2015 promises to be an interesting and exciting year! Last month Invest NB shared its 10 Must Reads for the C-Suite from 2014 that we recommend for all leaders. Since then we have been speaking one-on-one with these authors getting additional insight and predictions for 2015. In this post, we were happy to catch up with Dr. Marcia Reynolds in between her numerous business trips. We thank Marcia for making time for us! It was a great conversation with lots of wonderful ideas and insight, so let’s dig in.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds

MacLean: Your latest book, “The Discomfort Zone,” was just released about a month ago. How did you come up with the direction for this book?

Reynolds:  Originally the book was going to be for coaches, but as I thought about my work with leaders over past 30 years, I realized that the book could greatly benefit anyone wishing to build their careers, as well as coaches. It can assist C-suite leaders, for example, have conversations with other leaders who are stuck in their thinking. It assists them to help others uncover their blind spots and points of resistance.  I am pleased to see that it is making an impact and resonating with leaders.

My approach to working with leaders who have to hold difficult conversations is somewhat different from what you read about in most books about conversations.  Rather than focusing on what to say so the leader gets his or her message out correctly, I work with leaders on how to listen so they hear what is stopping others from moving forward. With specific listening techniques, they then realize what they need to say that will help the person they are working with see their own blind spots and gaps in logic. It is about getting others to pause and reflect on their words and actions in a way they can’t do for themselves. It is about how leaders help others see their blind spots and better understand their reasons for being resistant to something. As a result, instead of having to tell people what to do to change, they realize on their own what they need to do next. The change is then more sustainable. Even if the conversation was uncomfortable, the person commits to moving forward.

This is very powerful. When it happens leaders – people – have a breakthrough and realize that the way they have been thinking, often for years, has in fact been sabotaging their own goals. When done properly, people appreciate the help. The truth can hurt but only when it is useful!

I have to stress that this is not about observing someone and telling them what they are doing wrong. Rather it is a process of listening and asking questions. By doing this you are involving them in the process and helping them uncover what they are thinking and feeling. Done this way it has a lasting impression. 

MacLean: This is a different way to approach behaviour change. In fact, it makes it more about the leader than perhaps most of us would think. Why is that?

Reynolds: It comes down to the fact that it is often about dealing with emotionally uncomfortable topics. And that is a good thing. If you are really going to have a breakthrough, you often need to create that uncomfortableness. 

Over the course of doing this for years, I have seen that moment when an actual breakthrough happens and when that wall comes down and emotions do come through. And, if you stay with them and walk them through it, there is often a realization that what they thought to be true, isn’t actually true. This is a good thing and the brain starts to rewire itself. Then once they settle into it, they can move forward. The leader then knows that he or she can move forward with what they knew they had to do, but was too uncomfortable to do.

Again, it comes to understanding your own blind spot and how not acknowledging your blind spot can sabotage your success. A case I review in the book involves a leader I worked with who was very good at managing people up and down. She was effective in getting things done. What she was not good at however, was working with her peers. The CEO told me that he wanted to promote her, but she needed to learn how to better work with her peers. In speaking with her, I learned that she had a very strong sense of self. Despite this however, she did not understand, nor did she “see” how others perceived her. They saw her – they perceived her – as being an achiever versus being a leader. She was an efficiency expert, but not a leader. It was not until she could see this for herself and understand that what she thought to be true was not actually true, that she could make a change to alter perceptions.

“It can be argued that it is common sense, but it is a blind spot that trips people up. You really need to ask yourself who you are and how are you really being perceived. Where do you fit in the bigger scheme of things? Honestly, it is the question that makes them stop and think about who they are.

MacLean:  Your book doesn’t give a list of questions, but rather guides people through the process. Tell me about that.

Reynolds: There is no one set list of questions. It is the model that is most important. 

We are all so busy that we often don’t take the time to stop, think and reflect. I help people do this. As a part of the model, you really need to listen to what leaders are saying. You listen to their story. In doing so, you always hear something – a gap in their logic, their fears, what it is that they want so badly that they can’t see other possibilities. When you hear it, you stop them and ask them about the particular fear. 

For example, I often have leaders in sessions who are having difficultly with a particular conversation that they need to have. We don’t sit and plot out that conversation – that isn’t helpful. Instead, I ask what is it that you are afraid of? Are you afraid that you may not be seen as a good leader because of this situation? Of course you know that might be the case, but you just can’t tell them that. You need to guide them through the process until they acknowledge their blind spot. This stimulates action to move forward versus feeling bad about one’s self or what might happen.  

MacLean:  What do you think keeps members of the C-Suite up at night?

Reynolds: I believe if comes back to a leaders sense of self. Leaders tend to believe that they are supposed to have all of the answers and know what to do. As a collective, instinctively we know that there is no way that a leader can know everything when ‘“everything” is changing so quickly and we operate in a 24-hour environment. However, in the moment, leaders do not make that distinction.

This of course then translates into how a leader again addresses difficult conversations. They aren’t asking themselves the tough questions. Instead they often revert to using threat or reward. This of course is ineffective when determining the right approach. They will stay up all night thinking about it. These are intelligent people and they know the solution, but they need to come to terms with their blind spot and their fears. Again, asking the right questions will help them get to the solution that is needed.

MacLean: What is the most important skill that members of the C-Suite need?

ReynoldsInterestingly enough, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you think that you need to have all the answers. I would suggest instead that the better a leader is able to listen, the better he or she will be with dealing with behaviour – good or bad. Good leaders are able to draw out the real issues by listening.  Then once you know what the fears are, what the obstacles are, then you can formulate a response or solution.

For example, I worked with one executive team who was transitioning from a CEO who had been with the company for more than three decades. Every member of the C-Suite knew this individual and how to work with him. When I spoke to them about the change they were going through it was clear that they believed it was the worst thing that was happening. After listening to them, it was clear that they were afraid of who the new person would be and what changes would come as a result. They were angry that they did not get to be a part of the selection process.

To help reframe the situation I asked a simple question: what do you know to be absolutely true at this moment? After several moments of silence and staring one person stated that the only thing that they knew to be true was that their CEO was leaving. Then I asked, what is it that you need to do? The head of HR stated that  we need to be sure of our succession planning so that we can be prepared for any leader. Once this conversation started, the executive team was able to shift their focus to what they needed to do versus what may or may not happen. 

I simply listened to their story. I acknowledged how they were feeling and guided them to the proactive versus the reactive. 

“Blind spots are usually an incorrect assumption, a fear, or desire for something that they want very badly or some variation on these themes. If you don’t know your blind spot, you can’t modify behaviour.

MacLean: If you had one piece of advice for the C-Suite going into 2015, what would it be?

Reynolds: It is really quite straightforward, but not as easy as it sounds:

When you are in conversations, people want you to be present more than be perfect. All people want is for someone to talk to and specifically listen. If you remember that by listening you can learn the real issues, fears and obstacles people have you can then help them overcome them and move forward.  

Note this post was previously shared on the Invest NB blog.

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