We left off the last two week talking about doing and loving the work. We learned that the “work” is cultivating our mindfulness and our context is leadership. Now as we jump into the third practice of a mindful leader, Marc Lesser challenges us to look even deeper into ourselves. This third practice speaks directly to our often insatiable appetite for striving and looking good in front of our peers.
The third practice of a mindful leader is: Don’t Be an Expert.
Don’t be an expert!? Isn’t that why I am a leader? Wasn’t I chosen for my current leadership position because I knew more than the other candidates for the job? Not very likely.
But, don’t those on my team now expect me to have answers when they come to me with questions? Don’t my kids want me to use my vast life experience to tell them what to do? Even less likely.
Lesser reminds us often that the mindful leader’s job is to think, listen, and hold space. Those are the things our team members and family members expect from us. They expect us to think with them when they are having a dilemma, listen with caring when they need to get something off their chest, and create space for presence and cooperation as we build shared cultures at work and at home. They don’t usually expect us to wow them with our brilliant solution to their problem.
It’s so hard to hold back though, isn’t it. Most of us have moved up in our careers because we were really good at certain aspects of our jobs and received regular praise for said performance. We received praise for “doing” something, usually not for our ability to think, listen, or hold space. We were praised for having the right answers.
And it’s so easy to get hooked on the dopamine hit when someone recognizes your intelligence. It’s not our fault though. We’ve been formally graded and judged since kindergarten – and even before that by our parents. Some of us excelled in that system and came out the other end addicted to pleasing. Others of us fought that system and came out ready to disengage and go our own ways.
But for our purposes here today, it’s the addiction to praise that interests me the most because it hits me right in the gut. I can look at missteps I’ve made as a leader and identify instances where I prioritized earning praise from my boss over coaching someone on my team. The irony lies in the fleeting nature of that praise versus the lasting impact on a damaged relationship with someone on my team. We can say the same about most addictions.
Lesser shares several practices in the chapter related to embracing a beginner’s mind in our work as leaders and I want to focus in on one in particular – Listen with Open Ears: Don’t Be a Relationship Expert. In all the different aspects of leadership, we can do the most lasting damage when we act like an expert in the aspect of our relationships with and between others.
Lesser urges us to recognize our filters and the stories we tell ourselves about other people and their actions. He quotes the opening lines of R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience, “I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. Therefore we are invisible to each other.” That invisibility remains in effect until we start to listen. Lesser goes on to say, “Therefore, it is useful to practice being attentive and curious in order to increase our understanding of others. Usually, the more familiar we become with others, the more we assume we ‘know’ them. We risk believing we are ‘relationship experts.'”
So let’s work on recognizing when our mental chatter is telling us a story about someone or something we have experienced in the past. If we recognize it, then we can choose whether or not to listen to that internal voice. We can choose not to assume and see the person or situation with a beginner’s mind. Easier said than done. I fail at this almost daily, but I’m getting better at recognizing my failure and every now and then catch myself before responding. As we talked about last week, it all comes down to an intentional response. And when we can make the response with the passion and curiosity of a beginner, we will likely see our experiences and relationships with renewed joy and wonder.
Before we move on to the fourth practice, Connect to Your Pain, I want to invite you to join my mailing list. By doing so, each update to this blog will be mindfully delivered to you inbox as soon as it’s published.
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Turning toward and connecting to my own pain has been essential in helping me discover what is most important, whether in leadership roles or in any part of my life. This is the benefit of the fourth practice, and I’ve found it true for me again and again.Marc Lesser – Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader