The leadership awareness triad – Part 3

Leadership demands self-awareness and an ability to build empathetic connections with people around us. But that’s not all. Having an outward visionary focus is also central to its effectiveness. Leaders with a strong outward focus are not only good listeners, but also good questioners. They can sense the consequences of decisions and imagine how their choices may play out in the future.

But how can we build such an outward focus? Researchers highlight the role of two key factors that help us become visionary leaders.

  • Strategic thinking. A basic understanding of strategy involves making the most of your current advantage and exploring new possibilities. Wharton School of Business built on this idea, and through research involving more than 20,000 executives, found six skills that strengthen our strategic powers:
    • Ability to anticipate situations
    • Question them for perspective
    • Interpret or make meaning
    • See what the learning is
    • Align it with current or future need
    • Practice learnings in varied situations

According to Wharton researchers, a strategic leader is both resolute and flexible, persistent in the face of setbacks. This happens when s/he has learned to apply all six skills at once. It’s akin to a divergent thinking process. Such an ability to respond involves resilience in the face of uncertainty, and willingness to explore. A key question to start with – “What does this situation mean for me or the organization?”

Does such exploration come naturally? Not exactly. Sleep deprivation, substance use, stress, and mental overload – all interfere with our brain’s executive circuitry that aids strategic thinking. Thus, to sustain the strategic skills that help build an outward focus, our first step is securing time to reflect and refresh.

  • Most of us have the same degree of access to information and continue being bombarded with it. How does one harvest it all, and generate new ideas to build a better future for the company? Creativity pundits weigh in on two practices – combine existing ideas in novel ways, and ask questions that open up more possibilities. And how does one do that?

First, we prime our mind to think in unfamiliar ways, by gathering a wide variety of information relevant to the task. Then, we alternate between concentrating intently on the problem, and letting our minds wander freely. While immersing ourselves in all kinds of input, we remain alert for anything relevant to the problem at hand. And then relax, allowing our minds to associate freely and the solution to emerge spontaneously. That’s why so many fresh ideas come to people in the shower! This ability to manage attention activates both our left and right brains, helping us focus.

With these two foundational skills in tow, leaders can start building their ability to be visionaries. And backed by self-awareness and awareness of others, the efficiency of leaders is believed to magnify immensely. After all leadership is not just about leading people. It’s also about managing ourselves, and the wider world.

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