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The A.C.C. of leadership

by Sheeja Shaju
Indian Management January 2021

Summary: The A.C.C. of Leadership is about three powerful words—Awareness, Choice, and Care—that have the potential to change our lives. All that is required on our part is to understand and implement them.

I invite you to reflect on the questions I have added in the article at the end of every piece.

In one of my coaching conversations, a coachee of mine who was also the head HR of a large organisation said that she was facing some issues with her team. She said, “I am doing all it takes for my managers to be happy, but I don’t feel the connection with them. They don’t express much, and I also find them avoiding my presence. I feel they don’t trust me. I wish I knew how to handle this because it is affecting the results.”

The A.C.C. of Leadership is about three powerful words that have the potential to change our lives. All that is required on our part is to understand and implement them.

This brings us to the first one: A = Awareness
In my coachee’s world, she was working very hard to have the team trust her. According to her she had ticked all the boxes, and yet she did not have the desired results. This just means that there was something missing; something she was not aware was happening; something she was bling to.

Remember, you cannot alter what you cannot see!

Imagine, putting a bull in a china shop (I know the thought itself is weird!). The bull, in all its ‘blindness’, will cause destruction. Just the swish of its tail will do a lot of damage to the goods. But the bull is just being what it is. It is perhaps just walking or probably trying to get out of the shop.

Similarly, we, as humans, do a lot of damage in our lives by being blind and unaware in many domains. Let us go deeper in one of them here. In our trainings, we often ask people, “Where do actions come from?” and the usual answers we get are “events” or “conversations with others (planning, brain-storming, strategies)”, etc.

Here is what we claim happens: When an event takes place, we quickly make a story in our minds, think that story to be the truth, and based on that story, we take actions in the real world. So, between the event and the action is ‘our story’ that is ‘our interpretation of the event’. No wonder, for the same event, different people take different actions.

The interesting thing is that we are blind that we make stories. We are also blind that we hold these stories to be the truth. We forget that we were the authors of these stories in the first place! Relating back to the example of my coachee. She narrated one of the incidents which made her think her people distrusted her, “Last week, when I entered the cafeteria, some of my staff who were seated there were speaking animatedly. As soon as they saw me, they stopped talking and resumed their lunch without a word, and as soon as I exited, I heard them speaking and laughing again. I am sure they were speaking about me behind my back!”

Here, my coachee is relating the experience from what she felt is the truth. She did not realise that she created those stories based on her interpretations of the situation. If we were to speak to the team candidly, they may come up with completely different reasons for keeping quiet when she entered.

My coachee had many similar experiences to share, due to which she made herself believe that her team distrusted her.

Because you do not see something does not mean it does not exist. But we forget this and go about in our own world thinking our stories to be the truth and taking actions accordingly. My coachee here was clearly not considering other possibilities that she could not ‘see’.

Relate this to your life and think of the last time you were unhappy/upset/disempowered - Become aware of the stories you made then
1. Get present to the action you took because of those stories
2. What results did that story set you up for?
Awareness gives you the choice to shift your stories and opens up possibilities for new actions and hence new results!

Let us look at the next one, C = Choice
This one is actually a part of the Awareness bit, but the power of Choice needs more attention; hence, I have created it as a separate piece.

Our stories determine our actions and thus our results. We are the authors of our stories but many of us are blind to it. We always have a choice in the stories we create.

Imagine this: As the events take place, you become aware that you are creating the stories. You see that if you change your story, what you will speak or do will change. You make a choice, you now see the power you have to change the future. You are not at the mercy of the situation anymore. You see you have choice and you are exercising that choice!

I am greatly inspired by Amanda Lindhout, author of A House in the Sky. She was a journalist, who, along with her entourage, was kidnapped and held in captivity for 15 months by Islamist insurgents in southern Somalia. This book is about her experiences during that time, which include physical and mental abuse by her kidnappers and she states that ending her life would have been an easy choice. But instead she chose freedom. She was committed that she would one day go back to living a normal life. Which is exactly what she did. Today she travels the world and conducts talks about her experience.

What did Amanda do? She exercised her power of choice. She created stories that would help her stay focused on getting out of that place.

If she could do it, then what is our excuse? Here are some questions for you to reflect on
1. What are your stories about your spouse/children/in-laws/customers/colleagues?
2. See that you are making a choice in creating these stories,
3. Observe you have a choice in changing them,
4. What new actions and results will the new stories give you?

Let us move on the next C = Care
We believe that humans are beings of ‘Care’. Simply put, we humans live to take care of what matters to us. All our actions and efforts are directed towards taking care of something. When we take care of what matters to us, we have value, satisfaction, meaning and empowerment in life.

But the interesting thing here is many of us do not know what we care for. And if this is the case, then we will not know if we are taking care of that what matters to us. This will often result in us being unsatisfied with the results

A few years ago, we conducted a 9-month program for a massive auto-component manufacturing organisation, and one of the participants, who was then the regional head of sales, was particularly quiet and pensive. When provoked to share his thoughts, he said, “My family is my care. I always thought I was taking care of them by providing them with a comfortable home and great quality of life in all senses. But now I see I have been missing out something very big.” His eyes were moist at this part. He continued, “My family consists of my twin children who are 3-year-old and my wife. Every evening I go home and sit in front of the TV or read the newspaper or I am on my phone or laptop. If my twins want to show me something or speak to me, I usually only nod my head and go back to my work. I now realise, I hardly speak to my wife too. Suddenly, I feel I have lost many years of my life.”

This man committed to taking charge of his life and in three months, when he came for his next session, he shared he was much more committed to his cares and was very satisfied about how he was handling things.

There are three very important questions you need to ask yourself
1. What do you care about?
2. Are you taking care of what you care about?
3. If you are not taking care of what you care about, then what are you doing?

Living a life of Awareness, Choice and Care will enable you to take full charge of your future and thus have results in your life that matter to you. I have learnt from Bob Dunham, Founder of Institute for Generative Leadership about the power of Care.

Sheeja Shaju is Director of Learning and Somatic Leader, Institute of Generative Leadership, Asia.

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