A large component of practicing healthy emotional intelligence is the ability to look beyond the day-to-day scenery, stepping back to see what else may be at play. All too often we have so much going on in our day, that stopping to contextualize any of it (or re-contextualize it, as things evolve) is a luxury. Yet, that is where you tap into a rich vein that oozes potential.
A common theme for anyone working on his or her leadership skills is looking at what is wanted versus what is needed. Shrewdly, I had one person ask me "What is the difference? I believe I am doing what my company asks of me, so it is both wanted and needed!"; certainly, but is that based on perception or reality? Truthfully none of us can sit idly by and assume we've got it all handled all the time…not as parents, spouses, friends or as leaders…and that we should expect great results forever. Things change, sometimes subtly over time, sometimes in a great big thrust. There is an iterative process that takes place when we encounter something new; we engage a different part of our brains than when we complete routine activities. This causes us to use different neural pathways, allowing us to test, try, learn (repeat) and then apply our new knowledge until we feel we have mastered a task (assuming this is something we want to master). Then, unintentionally, the "learning" stops, and with it, the testing, curiosity, open-mindedness and iterative process that allowed us to re-contextualize and pay attention to the nuances that made up many subtle realities of what we have learned, turning them into "scenery".
The net effect of this can be felt when something around us changes; we hire new staff or receive a new boss who points out what they are seeing from the perspective of their "fresh eyes". Especially when it is different from our own perspective of our work; "I noticed when you get stern in meetings you lean forward and come off a bit condescending". Perhaps your employer is merging with another, causing upheaval in the way you are used to doing things, or you are getting feedback from others with a different tone and timber to it than in the past (hints of exasperation, less patient). Subtle, or direct, there are often indications to help you understand that how you did things before may not be the best approach going forward. This can cause a lot of confusion, even frustration as we are thrust into a new understanding - one that helps us to see that doing what we have always done may now provide less than optimal results. Another way this manifests itself is when we have limited tools at our disposal, so an approach that works really well in a particular circumstance, or with a particular team member, doesn't work effectively in all the things we are accountable for, leaving us at a loss as to what to do about it.
Take some time to examine your assumptions; there is value in looking at what you may want versus what is being called for (need). An example can be found in a leader who prides himself on his efficiency; meetings are short, to the point and efficient, a style that he feels is the best way to make good use of everyone's time. Yet, he has experienced turnover in his leadership team and exit interviews with departing staff indicate they find him cold and feel they are not getting all the information they need to be able to confidently excel in their roles. What did this leader want? What was needed? Sometimes, what we value the most in leadership (and in life) is not what is actually called for. A very collaborative leader who is always there to help when asked can often be a good thing. But only if it meets the expressed needs of the team; this style of leader may collaborate on ideas, but not give clear direction because he or she wants consensus from others first (rather than providing others with what was needed – a way forward). Our best intentions, what we value and what we find beneficial, are not always going to fit what our organizations need most, nor the needs of others. Ensuring we understand this allows us to remain alert to evolving circumstances, asking questions, "checking in" with others around us to ensure we have fully captured what is needed, versus what we may want to give.
Are you leading from a place of comfort, or a place of discernment? Do you actively seek to understand what is most needed versus moving swiftly into what you want to be known for, what is easiest to do or what is "safe"? It is a very subtle distinction, one that can be hard to catch because when we operate from a place of expertise, comfort or best intentions, it feels right. However, without discernment, without asking questions or seeking other perspectives and being openly curious you may miss the key elements, which can guide you to the right action, and never know it. Wisdom, then, is the act of staying open minded, allowing you to be able to test the difference between want and need.