Recently, I had a conversation with a client who is facing something that really serves as a great example of one of our biggest collective issues in this stressful time. We have a tendency to see things the way we’ve always seen them: that is, from our own perspective. When we reach a certain level of success, we can fall into the trap of thinking our perspective really is the best. Heck, we might even think, I wouldn’t be where I am if I wasn’t smarter, better, more effective, more courageous… than others. By knowing and having answers is, in our minds, is “Why I get the title and the big bucks!”
But is that really true? Bill Gates once astutely pointed out that “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Or put another way, “The problem with success is it justifies every stupid decision you ever made.” Thank you, John Mayer. The problem: you can’t learn from bad and stupid decisions if success cements your own perspective and opinion as “the” perspective or opinion. When doing so, you’re less able to be flexible and see situations from someone else’s view.
This client was doing exactly that: one of his managers wanted to hire their wife. The client saw this as a potential problem for the company. Even though he had already hired and was working with his own son, he didn’t see it in the same way or with the same inherent risks. By taking it from the manager’s perspective, I was able to help this owner see how similar these situations were, and how treating one differently than the other was damaging company cohesion, demonstrating behavior incongruent with words and stated culture. It’s not inherently wrong or right to hire family members, of course — but it’s certainly damaging to give your own choices the benefit of the doubt without affording the same grace to others on your team. Could there be extenuating circumstances that justify one relative’s hire but not the other? Of course. But the challenge for us as leaders is to be honest with ourselves about the validity and truth of those circumstances. That doesn’t mean rationalize our decision, it means to be courageous enough to face our truth. It’s OK for leaders to feel uncomfortable or to disagree with a decision they leave for others to make.
As leaders, we can put way too much value in our own interpretation.
With the pandemic, racial upheaval, police behavior, and everything these days, trust can be pretty hard to come by. We have to acknowledge that, and from that knowledge realize it’s more important than ever to slow down and make sure our behavior as leaders is building up rather than undermining trust in our team. Let us try to inhabit the minds of those we care about, to understand what they think and feel — and why. If we are having a disagreement with a coworker, taking a step back and thinking from their perspective can bring a great deal of clarity — and build a much healthier connection with our team.