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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #150: The Power of Observation for the Inclusive Leader

August 19, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #150: The Power of Observation for the Inclusive Leader

Inclusive leaders use self-awareness, others awareness, and situational awareness to increase belonging on their team. Today, Chris and Perry talk about how to use the skill of observation to increase your awareness.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Hey listen, if you are receiving value from these podcasts that Perry’s putting together, the content, we’re just kind of sharing the dialogue. I’d encourage you to share this with a friend of yours, share this with a leader, someone maybe that you have influence with, and we try to keep it under 20 minutes and really add value to them and their journey. Perry and I were talking just a minute ago with Jake, as we were walking in here, the number of these that we’ve already done. And so, it’s a lot of fun for us to do. Hopefully it’s adding value to you and if it is, if you wouldn’t mind passing that along and add value to somebody else, that would be awesome.

Just a reminder, as we get started today, if you want the guide, the leader’s guide that Perry put together to follow along with some of today’s content, give you some points to work off of later in your own time, maybe you have a question for Perry Holley, don’t hesitate to go to, and you can find all of that information as well as a link to Perry’s weekly blog there. Well, today’s topic is the power of observation for the inclusive leader and I love this. And this has been something we’ve been talking about and it’s been relevant to a lot of the corporate training that we’re doing a lot of the coaching that our men and women are doing with executives and leaders around the world. Talk to us a little bit about where this is coming from.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. So, I’ve been doing some inclusive leader workshops and talking to people it’s really a topic I’ve found almost every leader wants to know about. One thing I’ve learned in as we talk and have this great discussion I have found is true. 100% of the leaders I’ve spoken to, nobody means to be exclusive. Nobody wants to be exclusive. Everybody sees the value meanings inclusive. Why do we struggle with this? So, part of the trues that I’ve been learning, applying to my own walk, and I know you and I talk about it a lot. I thought we’d just shared that today about this power of observation is sounds like a small seemingly insignificant thing. I’m finding it to be huge for my inclusive leader journey.

Chris Goede:     And we talk about leadership being a visual sport. We talk about it. And you mentioned all the time that people are watching you all the time. So, love where we’re going today. And just, I talked about the fact that just a minute ago, we have kind of unpacked a little bit about this inclusive leadership for us in our organization, John kind of sets the bar and he says, “Man, listen, if we value people, if we believe in people and we unconditionally love people, that’s how at the beginning stages of being an inclusive leader.” And so, today as we talk about this from an observation standpoint, it’s just another little tool that you can be thinking about and, or develop in becoming a more inclusive leader. We’re seeing teams that are diverse. There’s always room for more diversity in teams today, but we want to make sure that we’re helping leaders make the decision to be inclusive.

We get into a pace. I was even thinking about this this morning. Sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow me to be inclusive, right? I want to be inclusive, but there’s all kinds of things that it’s not right, but that keep me from being inclusive. And so, we need more diverse teams. And as those continue to grow, we want to help you with making this choice to be inclusive. And I think one of the things that if we do have diverse teams, which by the way, that looks all kinds of different ways, if we don’t figure out this inclusivity and how to do it, then our team members aren’t going to feel like they’re a part of a team. We talk about team engagement. They’re not going to feel like they’re engaged in the team. And it’s still true to this day that our teams are probably 65% unengaged.

And so, what are we doing to be inclusive to drive that engagement? And then also we want to make sure that they’re not holding back the best of them to add value to our team. We end up bringing people onto the team because of who they are and how they’re wired and then all of a sudden we forget the fact that we brought them on our team to be who they are and how they’re wired. And so, the fact that we’re going to go through and say, “Hey, this is an opportunity for us to just have observation as a tool to help you drive inclusivity. I absolutely love that.” So, we just want to make sure as we go through this, I think you understand from an inclusive standpoint, that when you do that, your team members will feel value for who they are and what they bring to the team. So, take it away, Perry. Let’s dive in.

Perry Holley:    And if you, we’ve done a lot on inclusive leader before, so if you are looking at the podcast episodes somewhere between 130 and 140, there’s probably five or six that we cover different aspects of inclusive, I encourage you to listen to those and really want the people on our team to feel safe, welcome, valued, like they belong. And like you said, we don’t purposely not do those things, but I get in a hurry or whatever, I don’t do that. The biggest learning and where we start with our model is self-awareness. And I think what I always focused on self-awareness some work I was doing with a client recently began thinking about it more. It’s more than just self-awareness. I broke it into three areas for me. And the three parts of awareness always start with self-awareness, but I also need to be other’s aware.

So, my other’s awareness, and then what I’m figuring out is also situational awareness. And this is where this skill of observation comes in. Is that how clear am I about myself, about others and about the situation? I was wondering before we kind of covered self-awareness in one of the previous episodes, but maybe you could just give a real quick overview of what we mean by self-awareness and then we can focus on the other.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Is this an intervention? I think you come up with these questions and conversations and because we all know people that are not self-aware. And so, I’m sitting here with a little bit of a complex thinking about this. But I agree, and I love how you broke this out. It actually made me think about the fact that it’s almost like internal and external awareness, right? It starts internally, but then your other two points that you just mentioned are external that we need to have that awareness.

Perry Holley:    I started laughing the other day because somebody said, “Well, surveys tell us that 95% of the people think they’re self-aware.” And I thought, well, who would answer a survey that says, are you self-aware or not? Well, I’m self-aware. Nobody who’s going to say no. Yes. So, everybody says, “I am.” But they said that survey is completely, yeah, people are so not self-aware that they .

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Chris Goede:     And look, here’s the deal. We need to make sure we understand as leaders that we have some awareness that we need to uncover continually, right? And so, this is not pointing the finger at anybody, and I don’t want you to listen to and saying, oh yeah, no, those two people in my organization, they’re not aware because while that may be true, I was always told by my mom that when you’re pointing at somebody there’s three other fingers pointing right back at you. So, we might want to start here. But so when someone has a high degree of self-awareness, they’re aware of their strengths and their weaknesses and their opportunities to grow. And so, I would surely would hope not only weaknesses, but I sometimes I call them fatal flaws where it’s even a little bit worse where it’s a fatal flaw to the organization or the team.

And so, you got to be aware of those. The other thing is they’re aware of the effect that they have on others and what that looks like. And they’re aware of other’s presence and contributions to that environment, to that team, to whatever it might be. So, self-aware people generally also have a huge growth mindset and have some type of humility. And I say that because man, I think one of the things as a leader, just as an individual, that bothers me the most is when someone comes in and doesn’t have that humility side of things. And you’re like, “oh my gosh, does this individual know what’s going on?” And so, I think they do have a growth mindset and a degree of humility that you’ll actually be able to see that. There’ll be vulnerable and they’ll invite other people into the conversations, understand their perspectives.

And so, with, I mean, all those things, you can feel and see somebody that’s very self-aware and I think it helps them become an effective leader. When I talk about it from a growth mindset, this was a thought I had, which was, I think Simon Sinek called the infinite game. I think self-awareness, I want to make sure we understand as leaders before we dive in, is that it is, that is an infinite game, right? There’s no ending to self-awareness and we always have to be working and growing in this area. And I’d even challenged that maybe the more that you’ve had the opportunity to lead, the more complacent you become with your self-awareness. And so, it’s a great topic for all of us, no matter where we’ve been, how many years have been leading, no matter what our title is, to be aware of that.

Perry Holley:    Right. One tool that we talked about, if you want it to increase your self awareness and make sure you’re growing positively in that area is seeking feedback from others. Now, one thing we found is that you need to be prepared to give feedback to others about their self. It’s very difficult. How am I doing? Am I self aware and getting you to tell me where my blind spots are, is very helpful, but it requires a little bit of that humility to do that vulnerability. We talked about self disclosure and vulnerability is another great tool that helps increase self-awareness is kind of lowering yourself and your own view of yourself down when you’re in the presence of others. And something that was very interesting to me, came up through a teaching we did with a client about, do you practice self reflection three to five minutes every day? Do you just reflect on what went really well, what didn’t go so well? How was I received?

How did I receive others? What did I learn today? What would I do differently in a similar situation tomorrow? And the findings we’ve had by practicing self-reflection not only do I learn more about me, I become more compassionate toward others and people go what? I thought. Yeah, how could that be? Well, when I start reflecting on my day and who I am and what I did and how I affected others, I become, I have a little more empathy for others because I can see my own struggles in there with doing that. So, I love those three. There’s that to take the time to get feedback, to self-disclose a little more and then self-reflect.

Chris Goede:     I think the self-reflection is huge. I think that’s a challenge I think even with my journey, right? And do I do enough of that? And the answer is no. And so, I love that thought there, because I do think that could help us from a self-awareness standpoint. So, let’s shift now to others’ awareness. John likes to say with one small exception, the whole world is made up of other people. And I’ll let you guess who that small exception is in your world. So, that being said, we’ve got to be thinking about others being others oriented. What does that mean? And so, by that, what Perry and I are talking about is it’s being, it’s paying attention to other people and what their wants are their needs, their desires, their preferences of those that are around you.

It’s also about being aware of any barriers that other people may be dealing with or struggling with in order for them to be successful. And so, as you begin to observe that, and you have this others’ awareness, that’s actually, I tell my team, Hey, my job as a leader is to remove barriers for you. Well, they will tell me some, but as a leader or as someone with influence, I’ve got to be thinking and or observing about the barriers that they’re facing.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Well, there’s awareness really starts with the way we teach it. Is that really an honest assessment of how well you know, how well the people in your circle of influence, how do they identify? We talk in our model about cultural awareness and it’s not about nationalities. It’s really about how does somebody see themselves? How do they identify when they come to your team? We gave a example of the iceberg model is really quite popular with there’s things above the waterline that I can see about you. If you’ve seen me, you can see that probably identify a white male, my generation, baby boomer, American things under the waterline you would not know is if I’m a Christian or if I’m a conservative, or if I’m what are the, my beliefs, other things that don’t show up above the waterline that you can physically see, but the way people identify is how they see and interpret the world is how it’s their filter just like yours is for you.

And if my boss or team does things that cause me to not feel safe, being who I am, then I’m going to hold back and probably kind of disengage from that. I’m not going to feel safe. And so, I would actually, we call it cover, and then I might even just hide that. And then I start to assimilate and be more like you or like the primary culture on the team and then now you’ve lost all the advantage of my diverse come from. So, it’s really an interesting thing to be observant about how do people identify and are you respecting that? And in that other’s awareness.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And if you’re, again, we talk about engagement. If you’re not paying attention and using observation as a tool to look at that, you’re going to get people that are going to be disengaged and how people identify to your point is a source of either pride or pain for them, right? And so, it all depends. It goes back to what we mentioned just a minute ago, but I’ve heard you say several times, it’s just about, do they feel safe? Do they feel welcome? Do they feel valued? All of those things in how they identify will drive whether or not it’s really around pride or pain. If they feel unsafe or unwelcome in the pain side, because they cannot be their true self at work, then they’re going to cover up that part. You just talked about cover up. The other thing I’ve heard you say, and that phrase I love about this is they’ll armor up, which is talk a little bit about, because I love how you talked about this from an armor up stand point.

Perry Holley:    Well, each of us makes a choice every day, whether to be vulnerable or to armor up, I’m picturing iron man things coming over you. And I’m finding that as a leader, if I can increase my awareness of others, I can learn to see people as they see themselves because I have a filter in front of my eyes too based on where I come from my lens. And so, if I can see them as they see themselves, I can help them make a choice for vulnerability and just taking a chance with me, taking a risk. It doesn’t even seem like that big a risk because Perry accepts me as I am. He sees me as another statement. I’ve heard somebody told me one time, “Thank you for seeing me.” And I walked out kind of shaking my head going, what did that mean? And then I went back for clarification and she said, “There’s people in my world that don’t know.

I thought you actually.” I was like, “What did I do?” “Well, you focused on me. You listened to me, you ask questions of me. You were curious about me. You made me feel like I could be me.” I didn’t actually do it on purpose, but I love that. Now, could you do that on purpose? Would be a great thing. But if I can get people to drop the armor and express that vulnerability, then engage more fully with the team and what we’re doing and all of a sudden, everybody benefits from doing that. The new area for me though, developing awareness is do I change my behavior or how I present myself based on who is with me? I mean, do I alter the way I am because of the different people that I’m with? I don’t know. What are your thoughts?Chris Goede:     I would say that is the answer is yes. I think we all naturally have the response of that. I’ve heard it said too like your title and, or your credibility walks in the room before you do, right? You talked about that. And so, as people come in, I think our natural reaction, whether they’re above us, whether they’re below us in hierarchy, whatever it might be, there’s no doubt about it that I think we sometimes present ourselves differently, besides depending on who’s walking in the room and or how we walk in the room because of our certain title. We talk about level one.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Wouldn’t it be great. I’m thinking about what, so am I aware of when I walk in a room do people have to change because of me? I have wrote an article once on how much wake do you create? Think about a no wake zone around a marina that you slow down so the other boats don’t bang up against each other. Well, when I enter a room, do I cause a lot of wake or does it cause everybody to bump up against each other or do I enter a room? And you don’t have to change who you are because Perry’s here. You don’t have to do that.

Chris Goede:     I was sharing a story with you. This is a little while ago. You and I both have experienced boating and being out on the lake and just hanging out. And so, one night I was out with some friends and we were in a cove and we got dinner out on the boat or sitting there. And I mean, there’s no one on the lake, right? And all these coves. And all of a sudden out of nowhere here comes this boat. It just reminded me when you said about weight, that comes flying into our cove and then drops the anchor and it’s hanging out about 50 yards from us. Loud music and we’re looking around, we’re like this individual has no awareness of the fact that . That’s right.

Finally, the third part of awareness that you mentioned is this situation we’re talking about. And so, this is kind of being aware of the environment, what we’re here to tell you your surroundings and how people act or behave in that actual environment. So, yes, to your point, I think we do it from a persona standpoint with people, but also in an environment. And we need to be aware of that. And so, this has a bit to do with our knowledge and experience kind of operating in that environment and what we are used to and accustomed to.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. So, situationally aware is to me is where self-awareness, and others’ awareness really comes together. How’s the situation or the environment affecting the people around you and what’s really going on? Can you look above that, that the tool that we’re talking here is this skill of observation and really perfecting that. I think a lot of us, I noticed I was probably really good at looking around. That’s very passive, but the skill of observation is an active skill. I’m purposely taking in what’s going on. And I think when you develop the skill, observing the environment, the behaviors that, especially the non-verbals, you open up a world of information that makes really you puts, increases your influence, it increases your effectiveness, it makes you appear more capable. You’re just really have a feel for what’s going on and how it’s affecting everyone in your circle of influence.

Chris Goede:     I’ve found that increasing my curiosity is helpful in wanting to be better at observation, not just looking around. I think about the difference between what I call people watching, which I absolutely love to do at the airport, right? It’s just as fascinating for me to be watching. There’s a difference between observation of just people watching and then to your point curiosity. And so, make sure that you’re really thinking about it from a curiosity standpoint, because it’ll drive questions, which then causes us to explore even more with individuals. Then it allows us to have discovery about those individuals builds our knowledge, and then it leads to more curiosity. And what I love about this, as you’ve mentioned, it’s almost like a curiosity loop. Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Well, I know we need to wrap this up, so I’m going to pass it back to you. But just thinking of that was sot recently, my granddaughter is seven, she says she got a goldfish watching the goldfish and that observation, she just was observing caused her to be curious about how do goldfish sleep. And my daughter called me and said, “Does every kid do this? Every mother’s kid do this?” That led the exploration by going to a Google search with help build her knowledge and mind because she sharing it with me that triggered more curiosity about how goldfish sleep. I thought in that really the way we need to be doing in our workplace. I can’t emphasize enough and there’s probably a whole number of the podcast on how do you observe non-verbals? Are you skilled at seeing people’s facial expressions, body language, how they’re facing, what their eyes do, personal lips, tell you one thing I just noticed touching the eyelid.

I’ve been reading a lot about it, but the touching the eyelid, or rubbing your eyes or touching your neck. I mean, there’s all kinds of things that tell you, but you need to read a bit about that and study that. It’ll tell you a lot. But one thing I have learned, if somebody’s words are in conflict with what you’re reading on their body language, or the non-verbals, go with the non-verbals that really have telling you where they’re coming from.

Chris Goede:     Well, I think we’ve reached an all-time high in our episodes and podcasts and leadership when we’re talking about lessons learned from a goldfish observing a goldfish, but I love that, right? That’s so true and that drives us as a great, it’s a great analogy and example for us to think about in our own leadership. Well, as a wrap up today just remember this, as I said a minute ago. We talk about leadership being a visual sport and not only are people watching you all the time, but you should be watching people all the time. And to Perry’s point to our title today, the power of observation allows you to be that inclusive leader. It allows you to be present.

And so, I want to make sure that you think about this is that you, we always say that leading yourself as the hardest thing to do, and John says that, and that is so true. And so, I want you to not only self-reflect, which is a great point, you brought up today because that’s almost kind of like observing ourselves, but then I want you to really be thinking from a curiosity standpoint while observing people. Ask yourself questions about what you’re seeing to your point, the non-verbal, what are you hearing be aware of that. And I love that curiosity loop, right? I think that there’s something to that to help us become a more inclusive leader with the people that we have the privilege of leading.

Perry Holley:    Super. Well, thank you, Chris. And it’s just a reminder, if you would like to know more about this as a learner guide for this subject today, you can also learn more about some of our offerings, as well as leave us a question or a comment. You can do all that at We always love hearing from you and we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us each week. Thank you. And that’s all today from The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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