Let go of the rice...
For the last twenty years I’ve been asking groups of managers the following question:
"Think of the best manager you've had. What was it about them that made them the best?”
The answers easily fill a flip chart and range from “they made time for me” to “believed in me” to “challenged me”. I’m never surprised at these answers but I’m always fascinated by how similar one group’s answers are to another group’s. The answers are always the same irrespective of industry, profession, age or culture. This simple activity always provokes an interesting and energised discussion.
Some years ago it occurred to me, after having this discussion with several hundred people, that there is a kind of inbuilt common sense in people about leadership and relationships and when we access it and apply it, produces great results. I’ll point this observation out to the group. Invariably, someone will ask along the lines of, “if its common sense, then why don't people do it more often?” I love that question. If it doesn't emerge naturally, I’ll ask it. No surprise again, the group’s answers range from stress to heavy workloads, to tight deadlines, to getting distracted. It’s these things that disconnect us from our common sense.
So how can we be more in touch with our common sense? How do we connect with people in the way that we all know deep down is the way to inspire and release the best in ourselves and others?
I would suggest that awareness is the first step. I love the work of the late Stephen Covey, a great thinker, leader and author of the bestselling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Whenever he was asked which of the habits was the most important, he would reply Habit 1, Be Proactive. At the heart of this habit is the idea that we’re not completely at the mercy of our environment, our upbringing or what happens to us in life. We are much more resourceful and powerful than that. We are all endowed with the innate ability to use our awareness, imagination and free will to choose our response.
Think about the times when you really connected with a colleague. Did you get that connection through the use of a technique or carefully planned approach? Did you have a lot on your mind? I would think it unlikely. Much more likely is that your mind was relatively calm and your thinking was settled and during that time you were totally focused and engrossed in the conversation. In other words, there was less interference and therefore less to disconnect you from the other person.
This interference is always generated and perpetuated by our own thinking (where else could it come from?). What we focus on in life does grow stronger and can either trap us or liberate us. Here’s an excerpt from the wonderful book Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert Pirsig where he describes the “Old South Indian Monkey Trap”:
The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped…”
The monkey keeps hold of the rice unwilling to let go, trapped by his own thinking until his captor arrives. This is a great metaphor for the times when we get blinkered by what’s going round in our minds, recycling our analyses and our options, replaying what’s been said, identifying who's done what and speculating on what could happen. While all this is going on, whilst we’re gripping tightly to our thinking, what chance do we have for fresh thinking or to access our inbuilt capacity to connect with people?
What advice would you give to the monkey? - Well its obvious, I suppose. You’d say “relax your grip, let go of the rice”
First published on 24th August 2016 by Ashley Wood. He readily admits that he spends more time with his hand stuck in a coconut than he’d like to.