Try Sitting In A Different Seat

By David Mason

CommutersIt’s amazing, isn’t it, how quickly we become creatures of habit?

Starting my role with CommsMasters has meant that I now have a daily commute from Edinburgh to Glasgow (when I’m not out visiting clients) and, on reflection, I’m a little bit worried about how soon I’ve got into a ‘routine’.

Up at the same time, out at the same time, arrive at the station, grab a latte and jump on the train – heading for ‘my’ seat. It’s only been a couple of weeks and yet yesterday, when someone was already in ‘my’ seat, I felt just the tiniest bit disgruntled.

Now, it’s not as if I reserve the seat, nor of course do I have any right to that particular seat – it’s just that, in only ten working days, I have become accustomed to sitting there.

So I thought I would put my disgruntled-ness to good use by pondering on how, as leaders, getting into habits, whilst comforting and providing structure, can be really damaging to our effectiveness.

How often do you hear yourself saying (only to yourself, of course!) that “It’s just the way I like it” or “That’s how we do things round here”? One of the key roles of leadership is to have the ability to drive change; that insatiable desire to move things forward – an old manager of mine once called it ‘nosiness’. I prefer to label it as ‘the curiosity of leadership’.

Think of it like this. If I sit in that same seat on the train every time I travel, I always see the same view, nod at the same people and hear the same conversations. When forced to sit elsewhere I noticed what lay on the other side of the track, I actually bumped into an old friend, and the chatter was very different!

So how, as leaders, do we ensure that from time to time we ‘sit in a different seat’?

Well, firstly we have to want to do it. We need to be sufficiently self-aware to acknowledge that we just might need to do things differently on occasion. And self-awareness starts with understanding how others see us.

A good place to start is with a 360. By this I don’t necessarily mean something expensive and time-consuming (although it can be a very worthwhile process to undertake a professionally-conducted 360° exercise when appropriate). What I mean is simply asking a few people three simple questions:

  1. Which things that I do, as a leader, do you want me to do more of?
  2. What would you like me to do less of?
  3. What do you think I do well as a leader and should carry on doing?

Because many people find it difficult to respond authentically when they know that you’ll be aware who’s saying what about you, it could be sensible – rather than asking via email – to ask your chosen respondents to print out their replies and leave them in a blank envelope on your desk.

As I said, this doesn’t need to be a very sophisticated exercise but – communicated well to potential respondents so that they know why you’re seeking their views (“…to make me a more effective leader”) – it can really help you gain insight into how others see you, think about your leadership style from the other side of the track… and simply ‘sit in a different seat’ for once.

David Mason is an Associate Consultant with CommsMasters. As the former Head of Executive Development at the Royal Bank of Scotland and founding Head of the HBoS Corporate University, David is widely experienced in supporting and coaching the most influential leaders. His highly practical approach to development is based on his own roles as a senior leader in a number of industries including retail (with Marks & Spencer) and banking (with Halifax and Bank of Scotland).

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