Freedom To Understand – Grow Great Daily Brief #216 – May 29, 2019

LUG = learning, understanding, growing

Today’s let think about appreciating and taking advantage of our freedom to understand. Life is about leadership if only in the sense that every one of us is responsible for leading our own lives. As business owners, executives and entrepreneurs we’re also responsible for leading our organizations.

The spectacular thing about the freedom to understand is that too frequently we’re uninterested in taking advantage of it. Look around at the cultural debates. Pick the topic. Any topic. Politics. Morality. Anything. Everything. Disagreement abounds.

Joe thinks real estate investments will be safe for the next decade.

Betsy thinks the real estate market is due a correction or worse within the next 3 years.

Forget why they believe what they do. They just do. And both are dug into their position. It’s what closed minds do – dig in and shut off any outside influences or information.

Neither is interested in understanding the viewpoint of the other. As a result, both lose. They lose the freedom to understand even though it’s readily available to them. They confuse understanding with agreement. Maybe they’re even fearful of being converted to a different opinion, but not likely. Mostly, they’re too lazy to put in the effort required for understanding. But let’s think about what each of them loses.

There are benefits and values in having our ideas challenged. Nevermind that we’re not required to give up our ideas, beliefs or viewpoints – but if we’re so scared ours won’t hold up, then it makes sense to avoid having them challenged. Even if it’s done respectfully. What kind of value do they have if they won’t withstand the slightest challenge?

There’s value in defending them. Or even in trying to defend them. It forces us to verbalize what we think and feel. That helps us and those who may be seeking to better understand us. Challenges sharpen us and our thinking.

Some years ago I began to need reading glasses. At first the slippage in my eyesight was so subtle it was hardly noticeable. But over time I found it difficult to read the watch on my wrist. I knew I wasn’t seeing clearly.

But I didn’t know how unclear my vision was until I decided to try on some reading glasses one day while I was in the store. I slipped on a pair and BAM! Crystal clear. Sure, I hated having to wear them, but it was better than not being able to see. And I realized reading – which I love to do – was so much easier with the glasses.

The problem with blind spots and our failure to understand is it’s not nearly as clear. If you know what good vision looks like, it’s easier to realize this ain’t it. But when you hold a viewpoint that’s the only one you’ve ever held, it’s super hard to realize there may be differing views – with valid reasons behind them. It doesn’t mean they’re right, or more right than yours, but why not take advantage of understanding them? At worst, it’ll expand your thinking. At best, it may provide you ample evidence to realize you were wrong. Presto! Now you can be right. Or more right. Where’s the loss in that?

I know people who can speak, write and understand multiple languages. I envy their abilities. Their ability provides them with a level of understanding beyond what I’m capable of. So it goes with our dedication to understanding others. It also helps us better understand ourselves. It rounds us out and helps us relate better to others. Who among us doesn’t need to improve that?

Freedom to understand reminds me of the parable of the elephants.

As a man was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at any time, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.

He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

The man was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.

We can understand, but too often we choose not to. Maybe we think it’s impossible. Maybe we enjoy filling in the gaps of our understanding with predetermined notions. Who knows why? Or cares? Mostly I want us to realize we’re paying an enormous price by not putting in the work to exercise this freedom.

Clarity trumps fuzziness. In eyesight and in understanding. The dialogue (even potential debate) required to gain greater understanding is helpful for all concerned. The other day I was engaged in a lively conversation about leadership authors. I’m a fan of Jim Kouzes and Warren Bennis. He was a big fan of John Maxwell. It’s like me being a fan of apples, but he likes oranges. During the discussion, he admitted he hadn’t been exposed to Kouzes or Bennis. He had discovered Maxwell when he was younger and just stuck with him. I didn’t disparage Maxwell, but I did explain why I found greater value in some other leadership experts. I understand why he’s fond of Maxwell. He understands why I more prefer others. It wasn’t about converting one another. It was about better understanding each other and along the way, we both gained some insights into how we viewed leadership.

I rather enjoyed defending my view and I’m certain he did. It wasn’t an issue of who was right or who was wrong. We each had our preferences, but we ended the conversation better understand what was behind those preferences. I think we both won something valuable.

Let me end with giving you a couple of words to consider. Think of them in terms of the value they can provide. The words are friction and resistance. Without them, there’s no innovation, no improved understanding, and no traction.

Ideas get proven. Financials endure due diligence. Business decisions of all sorts endure scrutiny. For good reason. We want to prove things. We want to get it more right than not. There’s no way to do that without exercising the freedom to understand.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!


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