The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

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It was dark and I was in unfamiliar territory. I was aboard a friend’s boat on the Chesapeake Bay, at night, headed home, when he said, “You should drive. It will be good practice.”

“Good practice?” I thought. “Is he crazy? There are lights everywhere.” As I looked across the horizon and saw white lights, yellow lights, red lights, green lights, blinking lights, bright lights and faint lights.  “Which do I follow?” I asked him.

He said, “You’ll learn to sort out the important lights, that help you navigate to the dock, from the irrelevant ones that are a distraction.”  Wise words that also apply to you as an insightful leader.

You navigate your organization towards the future and along the way there are countless pieces of information and distractions that can take you off course – if you let them. How do you sort out the relevant from the irrelevant? Here are three tips I learned from executives I interviewed.

  • Have a clear objective. You can only navigate to your goal if you are clear on your goal. Yeah, I know…that seems obvious. And, I’m continually amazed at how often managers lack clarity on the goal. We breeze past the difficulty of finding clarity in the rush to act. Clarity immediately reduces distractions. Clarity allows you to ignore all inputs that don’t align. Without clarity, it would be like me aiming for any creek when I wanted Aberdeen Creek.To get clarity, ask yourself,
    • “What is the desired outcome?”
    • “What specifically needs to be accomplished?”
    • “What specific action do I want to occur?” Don’t settle for generalizations. Be specific

From a place of clarity, identify the key next steps. These steps help to retain clarity and focus along the way. Activities that aren’t in alignment with the steps to the objective, can be dealt with later.

  • Control the tangents. Be brutal about this. Everyone you talk to will try (maybe unintentionally and maybe intentionally) to take you off on a tangent. If you stay laser focused on the objective, you can tactfully redirect the conversation while staying aware that other issues will be dealt with later. When someone tries to divert your attention, say,
    • “That’s a good point, and we need to stay focused on the goal. We can come back to that point once we deal with this.”
    • “I appreciate you bringing this up. Let’s put this in the parking lot to address next.”
    • “I realize this is a concern of yours and we will address it, but for now, we need to stay focused on the goal for today.”

As I scanned the darkness, the horizon filled with lights. But I didn’t need the circling light of Thomas Point Lighthouse or the red and green lights of other boats. I began to train my eyes to discern the lights on the markers that indicated the way back. It went like this: Marker light…got it in my sights. Lighthouse light: it’s out of the way; I won’t run aground; no need to consider it further. Other boats: They are not in the way and not coming my way; no need to consider them further. They remain in my periphery but didn’t distract from the goal. How do you sift out the tangents, set them aside, and stay focused on the objective?

  • Check in along the way. As we motored back toward the dock, the navigational chart told me which marker should be in view next. Did it appear when and where it was supposed to? Check. We were still on course. As an insightful leader, it is wise to check your course along the way. Are you still focused on the objective? Are you still taking the steps you identified or have you succumbed to a tangent? Check in along the way and make course corrections as needed.

You, as an insightful leader, are the keeper of focus. In addition to reaching your goal efficiently, your staff will feel more secure and calm because of your clear-headed focus.

Photo Copyright : James Kirkikis

over thinkingI was intrigued but not surprised. The a-ha moment happened as I discussed the pitfalls of over-thinking with a group of 70 transportation leaders. It could have been any group of leaders. Perhaps it is evident: Leaders develop good and bad decision-making habits and so do organizations. I work with individual leaders to develop their capacity for balanced decision-making.  But, organizations also develop habits – ways of relating or responding – that may be productive or not.  The organizational decision-making pattern is learned or influenced in part by the leader.

I see two implications:

  • The same principles for balanced decision-making apply to organizations as to individuals.  Like an individual, organizations can practice and reinforce productive decision-making until the collective “brain” of the organization is rewired.
  • The leader’s impact extends beyond the immediate decision. The leader is the decision-making model for the organization. Over-think it and a message is sent. Have a knee-jerk reaction and another message is sent. Exhibit balanced decision-making and a model is created that reinforces optimal behavior.

Let’s consider, for example, a tendency to over-think decisions. Over-thinking is characterized by delayed decisions, a relentless need for more information, and analysis paralysis. Over-thinking wastes time, causes missed opportunities and reduces ROI. And while it may be a characteristic attributed to a leader, an over-thinking organization moves at a slow, slogging pace.

An over-thinking organization creates a culture of caution that permeates its collective thinking. Early warning signs of an over-thinking organization include constant striving for more data and analysis, reluctance to make a recommendation, and bumping the decision to a higher level. Cautiousness grinds progress to a halt.  Rather than decide and move on, the organizational unit studies and vets and studies even more. As with an individual the way out is to first notice the hesitancy and then to probe the organizational discomfort.  What is the underlying feeling within the group? Why is there fear of moving forward?  What repercussions lurk – either real or imagined – that color the forward progress of the group? Once those intangible issues are surfaced and articulated, there is a chance for the group to choose a different path.  But an organization is more complex than an individual.  Although difficult, deeply ingrained organizational habits can be changed.  As with an individual, that change comes as a result of practice, reinforcement and focused attention. Did I mention practice?  Did I mention reinforcement?  This is hard and it requires determination. It is the practice and focused attention that will ultimately rewire the organization’s collective brain.  Members of the organization, managers and leaders must stay vigilant to the ease with which decision-making can slide into old, familiar patterns. As in an individual’s brain, habitual responses are easier, faster, and comforting for the organization.  But they may not be productive.

The leader’s role is even more crucial. It’s important for a leader to develop good decision-making practices as part of her skill set and it is even more important to be an example of productive decision-making. The leader’s decision-making approach is mimicked and modeled – perhaps more subconsciously that consciously.

When a leader gets lost in over-thinking, that behavior trains the rest of the office. An over-thinking leader creates a culture of restraint with overly-cautious team members who are risk averse and who have an avoidance mentality. Unhelpful behaviors exemplified by the leader are passed along to the staff perpetuating suboptimal decision-making. It’s a huge price to pay.

Conversely, a leader who models balanced decision-making that uses both cognition and intuition grows a staff with deep awareness and capability. This type of decision-making also takes individual practice and persistence.  However, the ROI is significant.  The organization benefits from sound leadership decisions and staff become receptive and capable with the depth to choose well-balanced responses. It cultivates a healthier organization and positions individuals to grow into insightful leaders. When the leader cultivates balanced decision-making patterns, it permeates the organization like a breath of fresh air.

So what about you and your organization? Are you as a leader, developing balanced and insightful decision-making patterns?  Have you looked at the decision-making patterns of your office? As you develop yourself, you feed them.  It’s worth the practice and persistence.

 

We left the dock at 5 am, bundled against the cold, the boat loaded with food, drinks, snacks for us and lures for the fish. It was opening day of Rockfish season. I know nothing about Rockfish, but I was with an experienced team who have fished together for twenty years. Their preparation was extensive and exhaustive. The week before they organized lines, white and chartreuse lures, weights coordinated to each line so that lures trailed the boat at varying depths and distances. The team planned it all in advance  ̶  thoughtful & intentional. Knowledge of Rockfish patterns determined the trolling location which was 90 minutes away at top speed. We were well organized, well planned, and well prepared…and we caught no fish.

Have you ever been fully prepared; thought of everything and were disappointed that it (the project, the meeting, the conversation) didn’t turn out as planned? Insightful leaders may be disappointed but they start asking questions.

  1. What mid-course correction can be made?

At the first inkling that the plan isn’t working out, insightful leaders look for ways to adjust. Since much of any work project is about making an emotional connection, what clues can you pick up from the reaction of the client, boss or audience? Notice their mood and receptivity. Do you need to ask more questions, reorient the project direction, be more or less aggressive, or make a change to the project team? Mid-course corrections could be in timing, staffing, approach, product/service shift, scale or more. Maybe a tweak will get you back on track.

Our accomplished team quickly realized that the fish were scarce. They adjusted the lines, cleaned jellyfish from the lures and changed course. All were good mid-course corrections and they didn’t work. Time for the next step.

  1. What are others experiencing?

Is it just you or are others experiencing problems? Your next steps are colored by the answer.  Are you able to ask questions of others in your office with similar projects or clients? Competitors may offer clues, too. When you observe their behaviors, do you notice them shifting strategy, tactics or customers? Are there partners or even competitors with whom you can safely make inquiries? Your intention is to determine if your work is an isolated situation or part of a bigger trend.

As we trolled the quiet waters, we observed the charter fishing boats.  Many were in the same area we were. We took comfort in that, except the radio was missing the usual chatter of excited fishermen. Within hours, the charters started looking for fish elsewhere. We were part of a tournament. Friendly competitors texted back and forth lamenting the lack of fish.  It wasn’t just us.

  1. What’s the bigger picture?

An insightful leader is always attentive for indicators of a big picture shift. In a time of big data, there are an increasing array of information sources to help spot a shift. Sometimes, the gnawing in the gut is also a good indicator. When you look at all the information you gathered, do you see a shift in client expectations, a change in client demographics or psychographics? Are there new technologies that bring new business opportunities and disrupt existing ones? Is this a one-time problem or a systemic trend? You need to know the difference.

The water was still too cold. That was the consensus from our team. The fish had not yet left the rivers. The question remains, is this a one-time event or an indicator of climate change? One is a blip, the other would make opening day fishing more speculative.

As any leader can attest: It’s essential to have a plan and it’s equally essential to be able to change the plan. Use these questions whenever your best-laid plans don’t pan out.

Are there other key questions you use when plans change?

 

I was in my hometown of Smithville, Texas for the big Jamboree celebration. Jamboree includes a coronation, parade, dances and a livestock show and sale. For the livestock show, kids raise steers, pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits to be judged and sold. The two-year old granddaughter, Kyndall, of my childhood friend was fascinated by the rabbits. An eighth-grader holding a white bunny walked past and Kyndall was ON IT. She patted the rabbit, rubbed its ears and, in a moment of brilliance, she bent over to be at eye level with the rabbit as though she was communicating with it. It was an adorable moment that captured my attention. Here’s why.

In today’s world where email, instant messenger, LinkedIn messages and more are a predominant form of communication, the insightful leader understands the importance of relating person to person (or, for Kyndall, person to bunny). Here are three tips to be more relatable, particularly for high-stakes conversations.

  1. Make eye contact. Kyndall got it right. She made every effort to make eye contact with the rabbit. You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person. Increasingly, the staff I work with seek to hide behind email, but an insightful leader meets in person and makes eye contact – for real. Yes, it’s easier to email but the personal touch makes all the difference. Force yourself, make the time, and make the effort to talk to your staff face-to-face and eye-to-eye. That’s how you connect as people.
  2. Use language that is relatable. Multisyllabic, pretentious (big, showy) words may make us feel educated but they create a barrier to communication. Recently, I assisted a client to craft an important communication to all employees in the company. We intentionally used words that are simple and understandable to all. You create connection via your communication. Think about the simplest terms you can use to communicate effectively. Simple, concise and clear are the recipe for relatability.
  3. Show your interest. Kyndall carefully ran her tiny fingers through the rabbit’s fur and over its ears. As I watched, it was clear that she loved the rabbit and the rabbit sat calmly under her touch. Your staff may not have soft ears and fluffy fur but you can still communicate your interest through sincere curiosity about their perspective and interest in their work life. How do you express your interest in your staff? What do you know about their thoughts and ideas? Do you inquire about their suggestions to improve their work? Like Kyndall’s rabbit, people respond to those who they sense are interested. What would your staff say about your level of interest in them?

Let’s learn from Kyndall and her rabbit. As insightful leaders, you can take a few simple steps to be more relatable to your staff. It’s pays off in dedication and the hard work that comes from feeling connected.

 

Have you ever found something that you like and just stick with it? Maybe it’s your favorite restaurant, favorite running shoe, favorite hand lotion or…in this case, your favorite clam chowder. Recently, we visited friends in Florida and a discussion ensued about the best clam chowder. The next day, we had a side-by-side taste test with two clam chowders. There was the old favorite and a new un-tried contender. I’ll leave you in suspense about the winner as we ponder the relevance to insightful leadership.

At work, we also have our favorites– a favorite process, a favorite go-to staff person who always gets the job done, a favorite approach to problem solving. They are our favorites for a reason – they worked well in the past, we are familiar with them, they don’t require excessive thought, or they are reliable. Like the favorite clam chowder – we know what we’re getting. We get what we’ve always gotten, and the brain likes it that way. It takes less energy for the brain to do what it’s always done.

But, you lead in a fast-moving environment where little is stable. Can you afford to settle for the standby, comfortable solutions? What if there’s a new way and you didn’t discover it? How do you entice people to look beyond their favorites and uncover the creative approach? Here are two simple questions that help push you and others to look beyond the obvious.

Ask, “What if we can’t do it this way – what’s another way?” Let’s say you’re working on a sensitive project and all recommendations take the tried-and-true approach. Push yourself and your team out of the comfort zone by posing this question. “Let’s pretend that our regular approach isn’t available to us. What else can we do?” With that question, you force the discussion to become more creative immediately. When you take the favored approach out of contention and require consideration of other options, you force the brain to dig in and do the hard work of real thinking. Expect to meet resistance. Don’t settle for the default option. Continue to take options off the table to force thinking at a deeper level.

Ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” Listen carefully to the responses. Perhaps you hear, “That’s what we did the last time,” or “It worked for us before,” or “It’s the standard approach.” All responses are of the same ilk…they are reliant on the default behavior. Don’t stop probing until you get to the bottom line goal.  Take the clam chowder example. Why do we always choose this particular clam chowder? The answers could be: It’s at the restaurant on the way home from work; it has a top reputation; we’ve been eating it for years. Good to know but the objective was not to find the most convenient clam chowder with the best reputation. When you uncover the reason for selecting the tried and true, it can open the door to other choices and reveal options to explore.

As for our clam chowder taste test…the old standby won in a landslide. That could happen to you, too. If it does, don’t be lulled into thinking there’s no reason to probe in the future. Change is constant and those who keep up the questions and see beyond the obvious will be the first to find the next favorite thing.

Copyright: cokemomo / 123RF Stock Photo

pavement markersIt happened just the other day. I was in Florida driving back from a training program just as the sun was getting low in the sky. Because I’m a transportation engineer I see things on the road that you may not. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I saw them. The raised, reflective pavement markers. Have you ever noticed them?  They are small, raised bumps between the white dashes and they reflect white light at night with your headlights. But, if you happen to travel the wrong way on the road, they reflect red. You see a continuous line of red twinkling dots to tell you that you need to go the other way.

As the red dots sparkled in the evening sun, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were red twinkling dots to tell us we’re going the wrong way as leaders?” On second thought, perhaps there are.

The nagging feeling that gnaws in your gut. You know that feeling – it tells you that something’s not sitting right. Ignore that feeling at your peril. It’s your inner red twinkling dots trying to get your attention. Both my personal experience and interviews with executives say one consistent thing about the nagging feeling – pay attention. There’s something in your brain that’s trying to get through. Ask questions; probe your discomfort; dig in to understand why the tell-tale feeling has kicked in.  From a neuroscience perspective, the nagging feeling is something from your experience that’s trying to get your attention. Call it intuition or gut feel, but, whatever you call it, it has validity and deserves your attention. In fact, a friend who is an executive director of a trade association told me that she gages the wisdom of her decisions based on the nagging feeling. “The nagging feeling goes away when you make the right decision,” she says. It’s your internal warning system … if you pay attention to it.

Trusted colleagues who say, “You might want to think about that again.” The emphasis here is on “trusted.”  When someone I respect says, “uhhhh….you might reconsider that before you decide,” I’ve learned to reconsider before I decide. There’s only so much that you can see from your vantage point. Others may have a clearer perspective and see consequences and implications that you can’t.  They are your own personal red, twinkling dots. In fact, they can be so effective you should proactively cultivate them. As an important decision approaches, seek counsel from the wise people in your world. What perspective can they offer that you wouldn’t otherwise see?

What other red twinkling dots have you noticed that cause you to pause and take note before deciding? Share your experiences with me and the other readers so that we don’t make a wrong turn.

Photo credit: 3M

escalatorThey were in front of me as I approached the hotel’s escalator to head down to the first floor.  A little, brown-headed boy about 2 years scurried to the escalator holding his dad’s hand. His dad held firm to his hand as he flew him inches off the ground to land squarely on the escalator step. The little boy jumped and jiggled as though the escalator an amusement park ride. Clearly, this is the fun moment the little boy was anticipating.  As they approached the bottom, the boy couldn’t wait any longer. He leaned forward ready for take-off.  His father calmly said, “No. Not yet….wait for it.”

One of my most requested programs is about avoiding over-thinking. I hear from clients, “There is too much wasted time on over-thinking. The decision needs to be made now!” We add pressure by telling ourselves: I should decide, I need to decide, I’ve got to decide. But what about the decisions that need to wait? How does an insightful leader know when to “wait for it?”

The future is too hazy. During a disruptive time, the future can evolve in many different directions. It’s like seeing into a fog. The fog can lift just a bit – enough to see the next step – by waiting. But until the future begins to clear, deciding “NOW!” can be highly risky. It’s better to allow a little time to reveal the next best step.

There’s no coalition behind the leader. Leaders are in lonely roles. They see the future sooner and more clearly than others. If the future is too blurry for others to see, the leader may find themselves without a tribe. As that leader, you may find that building the tribe is harder than you thought. You are too far ahead and they can’t see what you see.  When that happens, “Wait for it.” Give the issue time to gel while you continue to socialize your idea with others until a coalition of like-minded people begins to coalesce.

Trying too hard. Have you ever felt like you were pushing toward a goal – pushing and pushing –  and it’s not happening? It’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole. You are trying to force a decision or an approach whose time has not yet come. The nagging feeling tells you that you’re trying too hard; the time has not yet come. Wait for it.  You’ll know the right time. In my experience, puzzle pieces begin to fall into place or something in your environment shifts. The result is it’s not so hard.

As the escalator ride came to an end, the boy, barely containing himself, waited for the precise moment when the step flattened into the floor and his father swung him over the threshold.  With glee, he scampered off not realizing the lesson he taught us: wait for it.

Have you ever found value from “waiting on it?” I’d love to hear your experience.

Photo Copyright : studiolaska  (Follow)

It was a hustle bustle morning. I was in Austin preparing for a client meeting. I was downtown, and they were in South Austin. It required a drive down Interstate 35 in rush hour to reach their office. Traffic was stop, start, stop, start for several miles before the exit onto the frontage road. I made a quick turn into their driveway so as not to be run over by the pickup truck on my bumper (it’s always a pickup truck in Texas). My knuckles were still clinched as I pulled into the small parking lot.  And then it happened. The parking lot was tucked into a stand of scrub oak trees – small oak trees that twist and turn in sculptured forms. As I parked under the trees, my heart rate slowed and I began to breathe again. It’s the calming power of nature.

Have you ever had a hustle bustle day at work? The day where you go from one meeting to the next? The day where there are more things to do than the hours allow? In those days, when a break seems like the last thing you have time for, use the calming power of nature to rejuvenate your brain and body. The real thing is best but research shows that even photos of nature scenes can be reinvigorating. Here are four ways to fit a nature break into your day.

Lunch or coffee break. Take them. For years I worked through lunch eating off a paper plate while checking emails. Now, I stop for lunch, move away from my desk and computer and take a short stroll somewhere outside.  It might only be to stand in the sun and breathe deeply. What will it take for you to find a small patch of nature to enjoy at your next coffee or lunch break? More importantly, make yourself take that break for even a few minutes.

Change of topic. A nature break also helps your mind shift from one subject to the next. Sometimes we jump quickly from one thing to another but when you are focused on completing a task and it’s time to shift your attention to the next one, your brain makes that change easier if it has a little break to breath and reorient. Try it the next time you intentionally move your attention from one topic to the next. Pause, walk outside or look out the window, and let your mind wander. Take a couple deep breathes to let go of the old subject. It only takes a few minutes to help your brain reorient.

Before walking into work and leaving work. The work day can be intense so use nature to help you prepare for and unwind after work. Notice plants and trees, the smell of fresh air, and the sounds of birds as you leave your home and walk into work. Notice them again leaving work and going home. Like parking under the stand of oaks trees calmed me, let nature bring calm to you at the beginning and end of the work day and transition your brain for the rest of the day.

Thank you to my client, the good people at the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, for providing an unexpected respite from Austin traffic. Take care of those trees!

“I’m trying not to be worried. It will be fine.”

If I said it once, I said it a hundred times.  I said it to my friends. I said it to my work colleagues. And most importantly, I said it to myself. Looking back, I thought I was being positive.  “It will all be fine.” But my brain heard, “worried” over and over and over again. So my brain gave me worry.

Words matter.

As an insightful leader, the words you say to yourself are more impactful than the words you say to others. The words you say to yourself color your outlook, your demeanor and the way you show up to others. You can use your words to create the impact you want.

I attended the Align Retreat this weekend in Oregon with Chris West (www.videonarrative.com). During that retreat I was reminded of the power of words. We were encouraged to write down the type of life we want and design a business that supports it. If I don’t want to worry, then what do I want? After learning tips and receiving tools, I realized that growing a business didn’t have to be hard.  It could be easy.  That’s it!  Easy. Like they say at Staples, “Just press the Easy button.™” Those are the new words that I feed my brain.

How are you using words to get what you want? Try these three steps:

  1. Choose positive words. Choose positive words that reflect the state of mind you want rather than the state of mind you don’t want. Instead of saying, “I’m not ________” say “I am _______.” Leave the “not” behind. Your brain responds to the words you say repeatedly. Whether it’s worry, easy, hard, peaceful, or frustrated, your brain creates what you tell it. Next time you’re tempted to say, “I’m so frustrated that this process didn’t work,” pause, rethink and choose differently, “Okay. That didn’t work. Here’s a chance for a new approach.” Focus on creating a new approach. What state of mind do you want to be in? How can you state it positively? Leave the “not” behind.
  2. Repeat and repeat again. The brain pays attention to repetition. The more you state something, particularly out loud, the more likely your brain will pay attention. You train your brain. It’s like learning to hit a golf ball, paint with watercolors, or speak in front of a group. Practice makes each time a little easier. It’s the same with words. The more you say positive words, intentionally, the more your brain embeds it.  This is why mantras work.
  3. Reminders. Have you tried to change a habit? You made a good effort briefly but fell back into the same, old pattern? It’s understandable because the old way is easier for the brain. That’s why you need reminders to force you and your brain to remember the new words. In my case, I ordered an “Easy” button.™ It’s being delivered as I write. I plan to surround myself with reminders that work can be easy. What will remind you of the positive words you choose? The more reminders, the more likely you are to reinforce the positive words and the more likely you are to believe them.

Words matter. Choose yours carefully and positively. Leave the “not” behind. Surround yourself with reminders. It’s like pressing the Easy button.™

Copyright: 123render / 123RF Stock Photo

“There’s no place for feelings at work!” I heard it frequently as a young engineer. Thankfully, I learned this admonition was impossible to achieve and very bad for my career. Today, after interviewing 76 effective leaders, it is clear that the skillful use of feelings is essential to leadership success. To deny feelings is to deny a key part of your intelligence. To use feelings is not about being carried away by each whim or passing flutter in your gut. It’s about having the self-awareness to discern the source of the feeling and how to constructively put it to work as a leadership asset.

Here are five skilled ways that leaders use their feelings that merit attention and practice.

1. Emotional feelings are red flags. Your nervous system is a sophisticated sensing network. Over time, your brain became hard-wired to know situations or events that run counter to what it believes it best for you. Your body, via the nervous system, picks up the warning signs and launches a red alert. Your body will hijack your brain with an old story. Left unchecked, your brain will generate a knee-jerk reaction that is unlikely to benefit your career. Effective leaders learn to recognize when an emotional feeling is coming. They develop the skills to slow down the knee-jerk reaction and rebalance the nervous system so that the cognitive brain has time to catch up. Techniques such as relaxing the face, breathing deeply or counting to ten can buy just enough time to engage the brain. This key skill allows you to separate productive feelings from those that are emotionally reactive.

2. Feelings alert you to issues you might otherwise miss. I heard it over and over from leaders. When faced with a difficult decision, leaders paid attention to their own hesitation. “Something is bugging me.” “This is just not sitting right.” They described a nagging feeling that was….well, nagging. Effective leaders pay attention to that feeling. Then they dig in. What is the feeling? Where is it telling me to probe further? What other questions should I ask? They don’t necessarily seek more data. Instead they seek more insight about the context or impact of the decision. The nagging feeling points the way to issues that transcend mountains of data.

3. Feelings align decisions with values. Effective leaders are clear on their values and principles. These values ground their decision-making. Complex decisions frequently have great latitude and range of choice. Without values, it is hard to chart a course through an open sea of options. Leaders describe searching for and trusting in the decision that is in alignment with their value system – the decision that “just feels right.” They also point out the importance of having a personal value system that aligns with the company culture. In that case, they trust their feelings to guide them to the best solution for the company and for them.

4. Feelings point to the higher goal. Early in my career, I over-thought everything (before my recovery began). Every career choice was agony. Should I or shouldn’t I? Is now the best time for a change or later? Is this the best next step or not? Over and over the options tumbled in my mind. In one instance, by boss called. Others asked that she call and ask me to stay. Instead she said, “Follow your heart.” Over time, I learned to check in with and trust my feelings. My gut seems to instinctively know the choice that is best suited for me at a particular time. My biggest career decisions were made from the gut. It required courage and trust…and a lot of hard work, but each instance brought success and life-changing experiences. My boss was right. Today, my heart points to goals and my head manages the steps to reach it.

5. Feelings underpin authentic communication. What is it about some leaders that make them seem more attentive and more human? Research shows that leaders who are better listeners are viewed as having more charisma. These leaders do more than listen for facts, dates, and results. They listen for and hear feelings. They pick up on the atmosphere in the room, the tone of voice, the comfort or discomfort of the other person. They validate discussion content and feelings – proud, frustrated, exhausted, striving. It’s the feeling that makes real communication happen between person to person instead of from boss to employee.

The next time you try to push your feelings aside…stop. Consider the wisdom they bring, unravel their message and put them to work to create more effective leadership.