How ditching your expert 'hat' can produce better individual and collective decision making
‘Meetings’ have changed. In most cases, there’s no more chit chat over the stresses of the commute or this morning’s breaking headlines on the way into the room or as you grab a coffee before taking a seat. And talking of sitting, there’s no decision to made on where you are going to place yourself to catch the right eyes to get your initiative over the line. Covid’s influence has transformed the parameters of the traditional leadership meeting, not least in that each participant now has a direct window into others’ homes (cue a consciousness of the wall behind your desk; an awareness that was either not there before Covid, or has grown since it began to become an important part of your ‘personal brand’).
Our desire for safety
But more than backdrops, I’m interested in the (metaphorical) hats we all wear in these forums and how they impact us and the outcomes we create. This post is about the difference it makes when we ‘show up’ in a place from which our contribution isn’t entirely dependent or defined by our role on paper. We all do it - it’s a comfortable place to be - where we know our stuff and our ego is safe. We’ve been doing it for years and we have the qualification, track record, and reputation to prove our worth. We’ve been there and got the T-Shirt, and everyone around the table knows it.
There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but occasionally, we might glimpse that the hat we wear when occupying that space is a risk to the quality of our contribution and the outcome of our collective leadership decisions. It happens so quickly that we hardly even notice.
Our awareness of the way in which a new approach might challenge our personal position is heightened, and we’re just a little bit cautious about getting over the other side of the (now virtual) table to better understand what our peers are saying. While listening to others, we are simultaneously defending the status quo, our mind already working slightly harder to protect our credentials than it is to embrace a new possibility. We’re listening - but we’re also talking (silently).
The power of detaching our contribution from our ego
The irony is, this human and often subconscious tendency to cling to our hat keeps us from performing at our best – because the highest value thinking, individual and particularly collective, never comes from a place in which we feel threatened or defensive. Whilst respect for expertise between its members is a prerequisite for a successful leadership team dynamic, a high performing team also relies on us wholeheartedly getting over the other side of the table so we can actually hear what is being said. And in leaving the hat and all it symbolises outside, we can focus on getting the most effective solutions for the organisations we lead, using the most powerful collective wisdom in the room. In these exceptionally challenging times, successful, conscientious leaders will put aside their egos and ‘show-up’ without succumbing to the fight or flight response on a personal level. So next time, if you’re lucky enough to be aware you’re wearing it, maybe try leaving your hat at the door, and see how it feels…
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