The Mental Habits of Effective Leaders with Jennifer Garvey Berger [The Knowledge Project Ep. #43]

In a world that changes at a dizzying rate, effective leaders need to develop the skills to keep up. Developmental coach and author Jennifer Garvey Berger (@jgberger) shares 3 habits to ensure continual growth, accelerated learning and deepened relationships of trust.

Jennifer Garvey Berger

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In this fast-paced digital economy, it’s impossible to see the changes that are on the horizon. That makes it difficult for leaders to prepare for what’s ahead. In her best-selling books, Changing on the Job, and Simple Habits for Complex Times, author and developmental coach Jennifer Garvey Berger teaches the skills and habits you can adopt today to make you more agile and adaptable to any scenario.

During our discussion, we explore some of the methods Jennifer uses to help individuals become better listeners, better learners, and better leaders. There was so much wisdom in this interview that it was difficult to decide what excerpts to share.

Here’s a small sampling of what you can expect:

So much of leadership ability is about how other people experience themselves in your presence. A great leader has a presence that makes other people bigger.

History is filled with leaders, who were told in whispers that there was a disaster ahead and who were so certain about their own perspective that they marched into disaster headlong. A curious leader listens to whispers and begins to make sense of them, not necessarily to believe them all, but to know that there’s something going on to be attuned to.

We have the possibility to always be growing. That’s a glorious thing. For some people, they’re into arrival.

One of the different questions adult development theory lets us ask is, “Who am I being right now and is that the person I want to be?” You bring that question into your everyday life and it moves you.

Over time, as we begin to ask different questions, they push out our thinking and feeling and experiencing because so much of what we’re doing is the answer to a question. What you wear is the answer to, “What shall I wear today?” Our lives are living out answers to questions we don’t notice that we’re asking. Asking different questions helps us lead different lives.

Taking seriously the possibility that somebody else is right and you’re wrong requires a mental yoga that you have to remember to do because what your system is going to deliver to you for free from most of our development is when somebody says something that you think is wrong, you just think, “Well, that’s wrong.” You don’t think, “Oh, what am I missing?”

We tend to be looking for the root cause of something, but in complexity, there’s no root cause. There’s no root cause of a hurricane, right? There’s no root cause of a tsunami. There’s no root cause in nature. There are just many forces that interact together to get you a particular effect. Similarly, there’s no root cause of trust. There’s no root cause of leadership. These are all a series of things that happen together.

You can’t tell the difference in a brain scan between somebody having an opinion and somebody remembering a fact. Our brains think they’re the same. So, we have to get really careful with what we think is an opinion and what we think is a fact.

One of the things I love about complexity is it can change from anywhere, right? You can change a system from anywhere. You don’t actually need positional power. So, somebody who’s locked in one of those patterns could begin to imagine ways to shift even if I’m just shifting my part of the pattern. What if I decided that the talk I’m going to do outside of meetings is going to be all praise for one another? How does that shift the system around me?

I am continually surprised by the power of genuine listening. I know it sounds fairly simple, but people who are led by their curiosity and who genuinely listen to the perspectives of others, they learn like crazy.

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