Seen Differently

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” - Simone Weil

Every moment of the day, our senses are assaulted by commercial, social, physical and virtual media. We are constantly urged to engage and act. Time to reflect on our actions and their implications is becoming increasingly rare.

Author and speaker, Nancy Kline says that helping people to think more effectively for themselves means that they build stronger relationships, run better businesses and become more aware and creative.

Her work builds on Carl Rogers’ humanistic psychology approach, known for advocating “unconditional positive regard” – the basic acceptance of a person, regardless of what they say or do.

Several years ago, I completed my doctorate at Ashridge, focusing on how imagery can help to build our sense of authentic self, while increasing confidence and enabling creativity in organizations. My research used reportage photography that helped teams to see differently and used conversations to help them to speak differently to each other.

I’m now working with video to ask executives and their teams some fundamental questions:

  • What does it take to show up authentically and be fully ‘seen’ within their organizations?
  • What are they saying and what is their message?
  • How are they developing their unique purpose?
  • How can they develop the capacity to really offer attention and fully ‘see’ each other?
  • Finally, as they each respond to their own ‘video-portrait’, what is the experience of fully ‘seeing’ themselves?

The process of being in conversation while the camera runs is completely different to conventional media training. Rehearsed messages or ‘spin’ are immediately visible to the camera, as the challenge of responding authentically in the moment, voicing what needs to be said and speaking from the heart, emerges in the conversation.

The positioning of this kind of work should be carefully considered. We’re more familiar with cameras than ever; billions of hours of video are posted on social media and we live in a surveillance society. Yet, as one participant said, “There is an enormous difference between living with the judgment and ‘scrutiny’ of business and the experience of being ‘seen’ in this way. Seeing myself, seeing the power of what I was saying, has helped me to understand my role and work differently.”

The camera seems to offer a mediating view of the interaction, that is founded in our complicated view of photography. On the one hand, we are conscious that images can be manipulated – we live in a world of Photoshop and fake news. On the other hand, photography and film are historically seen to provide images of truth and reality.

The perspective that comes from our video-dialogue workshops is one of generosity, care and relationality among peers. As Jim (pictured above) came to the camera, he confessed to nerves and that he didn’t have a clue what to say. Yet he slowly began to speak about what good leadership looks like.

He told me of his attempts to role-model behavior and his sense of who we should be as much as what we should do. His words were unprompted and unrehearsed, yet lucid and profound. His colleagues witnessed him simply expressing a truth that he had come to know; a strong, principled but deeply caring perspective on leadership. A stripped back, raw version of leadership that requires no artificial polish or shine.

The process clearly develops the ‘inner leader’ capacity within individuals and builds capability among teams as they explore authenticity and connection together.

Increasingly, we are uncovering the relational nature of high-powered teams and how individuals ‘see’ themselves through periods of transition and growth and Nancy Kline’s words again resonate:

“The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”

Dr Steve Marshall, Faculty, Hult Ashridge Executive Education

Hult International Business School
Hult International Business School
Ashridge Executive Education