It’s up to you.
You are fully capable of making change happen. The thing is, growth takes time, and the growth that’s here for you is no joke. What you need to know is this: A lot of the gains available here are initiated by the readings in your lessons, but the real growth will happen only through your engagement “in the lab” with your experiments, quad work, and in the interactive forums. In other words, the big-deal development occurs when you apply the lessons in your daily life and in the shared context you will create with your peers. Don’t worry, we’ll give you the guidance you need to do this but we want to be super clear: skimming the lessons won’t get you there.
A biggie that we work on here is a shift away from autopilot reactions toward something more skillful that achieves the results you’re after. Look at your whole life as a learning lab where you get to run the experiments suggested for you here, make discoveries, and identify new techniques. Your experiments are the keys. Use them to shed light on theories you’re interested in, to practice new ways to respond to life, and to experience greater insight.
- To really engage in this manner, I am asking you to suspend the skepticism, judgment, and doubt that often arise early in the journey.
It is natural for learners to perceive these first few lessons as “beneath me,” “stuff I already know,” “too basic,” and “a waste of time.” I know because I’ve been there myself, but we need to start with the foundation in order to pave the way for the results to come. If you stick with me, I am confident you will emerge from this experience with more freedom to innovate and take smart risks; greater skill and confidence in dealing with conflict and difficult situations; heightened ability to collaborate with your teammates; and more tolerance for ambiguity, change, and the unknown.
Use the CCO as an opportunity to get curious and explore. You don’t have to buy — or even 100% agree with — any of these ideas; just try them out and see what ends up being useful to you.
How? Doing this will require skillful listening. This is because listening is one of the key ways we direct our attention. Where we focus our attention impacts how reality takes shape for us and what is possible for the organizations we are a part of.
- There are many ways we can choose to listen.
I am asking you to listen in a manner that is:
- Open to new information
- Open to being influenced
- Open to seeing new angles
Let’s look at a framework developed at MIT’s Theory U* to illustrate some of the different ways we can listen.
Theory U posits different levels of listening, each progressively more open and expansive than the preceding level. The first type of listening we’ll discuss here is habitual listening. In habitual listening, information heard is used solely to reconfirm what the listener already knows.
Essentially, habitual listening is about letting our habits drive what we see, hear, and experience when interacting with others and with incoming information. The listener listens only to confirm their own established judgments and opinions. The habitual listener won’t find what’s actually there, only what they are looking for. This renders new information invisible. In a nutshell, this is a way to “armor” against new information, and this armoring traps the listener in a world of their own preconceived notions.
A developmentally more advanced form of listening is what Theory U calls factual listening. The listener absorbs facts even when those facts contradict the listener’s existing theories. With factual listening, the listener permits the act of listening to move them beyond their own experiences. This way of listening allows listeners to tune in to a version of reality that is more objective and less bound by the preconceived ideas that have such a firm grip on the habitual listener. This way of listening is more open and is believed by many to be where innovation can begin to appear.
A third level of listening is empathic listening or listening in a way that is connected to the experience of another person, even when that experience is dramatically different from that of the listener or unfamiliar. With empathic listening, the listener listens from outside of their own perspective, from a stance that asks what the other person might be feeling, seeing, and thinking.
Throughout my working life, I have learned that when it comes to understanding one another, we must focus on what we don’t know, not what we think we do know or should know. We must resist the temptation to shut down, to react reflexively or to judge others…. It is a discipline that is difficult to achieve — but one that is well worth the effort.
— Isaac Lidsky
There are additional levels of listening that are important to attend to in becoming a skilled leader, but we’ll stop here for now. Many of us spend a whole lot of time in habitual listening, perhaps even most of our lives. We’ll get into why in Lesson 3 (Beliefs vs. Facts — Choose Your Own Adventure), but for now, the point I want you to take away is this:
- The limitations of habitual listening are clear.
Habitual listening drives us to interpret information in a self-serving manner, to rely too heavily on past experience, and to ignore the effects of implicit bias that we all have. When we live from this place, says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School and affiliate with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard, “we tend to prioritize information that supports our existing beliefs and to ignore information that challenges them, so we overlook things that could spur positive change. Complicating matters, we also tend to view unexpected or unpleasant information as a threat and to shun it — a phenomenon psychologists call motivated skepticism.”
To get what is here for you in the CCO experience, see the limitations of mental habits like habitual listening and motivated skepticism, and choose something different for yourself. Leaning into this choice begins with curiosity and a desire to learn. Why not take on the challenge of suspending old habits here and now and set your mind to evolving your listening with this program?
- You can start right now: Assume there’s something here for you to learn and actively strive for that learning!
*Theory U is a ten-year MIT initiative that has developed a consciousness-based approach to leadership and change; it posits that “the quality of the results we can create in any social system – including work organizations – is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.” For more on Theory U’s four levels of listening, see Four Levels of Listening.