For leaders of organisations and businesses alike, the period before drifting off to sleep, when the sub-conscious mind seems to be working overtime, could be the most important and significant “thought moment” of the day in terms of knowledge (business and relational acumen) required to grow their respective organisations. In the “hour of the owl”, when the mind races with feelings of dread, potential pitfalls and organisational headaches take on new meaning and uneasy feelings regarding organisational issues, strategy and alignment goals hoist red flags as warning signs that need to be heeded. Perhaps this is the mind’s way of alerting us leaders of critical pieces that are missing in our organisational puzzles – a built-in emotional intelligence or sensitivity to gaps that can hinder our progress. We would do well to listen to these inner voices and learn from our feelings.

Antony Burgmans, co-chairman of Unilever, noted: “As we launched into our growth strategy, I realised that I didn’t feel right: something was missing and I knew we would need to look again at our plans. I trusted my feelings – you learn to listen to that inner voice. So, I looked for my source of uneasiness. We were doing all the right things: a new, focused strategy; shareholder support; a new organisational structure; and good people in place. But something was wrong – the critical piece was missing. What I saw was that even though we had an excellent strategy and an inspiring vision, what was really required to bring about change at Unilever was a new culture, a new leadership mind-set and new behaviours”.

In any change process, building a bridge between current reality and a desired future picture is critical. Typically this “bridge” is about creating resonance within the organisation around what is being done and why. People then know that they are part of the transformation and that they need to transform too. Emotionally intelligent leaders listen to their own deep feelings and also attempt to understand the feelings present within the organisation’s people. They act as sensitively calibrated emotional sonars, sensing the mood of the people. They use emotional intelligence to note and interpret the subtle clues about what’s really taking place on the floor of the organisation and act accordingly. They reach into the wisdom of the sub-conscious mind to start building the required bridge – resonance with the desired future organisational “big picture”.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership”, notes: “Leaders often talk about wanting to get their people “aligned” with their strategy. But that word suggests a mechanical image of getting all the pencils pointing in the same direction, like a magnetic field lining up the polarity of molecules. It isn’t that simple. Strategies, couched as they are in the dry language of corporate goals, speak mainly to the rational brain, the neocortex. Strategic visions (and the plans that follow from them) are typically linear and limited, bypassing the elements of the heart and passion essential for building commitment”. He goes on further to emphasise: “Getting people to really embrace change requires attunement – alignment with the kind of resonance that moves people emotionally as well as intellectually”. This “attunement bridge” that arouses passion and commitment connects with people’s emotional centres and leads to sustainable change.

From the outset, employees need to be involved in the change process – looking for the gaps, addressing fears, finding their feet and thus resonating with the desired ‘big picture”. Leaders need to draw on what they discovered in their hearts during the “hour of the owl” to be able to identify these fears and facilitate dialogue with staff around the issues. As these issues are surfaced and attempts are made to quell fears and gain commitment, leaders need to ensure that employees are empowered to take responsibility and be in charge of the change process itself. This empowerment brings lasting change.

During the “hour of the owl”, the period when the sub-conscious mind is operating at “full ahead”, unease, concern and anxiety can be useful tools for the leader to pinpoint potential “gaps” in their respective organisations’ health indexes. From these periods of unease, sensing and acting on these gaps through dialogue with staff and a demonstration of empathy and care for the employees during times of change will engender trust and grow commitment and passion for the organisation’s future.

One comment on “Learning from unease and anxiety in “the hour of the owl”

  1. Thulani on

    U know many times I do this especially after a very challenging day at work but I never consciously think of it in this way. I would sometimes go far as jotting some notes down and always making a point that the following day I go through the notes and try to share these Ideas with my team members.
    Thank you for touching on the subject You really making me grow as a leader and understanding those small things I take for granted.

    Thulani: Production TeamLeader @ spsa Cape Town


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