Operating on 2 Planes

As a young leader I used 100% of my energy to do my job – I was leading others, being held accountable for cost and quality measures, and learning quickly.  What I came to realize was that a whole other plane of life exists in the workplace – one of coaching, camaraderie, fun, insight and an art of leading.

Many leaders fall into a one-plane trap, the work itself.  As a result they are only able to get satisfaction in the workplace from the joy of completing a work task, or the financial rewards hard work can bring.  When I focused working on two planes at once, my horizons and awareness expanded exponentially – enabling me to be a better leader.

This 2-plane realization came when I enrolled in a program for high-potential leaders within Pillsbury/General Mills.  Our task was to analyze a business problem and present our findings to the CEO.  It was a stressful assignment as we had 3 days, worked in teams of 5, and our careers would certainly be helped or hindered by our performance.  The trick was, in addition to presenting a business plan, we were challenged to find the other plane of leadership.  Our facilitator would stop the group discussion and ask us to give feedback to one another.  It was raw, honest and challenging feedback – but changed my leadership trajectory.  It was a great program and while we identified some good ideas on the business issue – that value paled in comparison to the leadership lessons we learned:

Strengths have a dark side weakness

I am gifted in assessing data quickly and presenting a compelling and well-reasoned case to others.  Sounds good, right? What I learned was this strength, like all do, has a dark side.  My strength of working quickly to get to solution had a negative consequence by ostracizing others on my team.  Just because I was quicker with an idea, and forceful in my presentation – did not mean that my ideas were the best – just fast and loud. When I was able to slow my pace – it allowed me to listen better to others, incorporate the diversity of ideas and get to a better solution. I learned to solicit input first, gathering more insights, and then using my gifts to synergize all ideas – rather than sprint to a good answer, we walked to a great answer.

Get on the balcony

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day. The email inbox, the to-do list, or deadlines you face. I began to make conscious time to get above the day to day ‘trees’ and see the ‘forest’. For me, this happens daily, when I start my day being thankful, and on Sundays, where I look at the week and month to come and make decisions about what is most important.  This practice also helps me operate on the second plan of being – not just going through tasks, but remembering to check in with people, not just check on their work progress.

Inward and outward work together

If we are honest, most of us operate in a superficial plane in a work setting.  We think, talk, plan, problem solve and execute, and chat at breaks and lunch. What is missing is developing and harnessing the power from within.  Our ability as humans to give thanks, to express love, to listen before speaking, to remember our place in the universe, to remember that relationships are more important than bottom line profits.

My effectiveness as a leader improved significantly when I was able to begin operating on 2 planes at once. On one plane getting stuff done, but at the same time knowing how a kind word, ensuring people feel heard, and cognizant that my body language and tone of voice impacts others, much more than the words I say.

My challenge to you is to seek that second plane.  Yes, do your work – but create a plan for operating on a higher plane.  For me it meant working hard to slow down, listening, realizing that I am not irreplaceable and putting my work in a bigger life context.  Perhaps for you it is getting out of the trap of insecurity, imposter syndrome, ego or introversion? This plane also helped me physically; my one-plane existence caused me stress, that lodged itself between my shoulder blades.  The second plane allowed a release, a zone of operating that allowed me to take myself less seriously.

Once you get a taste of that second plane – you recognize others who are there with you (game knows game, is a favorite saying on pickup basketball courts).  It comes in a wink across the table during a negotiation, or a heartfelt thank you for a kind word.  It makes all the difference but takes introspection and hard work to get out of your own way to find that higher plane.