Thursday, October 29, 2009

Slipping Into Other's Shoes

Ever notice how easy it is to make negative judgments about other people?

Whether it’s “idiots” we encounter on the road … or “slower than slow” people who serve us … or “losers” who can’t play sports nearly as well as our kids can – many of us have developed the knee-jerk habit of assigning degrading labels to people we don’t know. We don’t really know them, or their situations, or their challenges. But we sure as heck know what they should do. Or at least that’s the way it seems when we spout out phrases that begin with:

They oughtta … Why don’t they just … It’s easy – all they need to do is ….

Nope, we don’t know those folks, but we know what they are; we’re not in their situations, but we know what they should do. Hmmmm. If all that seems illogical, unfair, presumptuous, and disrespectful to you, you are right. And if all that seems like terrible behavior for leaders to exhibit, you are doubly right!

To be sure, situations involving other people – including those that occur in our teams – can seem clear, simple, and very black and white from where we stand. But we need to remember two things: 1) Unless we’re dealing with (or have dealt with) the exact same circumstances, we’re on the outside looking in, and 2) The real world is rarely black and white – it’s usually shades of gray.

Yes, leaders at all levels need to remember those truisms. More importantly, they need to apply them! That requires less presuming and more understanding. It’s about making an effort to see things through the other person’s eyes … about walking awhile in his or her shoes. And that is called EMPATHY – a critical component of quality leadership.

0 what's on your heart: