Consider feedback I collected from a client's team several years ago: "I don't get the impression he's aware of how he comes across to others," and, "I don't think he's tuned in to how harsh or dismissive he can be."
It's normal to hear doubts from my client when I share this type of feedback. We discuss the notion that a leader doesn't have to win any popularity contests, but it's key not to act in ways that discourage your team from doing their best. Be cavalier about how you come across, and, over time, you shut people down. The good news: It's avoidable--no one I know wants to dishearten their people.
Once my client takes in the feedback they will ask, "Okay, so what can I do about it?"
First, consider three points of view
Imagine three points of view we can take when in conversation with others, much like an author's narrative perspective (e.g., first person, second person, and third person):
First Position: My own point of view--my ideas, questions, and opinions. For example, "I think you should do X," and "I'm confident this project is going to complete on time," and "You need to revise that projection." When our own expertise or opinion is called upon, or our ego gets the upper hand, or we need to "prove ourselves," then we take the first position point of view. First position may be summarized as "It's about me."
Second Position: I take your point of view--try to see the world through your eyeballs-your ideas, questions, and opinions. For example, "I can see you think I should do X," and "If I were you, I may be worried about that project." To negotiate effectively, deal with an opposing view, or simply empathize with another, taking second position is a powerful tool. Second position may be summarized as, "It's about you."
Third Position: I take the observer point of view, like a satellite hovering overhead, watching me interacting with you. I'm asking myself, "What needs to happen?" and adjusting my actions and words to draw out your best. For example: "I was dismissive with him, and need to acknowledge that" and "I should stay quiet here; that will encourage my team to figure this out for themselves." Third position may be summarized as, "It's about how I impact you."
Next, here's how to practice Third Position
Leaders who have an unintentional discouraging or negative impact on others, be it minor or more major, tend to overuse first position, and avoid third position.
Here's my suggested Third Position practice: In several upcoming meetings and one on one discussions, take a small piece of your attention, and (metaphorically) float it in the air above the room like a satellite for the duration of the meeting. Imagine it's observer-you ... watching you, the other(s), and your impact on them. As you do this, silently ask yourself three questions:
1. What most needs to happen in this discussion?
2. How am I helping--or getting in the way--of that?
3. How should I adjust what I'm saying and doing to draw out their absolute best?
Ask yourself these questions and adjust how you participate once or twice during the discussion. Your answers may be to say less, say more, read others more carefully, ask different questions, etc. Try again in the next meeting.
Keep at it
Just like any new mindset or behavior, it takes practice. You will lose awareness of it, try again, regain it, etc. Keep at it! When new to it, my clients say it's like learning a new language--exhausting and headache-inducing.
To find and maintain your best impact on others is leadership at its best. You will be surprised by what you discover--and do differently--from the third, or observer, position. Many former clients have told me that learning to use third position deliberately was an extraordinary upgrade to their leadership, one which I hope you will find equally useful.