A significant but overlooked responsibility of a leader is to develop the minds of others.
I don’t mean giving people more information and teaching them new skills. To prepare employees to deal with an increasingly complex, uncertain and volatile future, leaders should be able to ask questions that prompt people to question themselves, to expand the limits of habitual thinking, and to break through the constructs that define who they are today so they can be more tomorrow.
In short, leaders who expand the minds of others keep the organization alive. This mind-expansion skill not only is essential for preparing the workforce for the changes the future will require but also important for filling the leadership pipeline.
Vibrant, sustainable companies have a full pipeline of mentally developed leaders. Organizations where leaders are able to respectfully challenge the thinking and expand the perspective of others keep the company agile and the leadership pipeline flowing and strong.
How can leaders master this skill?
Helping people think for themselves means the leader is primarily using a coaching approach in problem-solving conversations. However, a specific form of listening and coaching is needed when people are trapped seeing things in a certain way, or they are resisting looking at their situation differently.
Leaders need to hear beyond the words to discover the assumptions, attachments, fears and desires creating the blind spots and blocks.
Also, leaders need to be comfortable with discomfort in conversations. When people who are being coached finally realize how they are sabotaging their success, or they recognize that what they want is inconsistent with how they act, they might feel sad, embarrassed or angry. The leader needs to be able to stay centered, breathe and let people process their experience to allow the discomfort to pass.
How do you listen so you know what to ask to change people’s minds?
The powerful questions that change people’s mind emerge when you listen to your intuition. When researching my book on this topic, I found that using your intuition means listening with your entire nervous system, including your heart and gut as well as your brain.
Most of us don’t commonly do this because we listen with our chatty, judgmental, censuring brain, which drowns out what is going on in the rest of the nervous system.
When you learn how to read the signals from your heart and gut, you access the critical data you need to fully comprehend what is going on in the complex humans you are talking to.
From your head, you hear their assumptions and beliefs that frame their version of the story. From your heart, you hear what they desire, why they feel cheated or disappointed and why they are cynical. From your gut, you hear what they are afraid of, including what they are attached to.
To access your intuition, you need to feel grounded in the present moment and visualize opening all the centers in your neural network. Use curiosity to open your mind.
Then, feel compassion and a genuine desire for people to grow to open your heart. Say the word courage to yourself and breathe it deeply into your belly to open your gut.
Do this before you speak, breathe in and open all three centers. The caring and courageous words you speak from your head, heart and gut might confuse, embarrass or make people angry. Then they grow.
Even though it is uncomfortable, this coaching approach does more than expand people’s views of themselves and the world. It is an important way of connecting with others at a deeper level — a level where you see a deeper humanity in the person who you’re with. In return, they feel seen, heard and understood.
How does the younger generation respond?
A good way of retaining young top talent is to listen to them and trust they can figure things out when you ask them good questions. They are asking for coaching. They appreciate the leader who listens and challenges them to be and see more than they do now.
All leaders should be developing leaders. This includes expanding their minds and skills. Leaders who master discomfort-zone conversations are vital to an organization’s ongoing success.