Welcome to leadership from the balcony.
My name is Shawn Griesemer with my co-host Justin Dorroh. And each week we bring you a new leadership concept to inspire your growth and effectiveness as a leader in every area of your life.
We filter that experience through mental models. The problem is, when we don't elevate them to a place of awareness, they actually control us.
My assumptions were wrong. It needed to be challenged. How often do I do this? How often do I make these snap decisions and don't even bring it up to be challenged, understanding these concepts and beginning to practice them. It may not be a fast transformation, but it can be transformative.
On today's episode, we're examining mental models and how they create the world we perceive and live in. Come with us on this transformative journey as we explore the power of these models to reshape your thinking and elevate your leadership to new heights.
Thanks for joining us on the balcony. We hope you enjoy peering over the railing to gain an expanded leadership perspective.
Today we're talking about mental models. You can call them mind maps, mindsets, assumptions, a host of different things that generally lay below the surface in our minds and they color and cause us to see observations in a way that is unique to ourselves. Justin and I can have an experience and have the same observations in the same experience together and walk away and tell two completely different stories because we filter that experience through mental models. And even as we've been sitting here discussing before we started recording, we're talking about how they are everywhere. But the problem is when we don't elevate them to a place of awareness, they actually control us. That's right.
When we take a big step back and look at what's the real heartbeat of what we do at Leap, we're trying to build developmental experiences for our clients. And when your business or your organization embraces a developmental way of doing work where assumptions can be challenged, there's a sense of shared vision, there's a sense of we're doing this together, we're learning together. Where the potency of that team is really high because people feel safe, therefore they can surface things, therefore the truth can get out a lot more quickly and you're not having to wait three to six months before you see the issues come to the surface of things being buried and not talked about. That's right.
Though these things can sound like, does that really have an impact? It has an impact significantly. Even in our small organization it has an impact. And we're learning how to constantly grow and develop ourselves both personally and interpersonally together and then with our broader small team of contractors. But all that to say, this stuff, when it gets clear in your head, it becomes the lens. You start to see everything by the light of these ideas. It makes navigating the complexity of relationships and business decisions, I won't say it gets easier, but get it does get more navigable, if that's even a word. Which leads to transparency, leads to vulnerability, leads to actually having healthy relationships.
Tell us from your perspective, what is a mental model? Give us maybe a couple examples of mental models that affect us every day. I can think of one right off the bat, when somebody doesn't get back to you. When you send an email, when you send a text to a potential client, we're largely talking to business leaders, or even when we put out a proposal. And we are expecting some kind of response. Do they like the proposal? Have they met as an executive team to tell us what's been the response? And there's no response. And our mental model, for me it can be the individual was in the South, they want to do the Southern hospitality thing and not tell us no. It's a no, their silence is telling me no, but they're ghosting me because they feel uncomfortable. When in fact, it may not have anything to do with that. But that would be a mental model that is coloring my experience. Yeah, bottom line, a mental model is just a deep-seated belief that you may or may not be aware of. And when you're not aware of it, that's when it can be the most dangerous because you cannot realize you're making snap interpretations all the time. And those interpretations may be wrong because that mental model is flawed.
So, to your example, with the ghosting, so if I have a mental model that says when someone doesn't respond within, call it 7-10 days, they're not interested. I might lose business because I don't continue to follow up with them because they don't respond. Even today, we had a meeting and I was just mentioning, hey, I haven't heard from so and so and so and so, and you brought up, hey, just reach out to him one more time and just phrase it this way. And you weren't saying it this way, but what was happening is you were challenging my perspective, you were challenging that assumption. And like I mentioned to you, I already got a response from one person who has changed teams. And so, my assumptions were wrong. It needed to be challenged. What I was left with is, how often do I do this? How often do I make these snap decisions and don't even bring it up to be challenged?
This is where understanding these concepts and beginning to practice them, it may not be a fast transformation, but it can be transformative on your team or in your organization. You know, I didn't even think about this until you were literally right now talking through this another client that we were trying to see if we could move a dialogue forward about the possibility of doing business with. I was getting no response at all. And finally, I think truly it was about a half a dozen times I had reached out, just over the last couple of months, every so often. And they wrote me back and said there were tons of things that went on with the company that they were at. They're no longer there, but they loved what we had to offer. They're currently looking for a job. And my perspective was, I'm just being ghosted. If this was somebody who is extremely interested, it's just the job situation got extremely complex. And it's not until you actually debrief these situations that you have the opportunity to surface what is my mental model. And as long as those mental models are there, they completely inhibit us from seeing a circumstance or an experience in a different light than the one that we own. And it may not be right.
You know, another example of this, I think we may have mentioned this in some of our other podcasts, but even how we come into meetings, you know, you and I have done a lot of work in how we understand each other better. And sometimes the communication that we have can feel intense or it can feel like... Let's be clear, my communication can feel intense. But you've always been very willing to reflect on those times. When I asked the question, hey, it feels like it just got intense. Can you tell me what's behind that and the willingness to say, oh, well, here's what I'm feeling at this moment. And it's not about touchy/feely. This is the emotion and or the intensity that I feel inside. And my behavior is coming out of that. And when we have the ability to, like you said a minute ago, sometimes the danger, it's not about being right or wrong in your mental model. The danger can be when it's under the surface and you're not aware of it and it's driving you, but you don't know that it's driving you. Yep.
It's funny you bring up that example because I literally just had this with someone in my house recently, a family member and I were having a conversation. What was happening in me is I have a real, I have a lot of energy to articulate and motivate towards the big picture. And when I do, when I perceive someone isn't tracking, my default is to amp it up. I don't know why, but because you and I have had that conversation of like your intensity is increasing, I was watching myself do it. Actually, it was with my whole family yesterday. I was trying to explain something, and I was getting all of these puzzled looks and I could feel I was overly verbalizing, communicating more, and I finally stopped and I go, you know what? I think I just need to get out of the weeds. My wife was like, yeah, let's go back to the original question. I am more aware that I do that. When I read on someone's face that they are not tracking or they don't agree without even trying, it amps up. I'm not mad. They're trying to get my point across and what I'm interpreting is they don't understand. I need to make them understand, which may be true, but may not be actually the right path to come to understanding. Or it may not be true. That's right. The more I'm aware of that, I can self-regulate when I see that look in people's eyes and say, hey, let me just pause real quick. You've heard me say a lot. What are the things that feel like they're landing and what does not feel like it's landing? Then I can fine-tune. Either I missed them way at the front end, they were distracted and they're trying to catch up and they can't keep up with the rate of speech or whatever it might be. Even to your example, it's grown my own awareness of those mental models that just are there. Right.
This is one of the things that, as a leadership coach, one of the things that I love working on with people the most is being able to elevate those mental models. When you see light bulbs go on for people and you ask a question, okay, so how are you defining that term? All of a sudden, you just see them pause for a moment and realize, wow, I have an assumption, or I have a predetermined definition I'm giving a word. That word could be what's being fair. That word can be I'm not good enough. I'm not worth this or whatever. Who's defining worth? All of a sudden, they realize, oh, I actually have a definition of worth. What is that definition of worth? Watching those light bulbs go on is actually kind of fun and fascinating because people are getting this understanding of something that lies below the surface and is literally driving them in a direction. It's empowering to the person. It is totally empowering. If they can really grab a hold of it.
I think one thing that just makes this even more approachable, we have referenced in other podcasts a book by Jennifer Garvey Berger, Leadership Mindtraps. One of the mindtraps she talks about is simple stories. A Simple Story is a mental model. It's an image. It's a picture. It's an idea. It's an oversimplification of an experience that now becomes a filter for interpretation. We have to learn how to recognize those, disrupt those, ask ourselves a series of questions to realize our mental models may not be right any longer. They were right for that moment potentially, but they're not continuing to serve us. They need to be updated and upgraded to continue to serve us. When you think in terms of everybody having mental models, they really are everywhere. They really are driving us.
What are some thoughts you have on the best way to surface them, to address them? How do you work beyond your mental model? Well, you just stole my question, so I'm going to reverse field because I think you do a great job of articulating this. I think it'd be helpful if you could unpack for us the whole idea of generative tension and why that's such a big deal, both to identify and to test our mental models and how you can kind of stress test some of these existing mental models that you may not be aware of or new ones that you need to experiment with. Right.
Vision for something out in front of you, I have found, is one of the greatest tools at being able to surface a mental model. The reason for that is, and this really has come out a lot in people that I've coached, when we surface something, you have to figure out, how do you test it and how do you move past a mental model? And mental models become very comfortable to us. Right. So, when we're not aware of them, it's literally like we sit with the mental model, and we don't even know it's there. It's just activating all the time. Right. When we all of a sudden want to move forward in a direction that may be new or all of a sudden, we feel like we want to give intentionality to it, when you have a future vision for something that is beyond where you are today, it creates tension. They call it creative or generative tension, and it helps to pull you to that future reality. That's right. And the only way to change that tension, and it's a great tension, the only way to change that tension is you either lessen the amount of that vision or you actually work toward that vision. Right.
So, there's this great future vision tension that seeing out into the future helps you live under. Right. However, oftentimes we have those future visions, but we feel stuck in moving toward them. Oftentimes because there's a mental model behind us that says, oh, I can never do that. Oh, that's too big of a dream. That'll take too much time. I don't have the money to do that. That's going to be too disruptive. Those are all mental models that prevent us from actually being able to move forward toward a future vision. Well, that's the great thing about the future vision is it actually activates that mental model. So, when you feel like, oh, I can't do that, whatever the future vision is, the next great question to ask yourself or have somebody around you ask you is, what is it about that future vision that you don't think you can attain to, that you can't work toward, that you can't at least make steps toward? And when that question gets asked, it really starts to, it creates the need to become reflective and to inquire of yourself. Why don't I think I can move toward that? And when you ask that question a couple of times, what is preventing me from doing that? I don't think I have the time to do it. What is it in your life right now that's preventing you from having the time to do that? And you just continue to work that down and you realize there's something I'm telling myself that's actually preventing me from moving forward. When you can surface that, then you have the ability to use that future vision tension to continue to kind of stimulate that mental model so you can start to break it down and really trust, is this true? And we like to call it running experiments. Is this really true? And if it's not, what is true? And start to rewrite that mental model so you can start to move forward. Yeah.
I like what you just mentioned because one of the major tools of really learning how to work with mental models is reflection. Yes, absolutely. It's the ability to either ask yourself or have a friend or colleague ask you questions to slow down your thinking to begin to recognize where am I creating these mental models and putting them into play and what's the impact of that and being able to kind of wind the tape backwards and make a more deliberate decision on is that what you want to believe? That's right.
I think we've even used this question. I know we've used this question before because we love this question, but this is one of those times when it is so appropriate to ask, What do I believe right now, and to really try and drive down into can I go a couple layers deeper to figure out what am I believing about this situation? Again, your own worth. Why did this person ghost me? Why is this person mad at me? When we hung up the phone they hung up the phone. We don't hang up the phone anymore. We just kind of hit the off button. When we end a conversation with somebody and we feel that something went in a certain direction, we're all telling ourselves something at that moment. If we feel it's negative, can we ask the question, what do I believe about this situation right now? Because the great next question is, how might I be wrong? That's an alternative perspective that's out there. When you do those, it helps you to surface that mental model, but then it allows you to intentionally open yourself up to a different perspective that may actually be more accurate. That's right.
I found with a lot of leaders lately, having a moment of pause in situations has become a very helpful tool because they're operating at such a fast speed that mental models are activating all the time.
That's actually why we have mental models. In our history, our brain keeps only highlight reels of things that happen. We create mental models so we don't have to go back through the entire old experience. We just take this highlight reel. Well, the highlight reel is so packed with meaning, but packed with only the meaning that we wanted to keep. That's right. So, it's not even maybe the most important meaning. The correct meaning, accurate meaning. Yeah. But it's to ensure that when we come into another situation that's similar, we read it the same way, even though the situation may be completely different. What we oftentimes talk about is how do you enable yourself to take a pause in a moment of tension, of conflict, of differing perspective when you know you are about to just fire off with what you think. How do you take a moment to pause to be able to reflect on what you just heard, evaluate what do I feel is really being said and how am I hearing it? Then decide how do I want to respond. And what you're really doing in that moment is testing or trying to elevate the mental model that you're looking through. And I've had people talk about writing things on the back of their hand to remember throughout the day. They talk about when a question or situation comes up, leaving the room, going to the bathroom to be able to come back if they're in the middle of a meeting and coming up with all kinds of interesting ways to be able to pause the situation that they're in so they can reflect on what just happened, to elevate the mental model they have, entertain an alternative perspective, and then move forward but not just snapping through the mental model.
Metaphorically, it's like taking your foot off the accelerator and assessing the situation. Where am I? Where are the other cars? I don't want to just steer the steering wheel into the curb or another car or whatever it might be. So how do I learn how to... It's like when you're on ice, like driving through snow and you hit an icy patch. You don't hit the brake. You take your foot off the accelerator so that you can navigate. That's a great illustration.
That's our encouragement. Experiment with that over the next week or two. When you find yourself in a situation where you're on black ice and you either feel out of control or you feel that there's actually opposition, take your foot off the gas. It doesn't mean you have to hit the brake but take your foot off the gas. Assess the situation. See if you can elevate how you're seeing it and what is actually scripting how you're seeing it. See if you can elevate that mental model and let us know how it goes.
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