Last week, fresh off my blogcation, I shared a great new book titled, The Leader’s Climb: A Business Tale of Rising to the New Leadership Challenge by Bob Parsanko and Paul Heagen. Paul was kind enough to answer a few questions for Executive Street. In Part 1 of Paul’s interview, he addressed why the co-authors chose fictional narrative as the device for sharing their knowledge about leadership. In Part 2, Paul reveals a few of the many lessons from the book.
LB: How can leaders reconcile balancing head and heart when it comes to decision making?
PH: It starts with understanding the value and the limits of both. Thinking (the head part) means processing what we know and applying it. It’s a quiet and internal exercise. We literally “think through” a decision before we make it, weighing the considerations, options, risks and outcomes. The limit of thinking, though, is when we apply it too early or too quickly we are simply drawing on what is already in our head, and that may not be enough, especially when confronted with new challenges or situations.
Sensing (the heart part) is about taking in what you don’t know and accepting it for what it is without judging it. It means becoming more aware of yourself in terms of what is really driving or motivating you, having a curiosity about the unknowns and actively seeking to understand others and the conditions. There is also an emotional element — when we slow down and sense, we become much more aware of and accepting of the role that fear, dreams, hopes and anxiety play in our lives, consciously or not.
LB: How can leaders recognize the “small events” that may be leading them down the road to disaster?
PH: We blow through the red lights all the time — we say we’re too busy, don’t have time for this or that, we impute motives on people without sensing their interests, we say we just have to push through some decision, or we say we don’t have a choice, it’s either/or, this or that. Sometimes any of those situations are true, but hardly ever as many as we imagine. Are you rushing too many conversations? Are you giving more answers as a leader than asking questions? When was the last time you set aside quiet time on your calendar with nothing to do other than reflect on some issue you face? When you feel like everything is going too fast, have the discipline to slow yourself down. When you feel yourself closing up or closing off, make a point of opening up your thinking and interactions. When you hear yourself say “I have no choice” ask yourself and others “What else?”
The biggest point, though, is that we will miss those small events if we are going too fast.
LB: There are so many lessons contained in your story; so if you were to select a single takeaway for the reader, what would it be?
PH: I have to go back to my favorite scene in the book. The main character Adam and the handyman Duncan are sitting on the back porch on Saturday morning. Adam by now has clearly embraced the idea of slowing down and sensing, and he starts up a conversation with Duncan that leads to a much deeper understanding of the “story” that has shaped each of their lives. Duncan reveals something pretty deep about his own life that Adam never imagined, and it completely fills in the blanks about why Duncan is who he is.
The reason I like that scene is that it reflects what I believe we all need to do more often — slow down and really invest some time and attention to the people in our lives. Not just personal and business chatter, but another layer or two down, to that point where we understand that everyone has a story, and when we take the time to hear that, it changes everything. Our relationships are more genuine, our connections are more enduring, we step outside ourselves more easily and accept people more readily. That is central to leadership, but it is also central to life.