Why you should master the art of noticing

You cannot become a great leader if you do not have an accurate picture of yourself, your team and your organization.

The Surdek Team
January 31, 2022
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One of the key things we teach our clients is the art of noticing. One of the fallacies in leadership development is the belief that there are times when leaders should change a "negative" behaviour for a different one that is "positive". The challenge is that it is not always as simple as that. As a leader, you need to understand what is triggering your behaviour before you can change it.

Many leaders we work with are aware of some of the limitations of their current leadership style. They kind of know something is not quite right but they can't put words to it. There are times when as a leader, you may be impacting your team through your words and actions. Other times, there are team dynamics at play that you need to bring up and discuss with your team.

To be an effective change leader, you need to start actively noticing what is happening around you and within you. This is one of the four soft skills we feel great leaders need to have.

In this article, we will dig deeper into the three different things you can notice to increase your self-awareness and develop your leadership.

#1 - Notice group dynamics

Begin to notice what is happening in the groups around you. Inside your team for example, notice what the dynamics between people are.

  • Who has influence and who does not?
  • Who are the people who are influencing the conversation the most?
  • How are they influencing what is happening?
  • How do they interact with one another?

You could have a senior executive who is constantly criticizing others' ideas without contributing anything themselves. This discourages other managers from expressing their own opinions. On the flip side, you may have someone on your management team that raises great points but the way they bring them is not constructive.

In terms of group dynamics, it is also helpful to notice what some of the unspoken beliefs in the team are. Do they believe they are a strong team capable of taking over the world? Do they know their limits and what they are incapable of doing? Do they believe it is OK to ask for help when they need it? Are they able to say no?

Noticing all of this will allow you to know and understand your team better. In turn this will allow you to guide the development of your group more easily.

#2 - Notice nonverbal cues

One simple gesture can be worth a thousand words. It is often said that about 55% of communication is nonverbal. Think of how much just raising a single eyebrow can say about what you really think.

Do you often notice what are the non-verbal patterns of people? What do they seem to be expressing nonverbally and how?

In interactions, pay close attention to what nonverbal cues people are communicating. These may indicate how they are perceiving things that are happening or what they seem to be feeling in the moment. Some examples:

  • Facial expressions, like frowning or smiling
  • Posture, like slouching or crossed arms
  • Avoiding eye contact or seeming distracted

Something a little bit less tangible is the way people “present themselves” in meetings and informal gatherings. This is more of an intuitive gut feeling. You can start to notice how you are feeling their mood, their energy or their presence.

#3 - Notice yourself and your impact

You also need to be able to observe yourself. How are you acting, feeling, and perceiving things? Notice what you say and how you say it. Are your words and tone aligned with what you want?

When speaking to someone, think back to how you receive what the person is telling you and how they are saying it. Are you being open or are you defensive? Do you tend to be truly present and listening to what the other person is telling you to understand them better, or are you thinking of what to say next?

Then there is also the matter of how other people are receiving your presence or your words. Essentially, what is the impact that you are having on them?

For example, does everyone stay silent when you come into a group call? Do they wait for you to have the last word and then agree with what you say? When you are aware of how you come across to others, you can then consider new possibilities.

The challenge is to learn to apply this skill while trying to have a conversation with someone at the same time. It may seem like a lot, but practice is key. It is about noticing how your own leadership is impacting others.


This noticing stage is an invitation to be more aware and more conscious of what is happening around you. At first it may feel like a lot of work or a lot of energy, but that is mostly because you are not used to doing this.

To start practicing, start by observing one of the three aspects above every day for a week. You may find it helpful to write notes of your observations.

After making your observations during a few days, look at your notes and reflect on what you learned from what you noticed.

What are some of the things that you noticed easily? How could this help you develop your leadership?