Leadership Tailspin to Nowhere

We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions. ~Ian Percy

We live in a time when the world feels as if it’s spinning out of control. When I was reminded of the quote by Ian Percy this week—“We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions.”—I felt as if this described our collective leadership practice. Hence, our spinning out of control.

We, leaders, spend so much time judging others by their behavior and judging ourselves by our intentions that it puts us into a tailspin that never stops spinning. We don’t lead well across differences; we judge, inappropriately. I see this at all levels. From our political leaders (no further explanation needed) to the employee who doesn’t speak truth to power to their CEO because they are judging their CEO by their behavior and judging themselves by their intentions.

How to stop the tailspin to nowhere?

I really resonate with Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee, authors of Flex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences. The book is appropriately titled. Flex is key to stopping the tailspin. They suggest three questions to ask yourself before you engage with another person to identify how you need to flex. In other words, how to let go of our tendency to judge others by their behavior and judge ourselves by our intentions.

Three Questions to Flex

  • What are they thinking?

What perspectives and assumptions might they have that are different from mine? What is the context? Are there specific experiences in their background that affect their interactions?

  • How should I connect?

What can I say to express my desire to reach out to them?

  • How can I put myself in the other person’s shoes?

What can I do and say to demonstrate positive intent? How will I show my willingness to meet them partway?

As the authors say, “Flexing always starts with authenticity. Show who you are and what you value and then extend your curiosity toward others.” Flex.

Every person a leader engages has “a life behind and within their faces.” Leaders need to slow down, consider what the other person is thinking, determine how best to connect, and then put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Consequently, putting the brakes on the out of control tailspin to nowhere.

I am a fan of Frederick Buechner’s wise words as I know many of you are as well. It’s Beuchner who said, “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes…we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.”

Stop the leadership tailspin to nowhere and lead with bold grace by learning to flex.

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