripping power of habitual thoughts begins to loosen.  The cracks start to appear.  One starts to notice the trends and the cause and effect patterns that are triggered by past events are simply habits and therefore can be changed or controlled.  One leader recounted that he was staged once more to give the inspirational message at a town hall meeting.  But this time there was a camera on him which projected him to the room while he was being introduced.  As he studied himself he could not recognize the person who was about to make the speech.  He told me “I looked and felt like a windup toy.  I felt at odds with what I had to say.  I felt like I was living someone else’s life…”
  2. Separation – Becoming aware is an important first step in the journey. The observer self now needs to open itself to other possibilities and perspectives that the habitual mindset had suppressed.  This requires one to develop a higher order vision and outcome.  For example, if the leader’s true North Star is to serve the organization, she may come away with a different way of assessing the value and impact of her colleagues.  She may start to distinguish between those she personally gravitates to and enjoys versus who brings optimal value to the broader organization
  3. Surrender – Gaining the insight is very important. However, the impetus for breaking old habits is strengthened if the leader surrenders publically.  He says “I have for years assumed that…. Stepping back from it and looking at it from the perspective of… (for example servant leadership) I am not sure anymore.  I’d like to assume a more inquisitive mindset.  I am open to new possibilities.  For example….”  The leader asks for others to hold her accountable if she wonders back into mindless habitual thinking
  4. Experimentation – The leader mindfully exhibits new behaviors and actions. For example, “The here and now is about making personal connections.  I will commit to getting to know my colleagues as people”
  5. Reflection – The leader keeps track of the effect of the new thinking and behavior on herself and on others
  6. Feedback – The leader receives feedback from others on how they experience and perceive her
  7. Calibration – Useful and new thoughts and behaviors are integrated for future use


Questions for online conversation

  1. When was the last time you stepped back and reexamined your assumptions?
  2. How difficult or easy was it to let go?
  3. Were you able to use your insights and push yourself into new decisions and actions?

About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

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