The Irony of Adversaries – Part 2 on the best self


Last week I wrote about the need we all have as leaders to become aware of our judgments of others – our mental whipping boys. My point was to develop the skill of stepping outside your judgments and strong opinions and to see yourself judging. Let me exemplify this and push to why it matters.

I am a people person. I am intensely (small d) democratic – believing everyone matters. I see people as made for growth, and I place faith in imagination, innovation, and collaboration through which individuals and groups can rise to any challenge and accomplish awesome things. I absolutely love the uniqueness of people and celebrate that individuality. (Myers-Briggs afficionados would not be surprised that I’m an INFP.) That’s all lovely enough. Most of the time I just AM that person. But unintended developments accompany my just being this way.

Instinctively, I don’t appreciate or particularly enjoy people who oppose what I value. For instance, I get quite indignant when people are disrespected, when authority comes crashing over the top, and especially when the combination of authority and rules reign over creativity and individuality. Going back to last week’s RFL, my preference – or bias – shows up as judgment. So, as a young adult, I sneered and looked down my nose at “anal retentive” people who obsessed about “stupid details.” I despised people who thought that because they were the boss or coach or teacher their opinion mattered more. And I disdained what I felt was over-reliance on “what’s worked in the past.” When I read leadership writers who pointed out the errors of rigid bureaucracies and standard operating procedures, I took that as proof that my way was the way.   And, here’s the leadership point:

From the standpoint of the group, the effect of my judging was that I devalued precisely what I needed the most! I naturally bring creativity, idealism, and deep respect for the individual.  But to execute, I need experience, reality, and structures and systems that are predictable and workable.  There is no way to implement anything of the slightest complexity without people who ask, “How much time will it take? How will it affect the rest of the work?  What are the predictable obstacles?”  But, how likely am I to take on this wisdom if I see these potential allies as “control freaks,” “anal retentive,” or “people who can’t see the forest from the trees?”  Obviously, I won’t gain their best value.

I married an awesome person – opposites do attract.  She is a field general. She’s comfortable with her authority, moves big pieces on the board (even if it’s hard for some individuals), is highly task-oriented, and wants to know “how will this work in real time?”   Is there friction  between us?  Of course!  For example, her first instinct is to push Jack to get his homework done, while my instinct is not to put priority on today’s homework but on Jack becoming self reliant.

When we step back from our instincts, biases, predilections it’s pretty obvious that so many of these daily leadership dilemmas and conflicts are really not either/or.  We need both vision and execution. Need both justice and mercy. Need rules that treat everyone fairly, and also that leave room for individual differences.  The first step to getting to this both/and, win/win framework is to come to clearly see our own biases.  What are yours? Knowing them is key to value the complements you’ll need to

Lead with your best self,


  • Loved the part about you and the “Field General.” I am also an INFP. Wife, Ami, is the Field General. We both help the girls (Six unique personalities and students) with homework. Your example fits perfectly. I once worked with an employee who evaluated my performance by saying I was the only supervisor he ever had who led on three levels at once: personal, short range, and long range. It is one of the best things I learned from the too short time with my Dad. Make room for everybody even if you disagree, look hard at the short range, always hold the larger view. Great piece Dan,

  • Dan, your article makes me smile. We all run into the differences in our “MO”, mode of operating to problem solve and complete tasks. The problem comes when we superimpose our way of operating on others, who operate differently. I would highly recommend that you look into the Kolbe Concept……. and you will learn that the third part of the brain is linked to “connation”, not cognitive or affective, but a distinct way that one operates most efficiently and effectively. Having this knowledge provided to me 14 years ago changed my leadership style dramatically. We have continued to use this tool in our organization for over 14 years….that says it all! And each individual or team that partakes of this leaves wtih a greater understanding of themselves and others in a whole new way.
    Really, if you are in leadership, you must take a look at the Kolbe Concept. Kathy Kolbe and her organization are in Phoenix Arizona. Our whole family is better for knowing each of our profiles…..huge decrease in conflict, improved communication, and more productive!!

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