Wo! Check Yourself

I thought of myself as confident yet humble. I suppose I was, at least as best I could be.  In retrospect…not so humble!   I remember taking a course with Ron Heifetz at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, back in 1984 or 1985. We were assigned to a group of about 9 students and we met together every week. There was one guy who I just had no time for. He was a southerner, and in retrospect I see my northern chauvinism: I judged his accent for a lack of sophistication and smarts (it’s embarrassing to see now). Worse, I found his comments were “anal retentive” or “small-minded,” as he seemed always to want more facts, more order, more detail. I was kind of glad when he quit showing up or spoke less. Today, I wonder if I drove him out.

Even twenty-five years later, when my wife was governor of Michigan, I silently looked down my nose at “detail people.” I disparagingly thought (and occasionally bemoaned to others): that “he can’t see the forest from the trees.” Never mind that he was efficiently running a department with 1,500 employees. I was in love with the big picture, visionary thinkers, and present and compassionate leaders. (In other words, ouch, people who were a lot like I thought I was. I exalted my attributes and demeaned theirs.)

Somewhere along the line, greatly informed by the wisdom of the mother-daughter team of Katherine Myers and Isabel Briggs, my myopia began to give way.  One of the most startling things that came into focus was that the people I had – at least internally – judged as deficient, in fact had what I didn’t! The hands they had been dealt were stocked with the suits that were lacking in the hand I was held!  They had hands full of diamonds and clubs, but I was so enamored with my hearts and spades, that I didn’t know what I was missing. Now, instead of judging them, I hire and partner with them.  I don’t know if my big ideas or empathy help them, but I am certain that their ability to execute, detail, plan absolutely makes me better!

One such person working for me made a goof last week. In the past I would have simmered, sulked and mentally recorded such youthful inexperience.  This time, I did point out that they might have proceeded in a different direction, given the values and vision we have announced. But I quickly added that this one instance of — not an overstep, but a kind of sideways step — was wiped out 100 times over by the many times they had been proactive, planned, and made the call — all of which they did and do better than I ever will, despite my nearly 40-years more experience. I suggested that next time, they might run something like this by me “for tone, but pleeeeease, I told them, don’t stop doing what you’re doing. You have my total confidence.

“Wo!” I now say to myself: “CHECK yourself, Dan. You have hidden biases, you too greatly esteem your own talents and views. So you are so much more effective when you ‘lead by two,’ when you encourage others’ to balance out your weaknesses, biases and blind spots.” I am so grateful to be learning (at my not-so-tender-age) that when my partner(s) lead with their best self, I am much more effective leading with my best self.

So, I invite you to check yourself and look for opportunities to:

Lead by 2!

  • Dan, your essay made me think that, perhaps, cold fission was produced on the day that my wife and I were married. We are and always have been two very different people, rarely agreeing on anything but the fundamentals (faith and family); and sometimes producing more heat than expected when we spontaneously combusted. Yet our union has worked and thrived for more than 46 years. We somehow complete each other, my yin to her yang, or my yang to her yin — fused into a solid union that has survived 4 children, three economic crises, and a 6-year fight with leukemia! We often lead by 2…


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