INTERMISSION BLOG

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Opening Windows: Building Leadership Presence with Personal Stories

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Sometimes people are hesitant to share this type of information about themselves at work. They think it’s “unprofessional”. This belief, that a leader should separate their personal life from their work or “professional” life, often, unknowingly, contributes to the detriment of relationships with colleagues.

In 1955 two psychologists from the University of California named Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created a framework that came to be known as The Johari Windows: Jo, for Joseph; and Hari, for Harrington.

The Johari Windows are a cognitive psychology tool that help people recognize their relationship with self. They consist of a two-by-two matrix that represent the intersections between ‘Known to Self’ and ‘Not Known to Self’ on one spectrum and ‘Known to Others’ and ‘Not Known to Others’ on the other.

I’m especially intrigued by this tool because one of the foundational skill sets in our PRESence model is Self-Knowing.

One of the Johari Windows is labeled, “Things you know about yourself and others don’t know about you.”

This window has particular relevance to our work. It represents areas in your life that you’ve deemed personal or private. Things in this quadrant might be as simple as dying your hair, or as formative as the fact that you were a foster kid that grew up in five different homes.

Sometimes people are hesitant to share this type of information about themselves at work. They think it’s “unprofessional”. This belief, that a leader should separate their personal life from their work or “professional” life, often, unknowingly, contributes to the detriment of relationships with colleagues.

Many years ago we encountered a team with this problem. Two members of the team hadn’t talked to each other in seven years. The manager told us:

Either we fix this or I blow up the team.”

In our workshops we teach storytelling and relationship-building skills. We invite participants to partner up, tell a story about a defining moment in their lives and then acknowledge each other’s strengths and values.

We knew this exercise might be the only chance for a breakthrough with these two “professional” men who wouldn’t talk to each other. We asked them to pair up and they both refused. We tried every rational argument. Finally we pleaded:

Just do it for us. Whatever happens, happens. If you don’t talk, that's fine.

They reluctantly agreed. When they returned we could see a difference in their faces. One of the men became quite emotional as he said:

“I had no idea until today that seven years ago Joe was fighting cancer. He wouldn’t let anybody know, because he thought it would have been unprofessional. He didn't want to deal with it with everybody.”

For two years, Joe’s illness - and his decision not to talk about it - caused all kinds of behaviors that were off-putting. He missed meetings, he missed deadlines, he didn’t return phone calls, he didn’t seem to care about his work and he was often volatile.

“I misinterpreted it all at the time. I’d become so furious, I just stopped talking to him and then he reciprocated by not talking to me,” said Joe's colleague.

The danger of keeping the things you know about yourself TO yourself is that with little information, people will jump to conclusions about your character. Instead of having compassion for Joe, his colleague thought he was just being a jerk.

Sharing yourself in this way requires risking being vulnerable with the people you lead. Our definition of Leadership Presence is to authentically connect with others in order to motive and inspire them. Authenticity demands vulnerability. Showing up authentically at work means showing up with your whole self.

The Johari Windows are over 50 years old, but the insight it provides into self-knowing is as relevant today as ever.

If you are interested in increasing your Leadership Presence, give some deep thought to this question:

What don’t your people know about you that, if they did, would connect them to you in a more authentic way?

Once you’ve answered the question, open up your window, let your colleagues in and share.

Related Topics: Relationship Building, Storytelling, All Posts, Leadership Presence, Management Advice, Company Culture

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