Why is it that we are willing to hire an expert to support us in getting physically in shape, but we think we are the experts when it comes to the quality of our thinking? Have you thought about what impact it would have on your life if your thinking improved by 10 %?
Several studies over the last years have raised two critical leadership meta-skills which predict a leader's success:
- learning to learn
- harnessing thinking skills
If we then combine these two we learn to think better.
We are all familiar with the fact that the world around us is unpredictable and complex, which means that old solutions or thinking patterns are no longer relevant. If there is one thing we all should think about, that is thinking about thinking. When did you last do that?
Leadership starts from the brain
Lately, neuroscience has brought a lot of new information about how our brains work. Neuropsychologist and researcher Ville Ojanen uses the term "experience blindness", being the opposite of awareness. It means that most of the time, we are unaware of what we are thinking or feeling because we are so busy doing it. This is a necessary ability for us to get things done in everyday life. But if you never get out of that zone, you will become blind to your reactions and behaviour and their impact on others. Ojanen defines a leader's most crucial role as leading the way people relate to each other. And this starts with connecting to or relating to yourself.
"The quality of relations is the key to successful leadership, and it starts with self-awareness."
Scientists also use the term mentalisation, which is basically the ability to keep your mind in mind. And not just yours but also the mind of the person you are interacting with. Being aware of your feelings, reactions and behaviour during the interaction with others allows you to choose your actions simultaneously rather than reflecting on them afterwards.
There are three key questions to be aware of:
- Who am I as a leader? What are my values, strengths, and mission? But also, what are my limiting beliefs and blind spots?
- How do I want to be perceived by others? This does not only require self-awareness but an understanding of the diverse people around me and how their thinking impacts their perception of me.
- How do I practice my reflexivity? When you think you know, the learning stops.
Reflection enables you to grow
Reflecting on your thinking is the key to keep growing. There are actions you can take to practice this on your own, such as reserving time in your calendar to think and making a habit of regularly writing down your reflections.
However, citing Marcia Reynolds, "for the same reason you can't tickle yourself, your brain resists self-imposed testing of thoughts and reactions". Reflecting by yourself is great, but not enough. We all need a mirror to see ourselves with someone else's eyes, a reliable person without a plan or ulterior motive, to help clarify our mind, a thinking partner who challenges and stretches our thinking and helps us to critically reflect.
"A professional coach is like a personal trainer who supports you in exercising your thinking muscles."
Executive coaching supports experienced leaders to think outside the usual ways and challenge established operating modes. Executive coaching aims to turn insights into action and business benefits while supporting the coachee to grow as a leader. By finding new ways of thinking and working, the leader will be able to better meet tomorrow's challenges.
About the author
Virva Laherto is an Account Director and Executive Coach at Hanken & SSE Executive Education. Virva has over 20 years of international experience in development and management in the paper industry in Finland, the UK and Belgium. She is an internationally certified Business Coach with impressive executive coaching experience of over 10 + years. Virva's customers are typically management team members from many different industries.