Welcome to days 5 and 6 of our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course…for Sunday, September 5th and 6th. Labor Day Weekend and out-of-town company, coupled with just too much stuff going on derailed my continuity briefly. Hey, it happens. So we adapt, right? So today let’s compress two days into a single episode.
We’re going to advance in our progression of leadership components and talk first about understanding.
We’ve established that we begin with the most important ingredient, humility. That fosters curiosity where we work to seek answers. More accurately, we seek knowledge. And we need knowledge so we can understand. This is the opposite of much of what we see in the world today. For good reason. Understanding is hard. Judgment is easy. To be more specific, harsh judgment is easy.
What is understanding?
Let’s keep things simple and straightforward. Understanding is accurate comprehension. Clarity. Whether it’s a situation, a relationship, what was said, what was written…whatever it is, it’s the clear comprehension of what’s happening or what has happened.
Does it have to be perfect? No. But it has to be more perfect than not. Confirmation is required. How? Communication.
An employee who mostly performs far above average is struggling. She’s obviously somewhat disengaged, but her manager chooses not to jump to a conclusion. After a few days of quiet observation, he calls her into his office for a conversation.
“Margaret, I wanted to check on you because you’re not yourself lately. I can tell something is wrong and I wondered if I might be able to help you.”
Margaret looks down, her eyes well up and her lips begin to quiver.
“Margaret, I don’t want to pry in areas that are none of my business, but you’re such a valuable employee…I want to make sure I’m doing whatever I can to support you.”
He hands her a tissue and gives her space to gather herself so she can speak. She proceeds to tell him that 3 days ago her mother, a cancer survivor, received word from her latest checkup. “It’s back,” she said. “And it’s not good.” She breaks down weeping.
Do you think her manager understands? Do you think this situation is now clear? Of course. Both people share an understanding of the true circumstance of what’s happening. There is no conjecture. No false assumptions. Just honest, open truth that they can now face together – at least as far as Margaret’s work is concerned.
Consider what could have happened. No conversation. No questions. Just constant, nagging wondering, “What’s going on with Margaret?”
Communication is required. Dialogue. Not talking at somebody. Not talking to somebody. Seeking answers with questions. And doing so without critical judgment, but rather with empathy and compassion so we can first understand what’s happening.
Our understanding will determine what happens next…or what we think should happen.
The various understandings I’ve had through the years include marital infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, financial problems, deaths, fatal diagnoses, career unhappiness, gambling problems and legal problems. In most cases, there’s no way I could have known without asking questions. And without knowing, understanding would have been impossible. I often think of the disasters I’ve avoided because I didn’t jump to a conclusion before I gained understanding.
You could argue that we need this all along the way. I wouldn’t press the matter. Empathy is crucial and maybe my view of empathy is slightly more nuanced than most. I view empathy is the willingness to understand before you render a judgment. For a guy like me who lives by and coaches other to “figure it out,” I want to make sure I’m doing whatever I can to figure it out so I can be accurate in my judgment. I hate getting it wrong and know that compassion is the high point of it all because it gives us the power to really make a positive difference.
I’m reminded of this every time I see a close friend and we part telling each other, “I love you.” I have a fair number of people in my life who are comfortable telling me that. And I’m comfortable telling them. It’s not a complicated thing really. Two humans who share compassion toward one another because we understand each other. If we didn’t, compassion would be improbable or impossible.
Compassion is our ability to suffer together. When it comes to leadership, I’d add another component. It’s the ability to suffer together and help the other person move forward. Even if it’s only slight movement.
Margaret’s manager did what he could to help her move forward. He developed a plan so Margaret could take additional time off to tend to her mother. He went into action for Margaret, working with her to facilitate whatever support he could. Can he deal with it for Margaret? No. There are many things he cannot do for Margaret, but he did the things he could. He suffered with Margaret and helped her move forward at work so her struggle wouldn’t negatively impact her career. Margaret left that meeting knowing she had support and concern from her boss. It was a load off. Additionally, she gave him permission to share the news with her teammates so they too could properly understand. Their support in the coming weeks proved invaluable.
Margaret’s mother struggled through many months of treatments and sickness. Within a year, she died. Today, Margaret is thankful for the support she got at work. Says Margaret, “I can’t imagine what might have happened if Phil (her boss) hadn’t called me into this office that day. I was almost completely shut down and it was getting worse by the hour. Phil noticed immediately, but he waited 2 days. Two days, but no more. I’ve asked him why he approached me beginning the third day that he noticed I had changed. He said he wanted to make sure it wasn’t just some passing something that might be none of his business, but he also gave allowances that it might be something I needed time to process. I feel sorry for people who work for a boss that isn’t that in touch with them. He’s such a terrific leader. I’m thankful to be on his team.”
Make sure you never run out of any of these ingredients. They will serve you well as you build yourself into the leader you most want and need to be.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!