Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you listening - or not?

Listen to me... (2) by tanukifu
Listen to me... (2), a photo by tanukifu on Flickr.
Do you think it's preferable to be internally driven, or to be externally driven?  Your answer to the question may depend upon whether you're the goose that's swimming along minding your own business or the goose who has something important to say.
There's a spectrum here - there might be certain situations and topics in which you are open to the input of other people, and some in which you are less so.  But internal vs. external drive has multiple implications for you, in your work life and your personal life.
Looking to the outside
When you are externally driven you are influenced by your surroundings, and one of your motivators is the effect that your behavior has on other people.  If you go so far as to strive to please everyone else you're in a no-win situation, because the actions that will please one may upset another.  For instance, you know that your boss has expectations that you work long hours to conquer your workload, but when you stay late regularly and delay your family dinner your spouse becomes upset.  On the flip side of the work-life balance, when you leave early to make your child's baseball game your boss questions your commitment to your job.

To some extent, it's beneficial to your group, and to you as a member of the group, for you to be externally driven.  You act in their interests and are influenced by their opinions.  External drive can backfire on you though, especially in the workplace, when taken to the extreme.  You can find yourself going whichever way the wind is blowing or aligning with whomever honks the loudest, and that can harm your credibility.  You can appear weak or even dishonest when you don't stand up for anything.

If you have no internal driving forces to balance the external forces that are trying to influence you, you might find yourself feeling frustrated later when you realize that you have given up too much of yourself, or have negotiated poorly on your own behalf.  You have created your own victimhood, seeing yourself as someone who has been acted upon or taken advantage of.

The internal lighthouse
When your drive comes primarily from the inside you don't seek the input or approval from other people.  That can be helpful, even a critical component, in certain roles and situations where you have to act autonomously.  The internal drive might come from a firmly ingrained set of core values, or from habits of thought (attitudes) about the expectations for a particular role, or about how an unwillingness to yield demonstrates strength.

The internally driven person can be an effective leader, because they are less subject to the conflicting expectations of the various people in their lives.  They set their own path and follow it.  But taken too far, internal drive can mean that when it comes down to a win-lose situation they are going to make sure that it's not them that comes out on the short end of it.  It also means that people around this person can talk all they want, but they might as well save their breath.

One piece of this not to be ignored - the internally driven person doesn't have all of the information.  If he or she is not listening, some of the critical input that will make or break the next decision, or that will prevent a crisis from growing, won't be available, and the quality of the decision will be compromised.  Even a brainiac's IQ is no match for the collaborative input of multiple individuals.

Listening to yourself
Core values create the spine that supports your evaluating and decision making. You hold many of your values at a subconscious level, and they reveal themselves through warm (or uncomfortable) "gut" feelings about how you are to best handle a situation that presents itself.  You have also stored huge quantities of information obtained through your education and/or experiences, so much that you have forgotten that it's there until a circumstance calls it forward.  The retrieval of this memorized information is not always at a conscious level.  Some people call this somewhat mysterious internal soup of values, feelings and subconsciously stored information "listening to your heart."

But there's more to it than that.  In order to maintain that strong spine of internal direction you need to trust yourself to make the right call at the right time.  Gathering data may play a role in your process - it's not necessarily a matter of whether it only feels right.  But even data - neutral as it is until it's interpreted - may not tell the whole story.  It's a representation of what has been already and not necessarily a predictor of what is to come.

It would be impossible to say whether it's "better" to be externally or internally driven.  It's a spectrum, and isn't necessarily a choice of one over the other.  But it is a valuable frame of reference for observing and understanding other people's behavior and being more self-aware about your own.


Mark Sturgell, CBC said...

I like this, Julie (no surprise). I suppose the definition of leadership is when one is internally driven to authentically express yourself in a way that adds value to the world through your relationships with others.

Re Ty said...

Everyone in this world is supposed to be Internally driven, and that is the sole purpose of life -to find out this drive. But the practices in this world like family system, competition existing in any field and winning, awards, praises, team working and group working etc, are forcing us to be externally driven to aid and support the world's present system. But it cannot satisfy us in anyway, though can satisfy the world and surroundings we are living in. We can say, there will be value addition for the external world with our present practices, but no fulfilment within ourselves.

Julie Poland, certified business coach said...

The choice between serving your own internal drives and needs versus those of the group is partly a cultural one. For example, Western (American) culture is often defined as "every person for himself or herself." Eastern (Asian) culture is known for the subjugation of "what I want" on behalf of the best interests of the group.