The Arc of Awareness: Broadening the Gaze and Widening the Heart of Leadership

The Arc of Awareness: Broadening the Gaze and Widening the Heart of Leadership

by Joe Mutizwa


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781482802665
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/15/2014
Pages: 234
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

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The Arc of Awareness

Broadening the Gaze and Widening the Heart of Leadership

By Joe Mutizwa

Partridge Africa

Copyright © 2014 Joe Mutizwa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4828-0264-1


Are You Aware of How You Make Sense of Reality?

Awareness and Levels of Perception

As individuals, we experience reality at different levels of perception. In order to deepen and sharpen our capacity to perceive, we have to cultivate the various ways in which we engage or make sense of reality. Figure 1.1 below summarizes the different levels of perception that we can experience as individuals.

We all make sense of our environment through different ways of perceiving that reality. I am not a psychologist and therefore will make no attempt here to pretend to be one. My objective is simply to highlight the multifaceted ways in which we, as individuals, see our reality and make sense of our environment.

Let me explore briefly some of the ways individuals come to terms with their reality in any situation.

Subconscious/Out-of-Awareness Modes of Perception

It has been said that individuals are often surprised by the decisions that they make themselves. In circumstances such as these, it would be reasonable to assume that there exist certain out-of-awareness or subconscious factors that motivate such decisions or behaviours. Leaders need to recognize that their own perceptions and behaviours are also affected by factors and experiences deeply buried in their psyche but which come to the fore as they react to situations or interact with others. A good starting point is to explore the basic functions of the human brain, which at its simplest can be represented by the structure captured in figure 1.2 below. This represents the two sides of the human brain—the older limbic brain and the more recent (from an evolutionary perspective) neocortex or prefrontal cortex.

These two parts of the brain are often in conflict or pulling in different directions. The primary function of our limbic system—the emotional part of the brain—is to ensure our survival. This is the so-called right brain, which regulates feelings, emotions, intuition, insight, imagination, and creativity. More importantly, this is where most decisions are made, but crucially, this part of the brain does not control language. This explains why we often struggle to verbalize our feelings and emotions.

The prefrontal cortex—the rational part of the brain—controls analytic thought, reasoning, and logic and is the home for mathematics, science, and other numerical skills. Crucially, this part of the brain—the left brain—controls language.

To appreciate the power or influence of our subconscious, it is necessary to explore briefly how the human brain works. Research by neuroscientists have long confirmed that there are powerful subconscious processes that take place in our brains well ahead of us becoming conscious of what we are doing or saying. Studies by neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes and his colleagues at Max Planck Institute in Germany showed that unconscious predictive brain activity comes first and then the conscious experience follows. Although neuroscientists do not claim that this process is entirely deterministic, its implications raise profound questions about how the subconscious affects our perceptions, decisions, and behaviours as individuals.

Researchers at the NeuroLeadership Institute in the USA concluded that the rational is overrated and that social issues are primary determinants of how we perceive and behave. In studying how leaders make decisions and solve problems, regulate emotions, collaborate with others, and facilitate change, David Rock argues that the brain's organizing principle is based on a threat–reward matrix as depicted in figure 1.3 below.

He goes further to make the assertion that social pain or stress translates to physical pain in the brain and becomes a threat that elicits the following threat responses:

• increased motor function

• decreased field of view

• reduced working memory

• significantly fewer insights

• increased propensity to err on the side of pessimism.

These are profoundly disturbing research findings for leaders as they suggest that environments that are predominantly threatening in nature create conditions inimical to problem-solving, collaboration, creative thinking, and innovation. This alerts leaders who want to develop their organization's health to the need for paying particular attention to how organizational contexts are influenced and managed in a manner conducive to building a humane environment.

Perceiving Through Intuition

There are, of course, many other out-of-awareness or subconscious forms of perception that individuals experience. Intuition is one of them. Michael Mauboussin, in his book Think Twice, describes intuition as 'a judgment that reflects an impression'. Similarly, in his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell refers to what cognitive psychologists describe as the fast and frugal cognitive ability of intuition, where people take a single glance at something and 'their brain did a series of instant calculations and before any kind of conscious thought took place, they felt something'. Others have referred to subconscious awareness as subliminal awareness.

Gladwell refers to this intuitive thinking as our adaptive unconscious. His key message is that we must take intuition seriously as 'decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made consciously and deliberately'. Gladwell is alive to the dangers of being misled by our intuition and advises us that 'our unconscious is a powerful force. But it is fallible. It is not the case that our internal computer always strives through, instantly decoding the "truth" of a situation. It can be thrown off, distracted, and disabled.'

Leaders need to recognize that while intuition is reliable and essential for making sense of reality and perceiving danger and ensuring survival as part of human evolution, one must be aware of its limitations in a world characterized by volatility and complexity.

Indeed, Michael Mauboussin warns us that intuition 'works well in stable environments, where conditions remain largely unchanged (e.g. the chessboard and the pieces), where feedback is clear, and where cause and effect relationships are linear. Intuition fails when you are dealing with a changing system.... Despite its near magical connotation, intuition is losing relevance in an increasingly complex world.'

Daniel Kahneman draws our attention to what he calls expert intuition, which is an instinctive sixth sense that is a product of repeated practice and exposure to certain experiences—such as that for expert chess masters who can predict several moves ahead with one glance at the chessboard or experienced firefighters who can, in a flash, sense a solution intuitively. He contrasts this with heuristic intuition, which is driven by our emotions rather than expertise. This happens, he argues, when people avoid answering a difficult question and answer an easier and related question that readily comes to mind. 'This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.'

Kahneman cautions us not to trust heuristic intuition or even expert intuition unless certain conditions apply. His key principle is that 'the confidence that people have in their intuitions is not a reliable guide to their validity. In other words, do not trust anyone—including yourself—to tell you how much you should trust their judgment.' He continues to offer us advice as to when to trust the intuitive judgement of experts.

If subjective confidence is not to be trusted, how can we evaluate the probable validity? The answer comes from the two basic conditions for acquiring a skill:

• an environment that is sufficiently regular to be predictable

• an opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practice.

When both these conditions are satisfied, intuitions are likely to be skilled.

We can see here that Kahneman agrees with Mauboussin on the need for a stable and predictable environment for expert intuition to take root. Unfortunately, the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world in which we live does not provide the stability that is required for this expert intuition to thrive. The exponential growth in the use of the Internet further undermines the reliability of intuition as a vehicle for perception.

In his groundbreaking book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr argues that the Internet has had such deep cognitive consequences for its users that the wired world has arrived at 'a moment of transition between two very different modes of thinking. The calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and roll out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.'

The core of Carr's thesis is that while the Internet makes us feel smarter, in essence it makes us shallower as we skim information and only end up with a very superficial expertise. It is pertinent to ask if leaders should trust their intuition or indeed the intuition of experts of the Internet age, who may have neither the patience nor the concentration to develop expert intuition over longer periods. The warning to leaders is that they need more critical thinking than ever before as they make decisions in the Internet age, where the dangers of shallowness and disengagement at the human level could present dangers. One must caution against making too-broad generalizations here as the jury is still out on how the Internet affects human brains.

Perceiving through Body Language

Many leaders are unaware of the powerful ways in which body language shapes their ability to communicate with others. A great deal of what transpires between people happens through non-verbal signals; hence, any leader who wants to be an effective communicator needs to develop a conscious awareness of the special art of understanding body language.

Carol Kinsey Goman, a pre-eminent writer on body language, captures the essence of body language in the following way:

Leadership is about communication. You already know that. So, in preparing for an important meeting, you concentrate on what to say, you memorize crucial points and you rehearse your presentation so that you will come across as credible and convincing. But did you also know that the people you are speaking to will have subliminally evaluated your credibility, confidence, likeability and trustworthiness in the first seven seconds—before you had a chance to deliver your well-rehearsed speaking point? Did you know that your use of personal space, physical gestures, posture, facial expressions, and eye contact could already have sabotaged your message? And, most critically, did you know that any time your words and body language were out of alignment, people believed what they saw and not what you said? ... Did you know that your ability to accurately read and respond to the body language of others is fundamental to building empathy and rapport?

Goman found out in her research that 'most leaders were non-verbally illiterate—completely out of touch with the effect their body language had on others and unaware of the clear non-verbal signals that were being sent by clients and colleagues in every business encounter'.

The essential need for leaders to acquire awareness and proficiency with body language has become increasingly important as both cultural and gender diversity increases in the workplace at both the global and local levels. Leaders should make it their business to be aware of the many body language points of contact as well as the wide cultural differences in how they are interpreted.

Leaders subconsciously read and communicate through non-verbal signals all the time.

One of the most important aspects of leadership that all aspiring leaders need to appreciate is the fact that the higher you move up the organizational ladder, the more your behaviour is scrutinized by subordinates. The reality is that you are always on stage, particularly if you are the leader. No gesture, no facial expression, and no movement of the body can escape the observation of your staff. Indeed, my experience is that subordinates go to great lengths to try to read you ahead of important meetings. They want to focus on telltale signs that indicate your mood. Indeed, how the leader behaves outside the formal setting can be much more important than what happens in the formal meeting.

Theatre in Meetings

Even in formal meetings, there is a great deal that happens in a nonverbal way that communicates volumes. In his excellent book The Strategy of Meetings, Kieffer devotes a whole chapter to explore what he calls the 'theatre in meetings' and declares that all meetings are theatre. 'Theatre is far more important in meetings than is generally assumed, not just because it allows communication to be more effective, but also because—intentionally or unintentionally—it can very easily undermine the objective. You communicate something with everything you do—how you sit, where you choose to meet, how you dress, the tone of voice when you speak, the energy you create in the room.... There is always some location, some mode of dress, some seating—some theatre—all of which conveys some message.'


Are You Aware of the Key Determinants of Who You Are?

The Old Paradigm—Genetic Determinism

For a long time, the prevailing view was that individuals are what they are because of their genetic heredity. This view, by definition, allowed for a very deterministic view of human development—everyone followed a preprogrammed path shaped by their genes. Little scope was given for developmental paths outside those determined by the genetic code or ancestral heredity. Extensive research has, however, discredited the genetic endowment theory as the only plausible explanation of why individuals are what they are.

The Soul's Code

Other perspectives—those of a more spiritual or religious bend—have advanced the theory that all individuals are born with what James Hillman, in his book The Soul's Code, refers to as a calling or gift or divine spark, which works as an invisible hand to guide individuals throughout their lives.

The Impact of Cultural Legacy and Environment

In his groundbreaking book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites overwhelming research evidence that the environment plays a crucial role in shaping who we are. There is consensus among many researchers that a number of key environmental factors play a significant role in shaping individuals. Among these are:

• where and when you were born

• the era in which one is born (each era has its own peculiar discourse and narratives)

• the influence of community, parents, education, and other processes of socialization

• the opportunities that existed during one's upbringing

• cultural legacies, including the values and norms prevailing at the time.

As we shall see later in chapter 13, culture plays a very important role in shaping who we are.

The Crucibles and Struggles We Experience

Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas, in their book Leading for a Lifetime, draw our attention to the importance of crucibles as defining moments or experiences we go through in our lives that give us our voice and define who we are. It is their contention that we only find our voices when we are really tested. In my personal experience, this has been particularly true. The three years I spent in confinement as a political prisoner in pre-independence Zimbabwe—going in at age 21—were the most instructive years of my life as the experience offered me a unique opportunity to develop the resilience that served me greatly as chief executive of one of Zimbabwe's largest corporates during a period of unprecedented economic and political volatility.

Robert Thomas, in his book Crucibles of Leadership, drives the same message home.

Steven Snyder, in his book Leadership and the Art of Struggle, urges individuals to 'recast your struggles as positive learning experiences and view them as necessary steps in your development as a leader'.

Indeed, when one looks at the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, it becomes clear how crucibles and struggles are crucial determinants of who we are.

Every leader needs to be aware of critical character-forming experiences and ask questions such as 'What are my critical incidents and defining moments?' 'What battles have I fought?' 'What mistakes have I made?' 'What lessons have I learned?'

Our Mindset and Preparedness for Hard Work

There is broad consensus among writers and researchers of different perspectives that our thoughts, beliefs, and mindsets play a crucial role in defining who we are. Even religions agree.

The Bible in Proverbs 23:7 says, 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.' Buddha concurs and says, 'All that we are is the result of what we have thought.' Brian Tracy, in his book The Power of Self-Confidence, says, 'What you habitually think about becomes a part of your character and personality.'


Excerpted from The Arc of Awareness by Joe Mutizwa. Copyright © 2014 Joe Mutizwa. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, 1,
Part I Critical Questions for Self-Leadership, 13,
Chapter 1 Are You Aware of How You Make Sense of Reality?, 15,
Chapter 2 Are You Aware of the Key Determinants of Who You Are?, 25,
Chapter 3 Are You Aware of the Key Questions of Self-Awareness?, 33,
Part II Critical Questions for Leading Others, 51,
Chapter 4 Are You Aware of the Kinds of Intelligence that Effective Leaders Require?, 53,
Chapter 5 Are You Aware of the Limitations and Constraints on Leaders?, 71,
Chapter 6 Are You Aware of the Key Drivers of Human Motivation?, 77,
Chapter 7 Are You Aware of the Crucial Importance of Adaptive Capacity for Leaders?, 91,
Part III Critical Questions for Organizational Leadership, 99,
Chapter 8 Are You Aware of the Key Organizational Complexities?, 103,
Chapter 9 Are You Aware of the Key Requirements of Organizational Vigilance?, 117,
Chapter 10 Are You Aware of the New Ways of Leading Required for the Twenty-First Century?, 125,
Chapter 11 Are You Aware of the Key Organizational Measures of Success?, 139,
Part IV Critical Questions for Societal Leadership, 151,
Chapter 12 Are You Aware of the Major Drivers of Global Change?, 155,
Chapter 13 Are You Aware of the Pervasive Influence of Cultural Legacy?, 165,
Chapter 14 Are You Aware of the Important Measures of Societal Success?, 177,
Conclusion, 199,
Notes, 203,
Index, 213,

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