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Want to lead with impact and intent? Start with your awareness gap!

Our intentions when we behave a certain way and how those land don’t always match up! 

Luckily, you’re not alone. All leaders fall foul of what Ally Jones describes as The Awareness Gap – the difference between the two. A clear chasm between the positive intentions we have when we rock up and how people might describe us. If we’re going to lead with impact and intent, this is the perfect starting point!

Ally joined us for a live episode of L&D Disrupt to talk to us about awareness gaps, how first time managers can lead more effectively and fostering trust as you become a more senior face in a company. Watch the full episode below or keep scrolling for our key takeaways.

The sh*t sandwich feedback method is a great example of a gap between impact and intention. 

Where leaders say something bad in the middle of two nice things, normally with the intention of not sounding too harsh and negative. All it does is leave employees feeling baffled or demotivated – are they being praised or told there’s something they’re not very good at? And it’s a clear example of where we can lead with intent better!

How to tackle the awareness gap and better align intention and impact

Firstly, find time for reflection. It doesn’t have to be a full hour dressing down of everything you did badly this week. It’s more like setting two, five or ten-minute windows to think about how your behaviour has influenced someone.

Speaking to people helps too, especially if we know we’re normally too harsh or lenient on ourselves, but not if people are uncomfortable giving you candid feedback! 

So you need to understand and address how you’re perceived AND if your employees have psychological safety. Normally, the more senior you are, the less comfortable people are giving feedback because there’s a concern about how it will be received. 

The ‘leaders eat last’ mantra could help you address that – by giving other people space to speak before you do. And, at the same time, ask better questions! Don’t ask vaguely open-ended things like ‘how was yesterday’s session?’, perhaps phrase it as ‘what one thing could I have done better in that session?’

Anonymising feedback can also be your friend at this point, removing the concern of how answers will be received and detaching the fear of outcomes and consequences. 

The second awareness hurdle: Becoming more self-aware

Is your self-awareness being sabotaged? Many things can derail it and imposter syndrome is one of the main offenders. It can wreak havoc on your leadership skills by convincing you you’re a fraud or making you doubt your abilities altogether. Don’t listen to it, it’s a load of BS! 

We’d go so far as to say that most leaders or managers will feel it at some point or another, but it’s the way you deal with it that makes the difference. Speak to other leaders about their experiences and remind yourself that you’re not a leader because you have all the answers, it’s because the things you’re good at are the things that matter. 

Being open to sharing your weaknesses can also help create a safe environment for others to do the same, making you one step closer to removing that pesky gap!

Meditation is also a great tool that we can practice every day to help us with our self-awareness. Learning to create and hold that silent space for ourselves, despite growing to-do lists and pinging inboxes, is a skill that goes hand in hand with becoming more self-aware.

How to lead impactfully in your first management role

The one tool Ally believes has impact above everything else is listening. And whether you have the budget or not, this is something that every single new manager can work on! 

We tend to listen to respond, hearing the pieces that we like and then responding to those. But if you really want to change the conversations you’re having, you need to move your listening to level 2 (active listening) or even level 3 (intuitive listening). You can then build on this with more meaningful feedback conversations that land with impact, as you gain a deeper understanding of what your peers are communicating with you. 

If these conversations feel uncomfortable for you, they probably feel the same for your colleagues as well! Being promoted into a new management role can mean a massive shift in the dynamic between you and the people you work with, but being honest about these feelings can actually help to break down the barriers. 

While it can feel really uncomfortable to be promoted above your peers, it also leaves you in a great position where you can now ask for advice that will help you be the best manager you can! This will do wonders for aligning your intentions with the impact you want to have. 

What can L&D do to close the awareness gap?

The biggest thing L&D can do as a function is, ironically, raise awareness of the awareness gap! We can start by simply getting people to talk about it more, encouraging senior leaders to discuss their own awareness gaps and using these conversations to send ripple effects across the business. 

On a personal level, we can lead by example and build in our own time for self-reflection after meetings, making sure we aren’t blocking out our calendars back to back. On a wider scale, we can work to build programmes where conversations have to happen between an individual and their manager to facilitate reflection on how they’ve implemented what they learnt. 

The biggest problem to tackle here is that most people just aren’t aware that their actions are negatively affecting their colleagues, so if you can do something to raise awareness of this gap then that’s a great place to start!

If you’re looking for more management inspo, you might like our guide to building a leadership development strategy in modern and fast-growing companies.

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