Don't just share what you think, share how you think
In the last week or so, I’ve repeatedly asked leaders (like no less than six times) this one question: “Have you shared with your team how you’re thinking?”
You’re probably wondering, “Why that question, Jo?” So to help illustrate, let me share with you a couple of real-life conversations that I had.
Marvelous Maggie: Leveling Up Her Career
Maggie and I have been friends for a while. She’s graduated from the “Can you articulate your value?” program I’m usually going on about, and we’ve talked again and again about the importance of sharing how you think. She gets it and has success under her belt to prove it.
Maggie recently told me that she and her team had just completed a project that no one around them thought was possible. After showering her with “You go, girl!” commentary, I asked her how she accomplished this feat. She told me she talks outwardly to her team and co-workers with optimistic language but thinks internally with pessimistic language. Such an interesting construct, right?
In learning more about this contrarian communication and thinking style, I found out she had a “Plan Z” for almost everything. She thinks through virtually every possible scenario in her head, which means she has a plan for every problem that might pop up.
We started talking about the next level in her career—yes, I’m always nudging—and that’s when things got interesting. For her to be able to level up, she’s going to need to step further away from the details. She needs to trust that her lieutenants are thinking all the way through to “Plan Z,” the way she does.
The best way to ensure that? You guessed it, by sharing how she thinks. While there’s always a need for lots of types of thinking on a project, she’d been playing the role of “Plan Z” thinker on her own. Now, she needs to replace herself. An excellent next step for Maggie is considering if someone on the team had shown signs of thinking the way she does.
In sharing what she thinks, Maggie looks like the marvelous person that she is. In sharing how she's thinking, though, Maggie’s also opening up the opportunity to be the next marvelous Maggie.
My antennae went up the minute I sat down with Dave. I could feel the stress in the room. Dave told me he had over 500 emails in his inbox, and also that he had a goal of “inbox zero” every single day. Impressive right? Our conversation about how Dave thinks lead to a much deeper discussion about the awesome people on Dave’s team. They knew that he was stressed out, but they didn’t understand why. When I asked if he’d ever shared his need for “inbox zero,” he reacted with surprise.
I turned the tables. “Imagine for a second”, I asked, “that you’re with a boss you’ve had who seems to be stressed out all the time. How did you react to them? Did you pull back? Were you confused and worried that it was you stressing them out?” Then I asked him to imagine that “this boss then told you why they were stressed.” And I could see a light bulb go on.
I encouraged him to share how he thinks about email and his need to get to inbox zero. Spoiler alert—his team reacted incredibly well. And it prompted a bigger conversation about email, and how and when to use it effectively.
I could go on with the examples: Creative Catherine, Acquired Angela, Searching Sarah. In each case, opening up and sharing how they think lead to better understanding and collaboration — yet another example of showing your work.