We have been spending the last few months working with a Technology Consulting company based in NYC and Krakow called U2i. It is one of the most extraordinary firms we have had the pleasure of working with, a company that is already successful and is destined to be even more successful because people in that company are learning how to unleash their potential. There is a lot we can write about but I wanted to lead off with two people.

We often hear the word ‘courage’ used in leadership. A lot has been written about it so why add to what is written? I feel that many examples in literature about courage is often about people overcoming the odds to do something grand- changing a country, running a large campaign, leading an army into battle etc. but there isn’t very much out there that captures small but significant moments that enables major shifts. I believe these moments are critical to share because they make ‘being courageous’ more possible for us in our day to day. So what happened?

We had been running some workshops with everyone from U2i for a few months and we had been exposing people to ideas of the Waterline, 110% listening, Three Worlds and Pinches. In one of these meetings, someone plucked up the courage to confront one of the Tech Leads with a team-swap decision. He asked the Tech Lead a straight question: Why did you pick me? In this moment, the Tech Lead had so many options open to him to answer the question in whatever way would be ‘comfortable’ for both. These are, to borrow a phrase from Jan Carlzon, a ‘moment of truth’.  These moments present a significant opportunity for leaders to answer the question from his truth. When this happens, all the things we have spoken about up to that point- high performing team, high trust etc. suddenly become reality. This is also how culture is shaped. So what did the Tech Lead do? He answered his absolute and sincere truth. To honour our ‘Vegas Rule’ I will not repeat exactly what was said. However, the Tech Lead has given me permission to share with you that he exposed his own lack of logic and reason in his decision-making. How did we know he was telling the truth? We sensed it because was not a ‘pretty’ or ‘nice’ or ‘neat’ answer- it was awkward. BUT, his uncut and unpolished truth was it incredibly powerful. In that moment, if you had been in the room, you would have felt a moment of electricity when the question was asked, stunned silence after the answer was spoken and then, a collective sigh of relief as the group relaxed into a space of higher trust.

What also stood out for me in this incident was the questioner. In these situations, it takes immense courage to break through our own anxieties in order to confront another person with something that is really bothering us AND for us to really listen and take in the answer given. What impressed me so much about the questioner was he didn’t go back to asking the question again or to make another point. He heard the answer, he was satisfied and said so. This simple act of cleaning asking a question, hearing the other and concluding is the difference between a genuine question and situations where a question is used as a foil for an opinion or some other agenda. For the group, these two people demonstrated that it was possible to challenge one another and it was possible for individuals to give truthful answer cleanly. This is how the group starts to build a capacity and a capability for checking out perceptions and dealing with differences. In other words- true diversity.

For the questioner and for the person who answered the question, this was leadership courage in action. It’s quite simple actually. Yet, like everything that sits ‘Below the Waterline’, it’s a hell of a tough job to do it in the moment- especially when one feels under pressure or put on the spot. But this is what it takes to be a true ‘leader of change’. In this instance, both the questioner and the answer giver were true leaders.