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Using “ICH-GO, ICHI-E” in Executive Leadership

“ICHI-GO, ICHI-E” is a Japanese phrase that points to the fact that we can live in any moment only once, so we should strive to use our highest focus and true presence, in that moment.

When an executive leader – who is expected to set examples, and to coach their teams -  is present in a meeting – or conversation – he/she must be truly “present” in there.

An Enterprise leader should practice “presence” in interactions with his/her teams, through complete and undivided attention on them and everything they say or do during the conversation.

As simple and basic this idea may sound, it is quite difficult to establish it as a leadership habit and further into a corporate cultural norm. On the bright side, it has significant positive impact on the teams trusting and following a leader.

When the leader shows “presence” through solid focus and complete attention to the team, a raised sense of focus and awareness will be created in everyone’s mind as well, opening the door to a wealth of hidden insights and locked-up talents that they may have never been aware of.

The “presence” also allows the leader to capture any information that is being communicated or embedded inside the body language or tone and feeling that is shown and use it to enrich the conversation and better calibrate the trail of questions in order to excite and prime team member’s willingness to open the mind and participate in the session.

Start with quieting our own mind!

Our brains, regardless of our assumed capacity for multi-tasking, cannot perform their best focus if we have an internal conversation going on while we are leading the conversation with the team.

Besides, our brain will have a very hard time separating our internal conversation from the one we actually are having with the team and will negatively impact our attention, line of thought and trail of topics we are following during the meeting.

Our inner silence will also add to our ability to sincerely acknowledge team members’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences as they are revealed by their expanding trust in our attention and commitment to corporate mission.

Only through that we will achieve ICHI-GO ICHI-E

Every conversation that happens, every word that is exchanged, every spark of insight that comes to the surface, is like a wave in a fast flowing river that once gone, you will never get that wave back to reinvest further into it with a second chance at asking a better question, or sharing a better insight, within a better state of mind.

Our pure, calm, and reflective presence in the conversation, acts as mirror for the team members to see their stated problems and to gauge their proposed solution from a new perspective they have never experienced before.

The executive leader’s inner silence also helps him / her catch the faintest of cues from the team members’ body language and tone during the meetings. If the leader sees the slightest of pause or signs of withdrawal in the team members’ stance, he / she can re-assess the path the meeting is going on.

If the executive leader carries him/herself through a meeting with a busy mind and ongoing inner chat, he/she may very much miss such cues and end up accepting what the teams are saying at face value without assessment and end up leading down the wrong solution path, and end up trying to resolve non-existing issues, or less important ones that have been mistaken for the root key, escalated problems.

In order to maintain focus, once we have silenced the inner conversation, we need to pay attention to our breathing.

Every time we feel our mind is trying to drift away from the session, we take a deep breath and become aware of our breathing. This immediately brings our focus back and our team can see it reflect in our eyes, be it a face-to-face or video conference call.

Another useful technique is to imagine that we are talking to this team for the first time. This would artificially excite the mind about the conversation and raises our awareness towards our presence in the conversation.

The “extended awareness” that is caused by true “presence”, is contagious and would help our team focus on the subject with an attentive mind as opposed to simply reacting to our questions with automatic – unprocessed and simply memorized – answers.

It will also help the conversation to stay in this moment and in this place and do not fly away into a future or past time frame or another location.

The “presence” would help the team to focus on their existing and present issues, free from the pains of the past or fear of the future (i.e., freezing in the moment for the fear of what “might” be coming, versus resolving what is burning now and putting mitigation measure for what can be reasonably expected to happen later).

As an executive leader, we should try our best to avoid these traps:

  1. Not paying attention to silencing our inner chat and its damaging noise to the process.
  2. Forcing our own belief system on the conversation to get to the solution section and depriving our teams from the benefit of our neutral presence during the conversation.
  3. Not catching and addressing our own counterproductive behavior (as being disruptive to the process or rushing it forward).
  4. Not catching and addressing teams’ counterproductive behavior (such as offloading their accountability as a participant of the discussion session or throwing the blame at another team member instead of owning and resolving it.)
  5. Not paying attention to the unspoken information that our team is revealing through the pause, tone and body language.
  6. Not addressing team’s revealed feelings and the hidden pain they are trying to tiptoe around. (i.e., ignoring the elephant in the room to avoid the bringing up the pain that they are hiding, for the fear of not being able to handle the session if it proves very strong.)
  7. Allowing the teams to skip from one topic to another without proper amount of assessment and analysis that is required to ensure we are not leaving behind true unresolved issues.
  8. And last, but not the lease: Trying to fix the future without addressing the present problems.


 Arman Kamran

About author

Arman Kamran is an internationally recognized executive leader and enterprise transition coach in Scaled Agile Delivery of Customer-Centric Digital Products with over 20 years of experience in leading teams in private (Fortune 500) and public sectors in delivery of over $1 billion worth of solutions, through cultivating, coaching and training their in-house expertise on Lean/Agile/DevOps practices, leading them through their enterprise transformation, and raising the quality and predictability of their Product Delivery Pipelines.

Arman also serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Prima Recon Machine Intelligence, a global AI solutions software powerhouse with operations in US (Palo Alto, Silicon Valley), Canada (Toronto) and UK (Glasgow).

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