The Inner Game of Leading Others

Inner-GameI’ve been thinking a lot about how leaders change themselves to become more influential and effective. My last post talked about The Inner Game of Golf, a book by Timothy Gallwey. Gallwey introduced us to thinking about our inner vs. outer worlds. Whether applied to sports or to work, the inner game is where we learn. It’s where we begin to understand ourselves and where we can make key changes.

The concept of mastering one’s inner game isn’t new nor particularly revolutionary. But how easily we forget the profound truths of focusing attention without judgment. When we are able to observe our behavior without criticism, we start to see where it is effective or ineffective.

Some communication skills—like listening and observing—are automatic and unconscious. Everyone knows how to do them. Yet we don’t always do them well; we don’t always listen and observe without judgment. We don’t always bring about the results we desire from our conversations. Leaders experience this all the time. When people don’t respond to instructions they way they give them, they usually repeat them, using different words, or using the same ones louder.

But this sets up a resistance response in the people hearing the message: not many people enjoy being told what to do, especially when it’s critical or judgmental. When a message is coming from a person in authority, it is perceived as an attempt to control and dictate. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned a leader is.

The Battle of the Selves

Gallwey introduces the idea of a Self 1 and a Self 2 into the communication equation. These two “selves” exist in everyone, whether you are the one giving the message, or the one hearing it. Self 1 is the “big ego,” the know-it-all. Self 1 is judgmental, concerned with winning and showing off.

Self 2 is the wise one, the real human being with all sorts of inherent potential, including the ability to learn and grow and enjoy life.

When we act from Self 2, we are receptive, and neutral. We observe and listen without any preconceived ideas. We are relaxed and focused and able to take in information and use it. We trust ourselves to make decisions appropriately. We extend trust to others because we act from a place of security and safety.

Self 1 doesn’t trust. It acts from a place of insecurity and fear, because it is always judging self and others, and focused on being right and winning. Self 1 uses pressure and high standards to get the most out of self and others. Because self 1 doesn’t trust natural abilities, it is critical and stressed.

Guess what interferes with high performance? In everything from sports to music to work to relationships? Stress and anxiety. We get worried and we lose confidence, we think about too many things at once, we tighten up, hit the ball into the net or the trees, and what we fear becomes a self-fulfilling prediction.

It’s a viscous cycle everyone’s familiar with. The inner game suggests stepping out of the cycle. To do that, you do nothing more than observe non-judgmentally. No instructions to do anything different. Don’t change anything for a while. Just observe yourself talking or listening. Become acutely aware of feelings and responses. Nothing more, just watch and learn.

Soon you will see how Self 1 is active all the time, injecting opinions and criticisms. Self 1 distorts reality. Because Self 1 has an agenda – keeping control and appearing successful.

Self 2, once you quiet the voice of Self 1, is more authentic. It will know what to say in ways that are much more effective and influential to others. Because it doesn’t have an agenda.

Gallwey’s Inner Game is based on three principles:

  1. Awareness
  2. Trust
  3. Choice

First, nonjudgmental awareness is curative, allowing one to trust self and others, and then it sets up conditions for primary learning choices. The next time you need people to act, communicate your message in a way that doesn’t judge, that puts trust in others, and that lets them choose what needs to be done to accomplish desired results. You might be surprised.

What do you think about this inner game? Have you heard your Self 1 and Self 2? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

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