You Can’t Lead With Your Best If — Part One


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.”

  • Judging others is ramped and only is useful as protection. Often it limits progression but can keep safe valuable jewels. Judge not but use experience for wise movement forward.

    Good topic Dan

  • Dan, thanks for the passionate and thought-provoking reminders about a topic that is responsible for a lack of peace in our hearts and our world. I’ve found that when a judgment arises, and we notice it, it helps to focus on listening more deeply to the person we’ve judged harshly. Somehow, this deep listening can provide some space for surprise – that this person may, indeed, be more like us than we thought.

  • Thanks, Dan.
    Interesting ideas especially as election day approaches. It can be challenging not to get in a verbal dig (judgement) when describing the people we don’t want to see win!

  • I’ve heard it said, “would you rather be happy, or be right?”

    Any kind of judgment takes my focus away from myself and achieving health, happiness and success in my life. In the end it doesn’t really matter what someone else’s character defenses are because they aren’t living my life, they are living theirs. I’m responsible for my life and I enjoy the best life when I put my energy into my life instead of someone else’s.

  • Very good point, Dan. This echoes earlier words of wisdom, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” That same speaker went further. He also told his hearers that there is one standpoint from which judgments are just. Standing there puts a new light on everything. It is an attitude that discovers the best self in everyone, and leads us all on.

  • Many think others think/feel as they do. Yet, understanding how others make meaning is a powerful leadership skill.
    What works well for one may not work well for another.
    Allowing others to be who they are is most difficult for most people.

  • Great insight — thanks, Dan! I really needed to read this one today.

    What a great work (or family) culture it would be to keep your points front and center, for leaders and those looking to leadership.

  • A place where we’re most likely to be judgmental is when others exhibit behavior that’s different from ours–behavior that makes us uncomfortable.

    For one example, some people choose to live in tents, use porta-potties, and proclaim “we are the 99%.” Most of us in Michigan are not particularly eager to live outdoors as winter approaches just to make a point, even if we find it unconscionable that rich people get 300% richer while many fall into the poverty class. Their behavior does not make them lazy or crazy or jobless necessarily, but if we don’t meet with them and talk with them, we don’t know that. If we did meet with them and listen to them, or followed their blogs, we might find them most ethical and peaceful. Judging them without knowing them is simply ignorant.

    For another example, there are many unseen disabilities out there–chemical imbalances, dyslexia, fetal alcohol syndrome… I could go on. These people may exhibit behaviors unlike those who are able-minded, but their behaviors make sense to them.

    If you experienced tremendous stigma associated with illiteracy due to dyslexia, would you be reluctant to fill out forms and on-line applications to obtain a job or needed benefits? And yet, too many providers find such people “noncompliant.” We blame them for a situation over which they have no control! They don’t know that they have the right to reasonable accommodations, so they don’t ask for them. Too often, providers don’t know enough to politely ask the reason why someone has not filled out some forms. Just one example of how judgmentalism does not help people with non-apparent disabilities.

    This situation causes the stigma, miscommunication, and blaming to continue. It denies persons the rights given them by the Americans with Disabilities Act. It denies their gifts to remain hidden under their limitations. It’s lacking in compassion.

    Consider, if someone acts in a way that seems unreasonable to you, that there must be a reason. When this happens, instead of resorting to judgmentalism and labeling with derogatory terms, why not simply ask them: “There must be a reason why you (describe behavior in a factual, evidentiary way)…. May I ask what it is?”

  • Dan, Tolerance for a wide variety of kinds of persons is essential for success. We are all God’s children, and we all have talents. Glad you made the PS about people different from us, since there are people who need to be judged. Due to experiences in politics of late I have been reading about psychopaths. It was surprising to learn that about 4% of persons are psychopaths to one extent or another. Few are serial killers, but many sit on boards or are employees. These are the ones who set one employee against another, lie to hurt people, and other bad things. Much more could be written, but we as a society need to learn to identify these people, who are so often destructive to a company’s goals, or an organization’s goals. They are excellent actors and hide their lack of empathy well.

  • With all due respect, Mr. Hunter, I don’t wish to be “tolerated” for various aspects of my being–my gender, my age, the color of my skin, the extent to which I deal with various impairments,my education and intellectual ability or lack thereof, my gender orientation, spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. I doubt that anyone does want to be tolerated for any such characteristics. Tolerance takes an arrogant “Lady Bountiful” or what some may see as a “you poor slobs” approach. For example, I might tolerate (but hate) the behavior of neighbors who play loud music. Their behavior is inconsiderate and offensive, but I may tolerate it… or I may confront them in a respectful and kind way to try to help them see that their behavior does not yield good, friendly, neighborhood relationships.

    It seems to me that everyone deserves to be accepted, but not tolerated. It seems to me that a true leader would welcome wide perspectives, wide diversity, for we are enriched by those different from us.

    The distinction, I think, is that PEOPLE deserve to be accepted, and offensive BEHAVIOR, by choice or discernment of the right moment, either confronted or tolerated.

    In my opinion, it’s okay to judge and confront / try to resolve the consciousless BEHAVIOR of psychopaths who have taken over banks and Wall Street and too many government positions from corrections officers to political leaders, but it would be less than optimal to judge PEOPLE, as if people can be equated to their patterns of BEHAVIOR, because people can change! People who don’t believe that are not suitable for careers in the helping professions.

    …or so I believe.

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