I believe what people say. More than that, I believe the attitudes they express knowingly or unknowingly. When I enter an organization, I pay close attention to what managers say, and I have learned some of the telltale messages of managers who aren’t leading anyone anywhere. Among the worst messages are those that shutdown communication. When communication is blocked, trust erodes and decisions go uninformed. After that, little else matters.
Some of the worst messages I hear are:
I don’t have time for this…
Wow, what a statement! It doesn’t much matter what comes after this because the thought begins in a pool of arrogance and ends in the denigration of another person. But, what usually follows is the dismissal of thoughtful a) consideration of person-centered concerns or b) exploration of the deeper issues involved in a decision. So what the person is actually saying is: I don’t have the patience to even consider this mamby, pamby drivel you consider important. I know what’s what, and you don’t.
I am the only one who…
Lonely victims don’t have followers. Managers who think they are only ones who work hard, get it, or care, might want to remove their hands from their faces. It’s easy to cast ourselves as martyrs when we don’t spend time connecting with the people around us. When we spend time with them, however, we often learn that they are with us in spirit, but that they express their passions differently than us.
Why don’t you just do what I tell you to do?
…It would make my life easier.
…Then I wouldn’t have to take so much time explaining things to you.
If you want an easy life or to be freed of the burden of explaining things, then don’t take the responsibility of leadership. Step down and let someone else lead. Leaders edify others and make their lives easier, not the other way around. If we want people to follow us, then we have to help them understand things the way we do or to build a new shared understanding together. In other words, we have to meet them where they are and do the hard work of building a shared reality.
Let’s face it, a lot of us have thoughts like this from time to time. That makes us normal people. If we want to engage hearts, shape minds, and move people to action in service of our goals however, we need to guard our hearts from arrogance. High-headed, self-important people often find themselves perplexed when they are ignored, resisted, and undermined. If you find yourself in in that state, then maybe, just maybe, you have these thoughts too frequently.
What do you want to do about it?