The brain has 100 billion neurons, which we call brain cells. The heart has about 40,000 neurons, and it can sense, feel, learn, and remember; it is your heart-brain. The gut has 100 million neurons in the intestines; it is often referred to as the gut-brain.
As a coach, I believe great work happens when clients are willing to access all three of these domains in coaching sessions to make sense of their leadership, challenges, wins, and career trajectory.
Based on years of coaching and deep listening, I can quickly pick up on the preferred orientation of a client. Some are clavicle-up and need some coaching to drop into the heart space. Others lead with emotion, and I may have to ask questions to help them think critically through the issues they face. Then there are those few who let the gut-check guide them even when there is contrary information that might suggest a different path. My coaching in this scenario is to help them become aware of the impact of their decision making.
There is never a domain that is always right or always wrong. Our hearts and brain have a dynamic relationship and can inform the other – they can also disagree. Often the gut is the deal-breaker when wrestling with decisions or a course of action. The important thing for a client is to pay attention to all three ways of sense-making to identify where their domains agree and where they conflict.
It also takes courage for a client to be coached in domains that are least preferred. Dealing with logic, emotion, and gut-checks are not always easy. Those who are willing to do this hard work are often the clients who grow the most.
In my previous posts in this series of how to be a good client, I reference the importance of reflection, sharing your story, and having an objective when working with a coach. When clients also show a willingness to stretch into different ways of knowing and making sense of themselves, significant work is accomplished. It is also true you do not need a coach to ask yourself three essential questions regularly.
What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What is my gut telling me?
Customer-Centric, Employee-Centric, Stakeholder-Centric, Manager-Centric, Rule-Centric, Child-Centric, Parent-Centric, Egocentric, etc. Centric behavior suggests that something or someone is at the center of all your thinking, conversations, and behaviors. We have seen so many recent examples of centric behavior that fly in the face of all common sense. United Airlines and various police departments continue to keep our social media conversations active regarding what appears to be overplayed rule-centric behavior. Just because it is legal or part of policy and procedure, hardly suggests it is the right reaction.
In general, I believe that every organization employs intelligent leaders and employees who at large, want to do the right thing. They want to be of service, follow the rules, and get their work done without causing problems. Unfortunately, some people have become unconscious to their centric behavior and tendencies. My argument is not that centric behavior is bad, it is just overemphasized when it guides all reactions.
In another life, when I worked as an HR director, I constantly battled my own centric behavior. If I sided with employees too much when they complained about their manager or the organization, I could be accused of being employee-centric and risk management’s trust. If I ruled for the managers too much, employees would not trust HR and think I was manager-centric. It is a tough balancing act that requires a conscious effort to see everyone and everything as unique while managing the policies and procedures that necessitate some type of consistency. Now that I work as an executive coach, I see first-hand how leaders struggle, as I did, trying to mitigate their centricity.
Some leaders have such a strength of empathy they have become employee-centric in their interactions and often unknowingly put their company at risk by not representing decisions as a leader or representative of their organization. Sometimes leaders are so conscious of the marginalized voices in their midst; they misrepresent the intentions of other leaders who have a different centric lean.
Then there are leaders who feel discomfort with taking a case-by-case perspective and rely heavily on what they can see, hear, and understand from a literal perspective. They rely on history and conformity and may be reluctant to consider new information that emerges, which requires a deeper level of sense-making and adaptability.
It requires a level of discernment to not become too centric. Effective leaders, who are committed to their own development, can hold multiple perspectives and see the relevance in each viewpoint without being paralyzed by the tension. Our world barely operates in simple terms anymore. We are lucky when things are just complicated as most of leadership swim in the dark waters of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).
Our VUCA world requires us not to be subject to our centric thinking and behaving but to become instead conscious of it so we can make effective decisions. Leaders need to be willing to talk amongst themselves about their centricities and work with their executive coaches to ensure they are not overly reliant on a certain type of belief system.
In what ways might you be overly centric?
Carrie Arnold, PhD, MCC, BCC
In no particular order: Author | Dog mom to Moose | Speaker| Reader Mom to human offspring Wife | Lover of Learning Leadership coach & consultant, The Willow Group | Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation