A few years ago, I was part of an important corporate group. I was the head of the company’s human development area, and we were executing several projects meant to benefit around 10,000 workers. So the stress level sometimes played against me, and I could get reactive and emotionally distant from my team.
Luckily, at this time, I was working with my coach on improving the quality of my relationship with my team. After the coaching process had finished, one of the most critical learnings was this: make sure you connect before communicating.
Sounds simple, right? Maybe. But if we think about the times we go to somebody and start talking about “the super important thing” we need to share, how easy is to forget to check whether the other person is actually available to listen to us?
As you might know, the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI) is one of the most prestigious coach training organizations in the world. Even though CTI started as a coach training organization, today, we are also a leadership development company. Why? Because all good leaders need coaching skills. This has become especially true in recent years, when the human connection has become so essential.
One of the key beliefs of the Co-Active Leadership Model is that everyone is a leader. This might be a somewhat disruptive belief for some people. Traditionally, when we talk about a leader, we tend to think of someone in a power position. How can everyone be a leader?
But here at CTI, we believe leadership is about the impact you have in your world. Whatever that world, if you create the impact you want, then you are a leader. Under this logic, everyone is a leader because we all have effects on others. Sometimes we get the reaction we want, but often we don’t, and that’s the gap we want to fill. We want to become true leaders, consciously choosing and creating an intended impact in our world.
How can everyone unlock the leader in themselves and have the impact they want? Through leadership and coaching skills.
Leadership Is About Relationships
As a young manager with many responsibilities and privileges, I was used to giving instructions, developing strategies, and being innovative. Still, I didn’t know much about generating a good relationship with my team.
Once you are willing to become a better leader, you need to work to transform that good intention into a new set of skills. That requires practice, vulnerability, and courage. So, let’s talk about the things we need to practice:
The Importance of Listening
Listening is one of the principal skills possessed by a good leader. And real listening requires intention and focus. In CTI, we identify three levels of listening:
Level 1 (L1): Internal listening. This is the inner dialogue we constantly have in our minds. In this place, the focus is within us, our thoughts, feelings, interpretations. There’s no focus on the other; I’m just listening to myself.
Level 2 (L2): Listening to others. This listening level is when you are focused on the other person. All of your senses, attention, and mind is on what they are saying, with and without words.
Level 3 (L3): Global listening: Here, you have a soft and receptive focus on what is happening around you, in the environment or the space, in the totality of your relationship.
To create a good connection with others, we need to be in L2 of listening and include L3 when appropriate. One of the benefits of becoming a Co-Active coach is you will be able to be on those levels and learn to recover yourself when you slip back to L1.
Good leaders create good relationships with their people, and they do this via L2 and L3 listening. A good leader is a good listener.
Think about one relationship you have that’s meaningful for you. And now, think how it started, those first days when you knew each other and when you become closer. Let me ask you something: did you have an open and honest conversation about what kind of relationship you wanted to have? Did you discuss what you valued as individuals and also in the bond you were creating? Did you share how you wanted to be (what you wanted your attitudes to be) when something was not working between you?
I’m pretty sure none of us were educated about this. But do you know what? It’s so important! We want to have quality relationships, and these are not things that happen by chance. It takes effort to create and maintain a good relationship — and to evolve its bonds.
Therefore, a key leadership skill is to design alliances. One of the most critical abilities for coaches is to ask questions about expectations, intentions, goals, values, etc., not assuming we think or want the same, but talking openly and aligning to create a strong understanding and a safe space.
How Can Leaders Develop These Skills?
First of all, a friendly reminder: it’s a journey!
Maybe this happens only to me (I don’t think so!), but whenever I start to read articles like this one, I have a sensation of anxiety because I want to know how to make it real. And so finally, I would like to share with you a couple of tips to make concrete some of what I’ve touched on here:
Today, in the conversations you have, try to go to your level 2 of listening by repeating in your mind the exact words the other person is telling you. Like a mental echo, this will “train” you to maintain focus on what you are hearing.
Choose one person you already have a good relationship with, and talk about what you value about them; this will create positivity between you. Try to ask something about what’s needed from you to help the other person grow, and see what you discover.