When you think about your approach to authentic voice and mindful leadership, which of these quotes resonates with you with most?
If you find yourself wavering, or in the middle, that may be because there is an element of truth in both of these statements. However, striking a balance between voice and truth is no easy feat, and often we have an inclination to withhold or liberate our truth more than the desire to find balance - what I call mindful voice. Like most aspects of leadership, mindful voice requires ongoing realignment and continual practice.
Our style of communication can change or fluctuate in the moment or across patterns in our lives. For example, historically, I resonated more with the idea that the truth is liberating. However, recently, as I grew in my mindful leadership practice, speaking my own truth became a struggle – not because I couldn’t, but because the question, “How much of this is about me?” was paralyzing. It had become uncomfortable to assert my needs or feelings because I had adopted an understanding of leadership that rejected authoritative or ego-centric models. I wanted to serve others, and in that process, I let go of opinions and insights that may have been valuable to others. I subconsciously began acting like my voice wasn’t important - that mindful leadership was in service of everyone else but me.
Where did this behavior and mental model come from? Well, not all leadership is good leadership and as a leadership coach, I have often witnessed others “unloading” their truth.
Unloading your truth is the result of a need to be heard or seen without concern for the intention of the message itself, and it can take shape in several ways. While it may be easy to think about this “unloading” as a transfer of negative moods, it can just as easily take form in overzealous, boastful, or bubbly demeanors. As you read a few of the common types of unloading, can you recognize yourself or someone close to you in these behaviors?
Emotional Unburdening: Telling someone unaffiliated with a circumstance what you’re dealing with for an emotional release. This can be an overwhelming feeling of joy, pain, or another emotion but the gratification comes in the form of expressing it to someone else because whether you are happy or sad - you just can’t contain it.
Example: Your colleague is ecstatic about their recent raise and they need to share all the details with you: the new office location, job description, restructure, and salary. It feels vaguely familiar to the time your sister got engaged and all you heard about for the next month was the wedding.
Unprompted Opinions: Expressing your thoughts on a situation or circumstance without solicitation. Typically these opinions don’t directly relate to the situation at hand and no one asked to hear them.
Example: You are standing by the infamous water cooler and your colleague starts sharing their political opinion about the upcoming election. They offer the reasons for their viewpoint and proceed to bash any alternative opinions.
Straight Shooting: Explaining exactly how you feel about what you or someone else did without consideration for the impact on another person. While often we see our raw reactions as authenticity, the frame and way they are expressed matters. When we don’t consider the audience, their culture, values, or beliefs and their reaction, we are allowing our view and ego to be the only thing that matters.
Example: You get upset about how insensitive your supervisor was on issue related to diversity and inclusion. You have grounds to be angry but while talking about it with your colleague, you use inappropriate language and may or may not have taken note that your colleague is offended not by your opinion but by your language.
Energetic Dump: Entering a space ill-attuned to the pre-existing mood.
Example: A colleague rushes into the conference room to exclaim that the project proposal everyone had been working on has been accepted! Unfortunately, they didn’t stop to notice the very solemn tone of the room, where the discussion of layoffs had just concluded.
You may observe unloading as an occasional slip in your awareness from time to time or long-standing patterns in yourself or another. Regardless, achieving balance in voice is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership.
So how can you recognize the difference between unloading your truth and speaking it?
Mindful leadership requires us to think about our impact on others as well as our relationship to others. These considerations are not a never-ending list of concessions but a reflective practice that is mirrored by some of the following concepts:
Reflecting on the 4 Ps above allows us to use mindful leadership voice - speaking from a place of truth that is change-oriented but with considerations for everyone involved. While some leadership interventions require you to disregard a concept from time to time, if you find that you are not considering two or more of the concepts of Purpose, Permission, Parameters, or Presence in your leadership practice, you are probably unloading your truth. When you unload your truth you can derail focus, emotionally burden others, and deplete your informal authority (influence). While this can be damaging to yourself and others, failing to speak your truth can be just as costly. Failing to speak your truth denies the greater good of your valuable insights, diverse perspective, and leadership.
When we consider the 4 Ps: Purpose, Permission, Parameters, and Presence we can better our practice and balance of mindful leadership voice.
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