Building on the concept of Active influence

KEY POINTS:

  • Self-Awareness
  • The Power of Presence
  • Personal Development

Knowing how you can and do impact others through your influence could be defined as a big objective in the concept of Active Influence™. The reality of influencing others “consciously and appropriately” requires that we understand ourselves and the influence we have on our own actions, thoughts, and power. In other words, it requires self-awareness. Especially the power-limiting actions, which are behaviors and habits often hard to disrupt or eliminate.  Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, talks about the neuroscience involved in changing our patterns of behavior. He talks about habit loops that become well established in us both consciously and unconsciously. If you have any curiosity about the power of habit loops just watch yourself sometime.

I will share one example that is simple and harmless, but a real experience to me on how habit loops are formed without our awareness. Three years ago, my lovely wife (of over 40 years) Gail and I decided to move closer to her work, our grand kids, and downsize living space (throw out stuff). I’ll get to the example quickly. We built a new home, and our new kitchen had the pull-out waste basket next to the sink (in our old house it was in the island left of the stove). We have an island in the new kitchen with a counter top stove with a drawer on each side (you know already where this is going). For the first week I pulled that drawer handle on the island to throw things into the trash can. It took at least two full weeks to stop doing that regularly. I became conscious of the habit that was created over 10 years of living in the other house.

New Learning – New Loops

The habit loops we have are so extremely strong; and we are completely unaware of them for the most part. It took me a full three months to establish a new habit loop with the trash can by the sink. With current technology, brain activity and neuropathways can be mapped out to show the actual path of these loops. Duhigg points out this neuroscience discovery in his book because it helps demonstrate just how entrenched these neuropathways are. You see, your old habit loops or brain highways don’t go away. We just stop using them when we build a new roadway in our brains. Think about that, our old habits are roads that become less traveled or not chosen. Amazingly, we can form new paths and are able to change our brains (learn) almost right up to the point where we check out of this world. Our brains are exquisitely unique in that way in comparison to our bodies. This is related to the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to change throughout our lifetime. Learning new things like languages, skills, or changing our habit patterns create not just new thinking – it literally changes our brains. And we continue to have this ability up to the very end of our lives. Therefore, if you tell yourself, or someone else tells you they can’t change — you can call B.S. It’s not true. It often seems hard, frustrating and takes conscious effort, focus, awareness and feedback, but change is possible. Brain science proves it. I got frustrated every time I pulled the drawer to dump the trash! Change is not only possible…it is good for our brains. I hear that “change is hard” a lot in my coaching practice and consulting on strategic development. In one sense I agree totally. It takes a lot of effort, rigor and new work. We have to be more conscious and awake which innately brings with it more or new responsibility and choice. The “choice to choose” is responsibility at its core. Embrace change or hold it at arm’s length, it’s your  choice.

I experience change differently than most, and I need to be aware of that. I never will forget one of the lengthy leadership assessments I took as a people manager in a corporate setting. Every assessment comes back with, you are awesome here and not so awesome there…and be careful here items. One of my consistent “be careful here” items was articulated as the following…

“Your appetite for change far exceeds the normal person’s ability to cope with the pace of change or disruption you may bring to your employees or team.”

That is First Power knowledge! I can be better at influencing if I am conscious of how my approach to change impacts other people. It doesn’t mean that I won’t push rapid change if it’s called for, but I need to think about how I lead transition and change with teams and individuals. Prepare them, so that they aren’t feeling like a mushroom (kept in the dark and fed manure). They are brought into my thought process — and I slow down, just enough to bring folks along. Or, I let people know it’s going to be a fast ride, so hang on and I will support you through this change.

My belief is that commitment to change is different than the effort it takes to truly change. However, without the commitment it is impossible to have any lasting changes become new habits. Yo-yo diets are just one example. People will change if they are able to lock down into their very essence and being the value that change brings them. If somebody wants a boat really badly, they change their commitment to saving money quite easily and — voila! There is a new boat and a new SUV to pull it sitting in their driveway. Was that hard change? Not really. The hard change comes when you have to make payments on both the boat and SUV or eventually sell them at a loss because you don’t use them or can’t afford them.

Change has everything to do with value and values. That’s the key to the First Power of Active Influence – influencing yourself. You must stay dialed in on your personal values, and what you value most right now at this time in your life and work. In my Transformation Model book I talk about how transformation is not a complicated formula. It is made up of Vision plus Values plus Milestones (actions with timelines); these all are necessary and will add up to transformation. Vision in the First Power is really about who you want to “be” and not what you want to “do.” Being always come before the doing.

Personal Development

There are several key components within the First Power of Active Influence. I’ll start with personal development.

“I don’t want to be defined by what I am doing, I want to be defined by who I am.”

Personal development is greatly fueled and enhanced by tacit skills. Leaders are indeed known by the actions they take, and it is important to distinguish that Leading is about being in action. Development involves both the “being and doing.” We just need to get the being part first – which is actually a pretty simple concept. For example, I hear from many of my coaching clients that they wish they were better at being organized. I ask them, “What does it look like to you when you ARE organized? What is it you would be doing differently?” Most have a quick answer with some reasonable amount of self-deprecation as to why they are not better organized.

For me as a coach this is great place to be starting — and where you begin to become more powerful. It’s the simple idea of getting things done better, or getting more things done better that will often allow me to help someone begin to influence themselves. I ask, “Why do you need to be better organized? Why do you make this important to you right now at this time in your career and life?” The second question may seem subtle, but it is what I call a conversation of accountability. I keep the client responsible for making this important. Why? Because if you think about it, most of us are comparing ourselves to someone we think has their stuff together – we just want to measure up versus wanting to make ourselves more powerful. We don’t want to feel weak and powerless or look bad…we are born wanting to look good.

This eventually brings me to the crux of development. You can’t “do” organized. You can “be” organized and then you will be doing things to keep yourself in the desired state of organized. It’s not just about doing something – it’s about deciding why you should make this important. Being organized requires that you connect to the value it creates for you as well as those you care about most at this time in your life. Only then can you move from incremental change to true changes in habit loops (remember the garbage drawer — habits don’t go away, and new ones take time to form). Once you lock onto who you need to be, then the “doing” come easily.

“Here’s the deal. Until we decide who we want to be and see the value it will bring to us personally, it will be hard to develop into someone different.”

Self-Awareness

That which we are not aware of controls us, that which we are aware of we have the possibility and power to start to change. That’s why feedback truly is the “breakfast of champions” — maybe all three meals with snacks included! Self-awareness is a tough one to teach tacitly. You need to get people back in touch with their senses so they can start to notice again. Our biggest problem is we stopped noticing things a long time ago. Now, it’s even more challenging as all we tend to notice are the social media apps on our devices — as we walk in nature! We become unaware of our surroundings as we focus on things completely outside of what’s happening in the present. The sad problem is that this doesn’t appear to be a problem (or opportunity) to many people. They go for a run and put on their music. Meanwhile, God created a chorus of music in the wind and trees, the birds, and the actions of people around us. And we miss it all. We are woefully unaware – and we’re raising a generation of self and device-focused beings. You know this to be true when media has to start advertising about “how great” it is to go hiking and actually explore the world around you. Why do we need to be reminded that it’s a fantastic thing to go for a hike? What the heck happened?

 

When I was a kid, my friends and I went on adventures in the woods and creeks around our homes. We would leave and be gone all day coming back only after we had biked for miles and caught our limit of frogs (and got hungry). I long for that freedom and pure joy in my life some days. It’s still there to be had, I just need to be aware that it’s missing and take the action to find it again.

The Power of Presence

This brings us to the final element in the First Power. It’s about “showing up” – which is a combination of a person’s contributions, attitude, energy and overall presence. Just “being there” isn’t showing up.

The only way to be fully present in the here and now is to feel satisfied with what you have in the here and now. You bring everything you’ve got into the present moment and you use it. Your presence is your power – don’t diffuse it by only bringing part of the package to the party. There are three primary facets  of presence. You’ve heard them many times – your mind, your body and your spirit. The human trifecta. You are not fully and powerfully present unless and until these three parts are all switched “on” and working together.

Your mind (brain) is an amazing processor of data and storage container for foundational learning and knowledge. I referred to the neuroscience of the brain earlier. The brain continues to create new pathways all the time. Without an awake and engaged mind you cannot be fully present. Ever heard the term “lost in la-la land?”

Your body (brawn) is the detector and transportation mechanism. While your brain is the data center, your body is the feeling center. We are all sensory machines, and quite amazing ones. When you are engaging with people your body is responding, whether you’re aware or not. If a conversation is going well, you can have a warm or good “feeling” usually in the center or heart area. If not so well you may literally have “heartburn” or tense muscles. To be fully present you must pay keen attention to your body and use it as a source of information. It takes practice and a strong focus to do this.

Your spirit (being) is your battery and connector to others. It’s how people really gain access to you and experience you as a person and leader. Connectedness is not such a hard concept to “understand” with our mind. You intuitively know when you are or are not connecting with someone. When you are in your spirit, work and life appear to be almost effortless and even light. This is regardless of how challenged you are by your circumstances. The individuals around you often pick up on or sense when your spirit is low or lacking — you may not realize it, but they do. The human spirit recognizes truth and passion as an experience which often requires some effort to put into language or words. You can grow to observe or recognize the experience of “being in your spirit.” You cannot be fully present and in the moment if your spirit is running on empty.

Owning Our Influence

I’m going to wrap up my post by repeating a sentence I used at the beginning. It is essential that you grasp this and internalize it as we continue forward on this path to Active Influence.

The reality of influencing others “consciously and appropriately” requires that we understand ourselves and the influence we have on our own actions, thoughts, and power.