Have you ever had one of those bosses whose actions and words are out of alignment? Where they talk about collaboration and pretend to solicit your feedback, but you know full well they have no intention of ever taking it? I have several clients facing that very reality. It’s disheartening, and causes people to feel like, “What’s the point? They’re just going to do what they want anyway, they don’t really care what I think.” And maybe they’re right — but that’s not what I came to talk with you about today.
Embedded in that scenario is a deeper problem, wrapped in a solution, and rooted in this common reality: the qualities we dislike in others are generally the ones we possess ourselves.
The Deeper Problem:
A manager came to me with the above frustration. When talking later about the challenges of his staff, however, he painted the exact same scenario with one minor/significant difference: He was the one not taking in the wisdom of his staff. But! And this is a big and important but: his behavior wasn’t exactly the same, and anyway, he had very good reasons for doing so. When I asked if his leader had good reasons for doing so, he paused — a long pause — then said, and I quote: “Huh.”
The qualities we dislike in others we most often possess ourselves. That’s why they’re so easy to identify!
I know it’s not always exactly the same duplication, but let’s face it, there is usually a pretty strong resemblance. What we’ve seen modeled, we tend to model. So often it’s easy to send judgement upwards and get frustrated with those who are leading us, while completely missing how we treat those below us in much the same ways.
What if we had the true courage to look at our behavior towards those we lead through the eyes of how we feel about how we are led? What insights would we gain about our leadership? In what ways are we the same? If not in a straight carbon copy way, then at least in how our behavior rhymes with our leader’s version? What emotions and judgments do you feel about your leaders, and what empathy can that provide you when you look to, listen to, and relate to your team? Of course we aren’t the same as the leaders we struggle with, I get that. What I also get, after fourteen years of working with leaders at all levels, is that the way we get triggered by our leader gives us tremendous insight for how we are triggered by our team and others. What a goldmine of understanding that observation can hold — if you’re willing to look.
What if we were to look at those who poorly lead us as a mirror?
What parallels would we find?