I finish every column with the line “lead with your best self.” This week I begin a mini-series with boundary-pushing ideas about doing that. They’re harder ideas, because they’re new – at least stuff I haven’t read much elsewhere – and hard because they demand more of you and me than I often suggest. Let’s start here:
You can’t possibly lead with your best self while hanging on to cherished opinions – especially the ones about how wrong, stupid, or bad others are. Yes, they’re strong and almost childish words, but with apologies to my friends out there, I don’t know ANYONE who doesn’t keep whipping boys around. A few act out against their whipping boys. Some speak harshly to them, or more often, speak to others about them. And I stand to be corrected but I’m pretty sure – we all have people whom we judge – at least in our thoughts, e.g., as we lie in bed – and we do so often with some significant core of energy.
This is not important here as a moral matter! I am not writing as pastor or preacher! Instead, this fact of our ubiquitous judging matters practically in our schools, businesses, and families. These judgments – even if seemingly hidden and unexpressed – tear at productivity and peace. Next week I’ll talk more directly about “them,” but first the ugly truth about us. Our judgments are limited, partial, relative, and thus as “wrong” as those we judge to be wrong. I offer myself as an example. I have judged people as “small-minded” or “anal,” because frankly I often find detail a pain; it gets in the way of doing it my way. I have labeled people as “power hungry,” because frankly I may not have been – or yet be – comfortable with wielding power. I have criticized some outgoing folks as “noisy” or rude because I like it calmer around me.* Am I getting anywhere with you?
I would suggest you check out your (secret) list of people whom you don’t like or you strongly judge. I’ll bet that if you step outside your tried and true judgments, you will undoubtedly find traits or behaviors that simply oppose your natural way, strength, or if you will, bias. These others are not wrong in any absolute sense.
Increasingly, I believe that this specific self-awareness of our mental attacks, defensiveness, and judgment is essential to leading fully and authentically. Without a cold, clear look at ourselves and our biases, our leadership is lop-sided. In the weeks ahead I’ll discuss some of the ways this is so, and how it not only affects the individuals and the whole groups that we lead, but also how it stunts us.
For now I encourage you to take your easily-made, accepted-as-true, and perhaps intensely strong judgments about others and see if you can set them aside, hold them in abeyance, and at least wonder: Is it possible the judgment says as much about me as about them?! Is at least half of the tension mine? I believe that if you can make this strong-minded and confident move you’ll open up truly new possibilities to –
Lead with your best self,
*I am focusing mainly on how we judge those different than us. I should also add that the classic definition of “psychological projection” also applies here, i.e., we can project onto others and attack in them, that which we really don’t like in ourselves. As a young man I really “couldn’t stand” my dad’s sweeping opinions; how little I saw my own know-it-all take on so many things and how freely I dished out my “wisdom.”