Sometimes in the drive to get things done, leaders inadvertently run roughshod over people. Yet, these same leaders are horrified to find that others perceive them to be uncaring, not compassionate, or even downright abrasive. They lament that they really do care about people and they hate that they are perceived as they are.
Regardless, given enough time, these same leaders will often also tell me that others are just too thin-skinned. They lament that the people around them aren’t quicker, smarter, more astute … Often, the list of adjectives that they’d prefer the people around them to be more of is extensive.
A disconnect. Frequently, these leaders don’t truly understand the connection between what they think and feel on the inside and what shows to the outside world. They believe that they can hold others in disregard and that others won’t know it. But I’ve got a news flash: they know it.
They know it because no matter how well you believe that you control your speaking tone and your facial expression, your real beliefs seep through the cracks to betray you. In a moment of weakness, prolonged stress, or diminished control, they may even come out in a rush.
Faking is not the remedy. When leaders want to improve their interpersonal relationships, the tendency is to try to take command of their behaviors. They resolve to appear more patient (especially with people that they think are idiots), to manage their facial expressions to not betray their true feelings, and to control what they say in order to create the desired impression.
Addressing one’s behaviors is not a bad thing. It simply isn’t enough. It is not sustainable. What we carry on the inside will always betray us to the outside world.
Cultivating leadership inside. In order to create sustainable change, leaders have to examine, challenge, and ultimately change the lens through which they view the world.
- Approach the world with curiosity. Instead of charging in to critique things, be genuinely curious. Cultivate a desire to learn and then ask real questions to feed that desire.
- See people as people. This sounds pretty fundamental, after all, what else would people be. But we tend to objectify people. We assign motives to their actions that dehumanize them. Instead, try to look at others as people who have their own dreams, needs, and desires, and then revert to number one above to figure out what those are. (Aka empathy.)
- Recognize that only you are responsible for your emotions. Emotions are driven from inside, not outside events. The comment that your assistant made didn’t make you angry. Your reaction to the comment and your interpretation of it made you angry. That’s fine, but to be productive, observe your anger, defuse it quickly, and make a choice to use anger as your lens or to find a more constructive outlook.
- Bring your best. Some leaders drive themselves into the ground by failing to get enough rest, eating poorly or not at all, and not allowing their bodies the physical activity they need. This abuse has a direct impact on the leader’s outlook and attitude. A leader that is tired and beaten down simply does not have the energy to be curious, to understand others’ needs, or to determine their own outlook. Their lens on the world is tired and frustrated.
When one changes the lens through which they view the world, a generous spirit can emerge. This spirit has the power to shift a leader’s interpersonal relationships and foster greater organizational productivity.