August 7, 2020
By Dave Bushy
I learn from every client. One lesson in particular that comes to mind came from a young leader with whom I recently worked.
My client was extremely curious about how others saw her. She worked hard at becoming aware of her own well-developed sides and those she discerned might be less developed. She was a veritable sponge for learning!
Her growth as a leader was amazing, as she honed skills at dealing with others who might have different styles and perspectives, recognizing her own resistance to change and then setting judgment aside, using the lens of learning and appreciation for others. She worked hard in listening and in taking the time to pause. It was a remarkable journey to watch.
As significant as her progress was, though, it was surpassed by something deeper and more meaningful for her: The idea of connection with others. It came in a realization to my client one day as she spoke about the coaching experience. I asked her what meant the most to her. She answered,
“I’m very busy as a leader and people seldom take the time to just ask, ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s on your mind?’ The gift you gave to me each session was that you asked me those questions and so many more. And then you just listened. You allowed me to explore who I am and how I want to grow.”
As a coach, I nodded and smiled – I appreciated her kind comment. And I asked just one more question:
“And what did you learn from that experience?”
My client’s profound response: First, she paused and then she looked at me intently, and said, smiling,
“We all need someone to ask about us, and we all need someone to listen. We need to give the gift of ourselves and attend to others.”
Such moments are so powerful for a client and her words can provide perspective for all of us. So much of what we do as leaders is transactional, filled with strategy and the innumerable tasks we handle daily. Sometimes we lose sight of the need to connect with others – and to remember that the relationship with our people is of paramount importance. It precedes and indeed should supersede the tasks we handle.
Especially during these challenging times, each of us needs to have someone look at us, ask how we are, and then just give the gift of listening. My client aptly called it “attending to others,” as the greatest gift we can give.
Think about leaders working at home today with no clear lines of demarcation between their abode and the workplace. Many are trying to be playmates with their children and supervising their schoolwork. They are shopping and cooking and going non-stop. The stresses are greater than they have been for any of us in recent memory.
We can’t necessarily solve such issues for our people. And most people don’t really expect us to be able to do so. We all need to just ask the simplest of questions:
“How are you today? And what’s on your mind?”
And then just listen. With our eyes, our ears, and our heart.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry. He experienced the challenges of 9/11 and its aftermath.