Sound Off With Your Personal Sounding Board

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to problem solve more clearly. Reading time: 3:28.

          Tim the Tool Man is troubled again. The star of the 1990’s television sitcom — Home Improvement-—  wanders out into his backyard, alone. He needs help thinking through a problem. And somehow, Wilson — his next door neighbor –is  always there.  Wilson is heard more than seen.  His  face is always partially hidden by a fence or a camera angle,  giving him even more credence in his auditory role as Tim’s Sounding Board.

Wilson, always hidden by the fence, serving as the sounding board for Tim the Tool Man

Wilson is heard but not seen

           And no wonder. Every leader needs his or her Wilson.

          Every leader needs a sounding board, someONE to bounce ideas off.
SomeONE to weigh options with.
SomeOne to validate reality with.
And someONE to creatively solve problems, issues, concerns or conflicts with.

         To foster those Wilsons in their lives–those sounding boards — every effective leader I know has honed their own personal thinking place away from the office where friendships evolve into sounding boards, whether from a regular tee time with a golfing partner  or from a regular evening saunter in your own backyard.

        How do you develop your own Wilson, your own sounding board? Try booking One friend at a time rather than Facebooking a lot of friends all the time.

Book ONE Friend Instead of Facebooking Many Friends

        Booking that One friend is vital, the kind of friend developed through heart-felt listening to and learning from each other, the kind of friend that comes to know you better than you know yourself, the kind of  friend that can tell Tim Taylor — a.k.a. Tim the Tool Man –that his name (Tim Taylor) is an anagram for “Morality.”  Who knew? Wilson knew. After all, sounding boards like Wilson access and assess (sound) information more comprehensively and therefore help a leader better project their (sound) thinking .

                To develop your own Wilson –your own sounding board —  take the time to make ONE friend. Invest yourself in that relationship. Nurture that friendship over the long term.  Of course that’s easier said than done in today’s there’s-an-app-for-that instantaneity.  No wonder William Deresiewicz, a former Yale leadership development professor,  pleaded with the plebes at West Point Academy to engage others more personally in making friends they click with  face-to-face  rather than those friends they click with only online:

Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time,  we have 968  ‘friends’  that we never actually talk to.  Instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship. This is distraction.”

               I agree. The most effective leaders I know have spent years cultivating real friends the old-fashioned way : up close and personal.  Indeed all leaders need the kind of friend that author Ralph Waldo Emerson defined–  as “someone I can be sincere with, someone I can think out loud to.”

Solitude Is The Very Essence of Leadership

Wine-glass shaped sounding board above the pulpit projects the sound more clearly throughout the church.

              Yet too many leaders tell me they are too busy putting out fires to even think about thinking;  too busy to develop their Wilsons over their proverbial backyard fences, and  too busy to seek the solitude that Deresiewicz says is “the essence of leadership.  But I wonder how many leaders are actually just too busy being busy, too busy paying homage to the Texting and Tweeting gods of technology?

          As Deresiewicz told the plebes at West Point:  you can’t concentrate when you are “skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying.”

            So what’s the key to fostering friendships that spawn your personal sounding board;  friendships that make you a more thoughtful and thought-filled leader, friendships that shape your confidence and sharpen your conviction?

         Focus on the art of conversation. Ask penetrating questions. Grapple with new insights.  Find your muse, your Yoda, your Wilson.

         And give voice to your own humanity. No matter where you are–even as a castaway on a  Pacific island. Follow Tom Hanks’  character in Cast Away  in sounding off so passionately and so personally to his Wilson.

      So what if that Wilson was  just a volleyball. That Wilson sounding board gave Tom Hanks hope to survive in the middle of nowhere. So can your Wilson –your sounding board –help you thrive any where.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Foster a sounding board to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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