Portrait of an Engaged Observer

Chitra Chaturvedi

Chitra Chaturvedi

A consultant at Vyaktitva who enjoys working with other Vyaktis and Saansthas to help with transformation as a trainer, coach and OD facilitator. With decades of experience in the field of developing people capability in one form or another, she enjoys deep conversations on individual journeys with everyone. She enjoys reading all kinds of books and listening to music - particularly old Bollywood songs, and spending time with her new love - meditation.

“Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I have often found myself wishing that I could turn back the clock because I assessed situations incorrectly that led to ridiculous decisions or I judged someone incorrectly and hurt them or myself in the process. In other words, I reacted and failed to respond. The impact of the reaction was dismal on financial health, emotional health, health of relationships with intimate people to name a few. And the fabric of remedy to counter such situations in the future was similar to the reaction itself and you can well understand the pointlessness of the resolution! Phew! Frustrating as damnation.

We are all subjective or to be brutally honest, I would say judgmental ― it’s human frailty. We overreact to situations; we judge people too quickly and unfairly; we take something personally when it was not really meant that way. As a result, we lose relationships, reputation, money, and peace of mind. And in our continuously emerging world, as leaders we need to make quick decisions with information that seems incomplete or even contradictory. We often find ourselves second guessing the motives of the individuals sharing the information or the story as we call it at Vyaktitva. We subject them to tags or judgments territorial, inefficient, risk-averse and so on and so forth.

While judgments have a role to play and we need to succeed as well, an additional tool in our armoury that would help us immensely in assessment and consequently effective decision making would be an increased objectivity of the situation. This can only happen if we make a conscious attempt to delink ourselves from ourselves – our emotions, our mental models, our fears, our personal experiences – to see and accept things as they are. Basically, we become better observers and use the ability to observe and react to our own behaviours as if they were the actions of someone else. As we say in Vyaktitva, be on the boundary of the story that is being played out.

Leonardo da Vinci’s aphorism, shared at the beginning of the article, applies to leadership as much as it does to art. By stepping into the observer role, we open ourselves up to a new way of being and seeing that enables us to be more conscious and aware of ourselves and our environment.

Observation is one of the most underrated but an extremely powerful leadership capacity. When we as leaders begin to see subtle yet vital details – nuances emerge that enable us immensely. The turning point of our deliberated and informed decisions and actions that lead to superior outcomes truly happens when we learn to sit back and observe, instead of jumping in to act. A true observer will ensure that she enables the story to play out authentically without letting her participation impact the unfolding of the story.

I would like to take a pause here and share my own personal experience of such a situation and how I have handled it to my personal benefit.

A few months ago, I stepped up to take on a larger role at Vyaktitva at a time when my personal space was also needing attention. At the beginning I had contracted with my peers that I will not be able to handle a large project that was to be executed a few months down the line – which like all large projects was a time and attention guzzler. And this had been agreed upon by all critical stakeholders. The months went by and I had settled into my new role fairly quickly. The new project had now started and I took a back seat as the script running in my head was as follows – Chitra, you don’t need to get involved and since you can’t take on any additional responsibilities it’s best you stay quiet! Alas, people outside of me could not see it that way and it was opined that I was not involved and needed to take on more ownership as the new role expected. Now, if it was prior to my deep appreciation of being an observer – something I have been applying for myself and my coachees for over a year – I would have been deeply hurt and reacted by withdrawing completely and taking the joy out of all tasks for not just myself but all involved. However, I took advantage of my practices that I have been doing for almost two years and was able to step onto the boundary of the experience and see the entire picture for what it really was – I could understand the perspectives of the various stakeholders and also remind myself of my overarching purpose of taking on the role – growth of self. Needless to say, the project was a resounding success for all stakeholders and of course gave me immense satisfaction and learning.

But what would we need to do to become true observers of the story, or to effectively sit on the boundary of the story? Here are some that we have found very useful:

  1. Be completely present to what is happening in the moment.

  2. Listen to the feelings being a part of the story that will help sense where the person is coming from.

  3. Do not get attached to any one agenda or point of view, or feelings.

  4. Connect the dots / draw patterns but do not be judgemental.

  5. Detach yourself from outcomes and results, as this causes interference to the authentic story.

Having said this, we need some practices to be able to build our observer capacities. Here are some that I have tried myself and also shared with people who have gained from it:

  • Meditate – Use your breath as an anchor and count 1, 2, 3….10, 9…1 multiple times for 10 minutes.
  • Study – Reading, watching videos, attending programs expands the knowledge and re-affirms our motivation.
  • Reflect – on situations of the day where I was more aware, actions where I was not. Casting an eye back helps one to learn and improve. Identify, work on and rescript your patterns.
  • Meet like-minded people – Be in the company of those who can support this journey. Mental gym buddies!

Hope these practices will help you build the muscle of an observer and lead to some path-breaking, transformational decisions for you.

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