A few days ago, I received an interview request from an author who had read last week’s post, An Emerging New Level of Leadership Development. He is working on a book on leadership in the workplace and asked if we could talk. Toward the end of our conversation, he asked about the single most important skill that I felt was important for leadership today. Without hesitation, I heard myself say: Paying attention – to everything.

Paying attention is foundational to transformational leadership and coaching. Paying attention leads to increased awareness – awareness of yourself and your inner world, as well as awareness of what is happening around you, in your relationships, in your particular industry or sector, and in the world in general.

The more you pay attention, the more you heighten your senses – both your five outer senses as well as your inner intuitive senses. At first, you may notice more about things and people and interactions. Then as you keep practicing paying attention, you start to sense how choices, events, and circumstances relate or connect to one another. You become more aware of patterns of energy within situations. You more easily notice where there is movement and flow, and where things seem to be stuck. You become more aware of the quality of energy in relationships – where the energy is smooth, easy, and collaborative, and where there is tension or strife. And you increase your ability to sense or intuit what is going on underneath the surface – what is at the core of a situation or circumstance – and to sense the potential that is trying to break through.

This is the kind of awareness necessary for fourth-stage leadership. And the way you develop that awareness is by paying attention and being curious about what you perceive.

Many of the Transformational Presence tools, frameworks, and approaches are designed to help you develop your skills for paying attention. They are very simple and can be easily practiced by anyone – individuals, groups, or teams. The keyword is “practiced.”

Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Awareness is not something that you accomplish, check off your list, and then you are done. It’s a life-long practice. And the more you practice, the more it becomes your habit – the way you live. Look and sense beyond the surface, behind the words, underneath the feelings and emotions. Be curious with your perception and you will keep discovering more. And the more you discover, the more aware you become.

Paying attention can become a habit. It just takes practice. So here are two very short and simple practices that you can easily do several times a day to increase your awareness and build your habit of paying attention.

 

Exercise #1 – Becoming Mindful (approximately 2 minutes)

If you are sitting, become aware of your body in the chair. Be aware of how the chair holds you. If you are standing, be aware of your feet on the ground and feel how the ground supports you. Do you allow the chair to hold you, or do you hold yourself up against the chair? Do you let the ground fully support you, or do you hold yourself up on top of the ground? Just notice.

Then notice the feeling of clothes on your skin. Notice the textures and sensations.

Notice your breath coming in and going out. Allow your breath to find its own natural, steady, even rhythm. Let your breath lead you into a state of equilibrium within.

And then notice the sounds that you hear. Some will be close-up sounds and others will be far away. How many layers of sound can you hear?

Look around you and notice what is different now about how you see or perceive your surroundings. Keep your awareness of your body in the chair, your feet on the ground, and your breath coming in and going out. How is your presence within the space different after just a couple of minutes?

Do this simple practice every couple of hours through the day for a week and see what happens.

 

Exercise #2 – See and Sense Everything (approximately 6 – 7 minutes)

Walk around your space, point at things and name them. Pay attention to the kind of relationship you have with the space around you when you identify everything that is in the space by what you know it to be. Do this for one minute and then pause.

As you continue walking around, see how many different colors you can find in your space. And then see how many different shades you can find of each color. Again, just take one minute for this.

Continue walking around, this time looking for patterns and textures. Touch objects and surfaces. Feel the differences between rough and smooth. Be curious. Look for straight lines and then for curvy lines. Look for sharp angles and then for soft edges. Notice how they create different feelings or energies in the space. Get to know the space in all of these different ways. Again, one minute.

Finally, imagine that you have never seen anything that is in this space before – perhaps as if you just arrived here from another planet. You are encountering everything around you for the first time. You don’t know what anything is, so you have to discover what things are, what they do, how they work, what they feel like and smell like. Let your space show itself to you. Allow the things in the room to tell you what they are instead of you giving them a name or assigning them a function. You might even notice that different parts of the space feel differently to you energetically, or that different objects have a different energetic feel. Just play and be curious. Perhaps you’ll take two minutes for this step.

Before leaving the exercise, pause to reflect on what has shifted in your relationship to the space. How are you engaging with the space differently than at the beginning of the exercise? What are you aware of now that you weren’t aware of before this exercise?

Over the next week, do this exercise every day in a different space and see what happens in your awareness.

~ ~ ~

If you do these two simple practices every day for a week or two, you will notice a difference how you pay attention. You will notice more details, sense energies more clearly, and experience an increase in awareness of your surroundings, of what is happening inside of you, and in the dynamics of relationships. What might become possible for you as a leader or coach as you refine your skills for paying attention?

 

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