Great Leaders Often Spend Time – To See How Others See Them! Do You?

An elderly gentleman went to the Doctor and with a complaint about a gas problem. “But,” he told the Doctor, “it really doesn’t bother me too much. When I pass gas they never smell and are always silent. As a matter of fact, I’ve passed gas at least 10 times since I’ve been here in your office. You didn’t know I was doing it because they don’t smell and are silent.”

“I see,” the Doctor replied as he examined him. When he was finished, he wrote a prescription and handed it to his patient. Take these pills three times a day and come back to see me next week,” he instructed.

The next week the gentleman was back. “Doctor,” he exclaimed, “I don’t know what medication you gave me, but now my gas… although still silent… stinks terribly!”

The Doctor retorted, “Good! Now that we’ve cleared up your sinuses, let’s work on your hearing.”

An extremely useful step in our leadership development is seeing myself as others see me. So I need to understand their perceptions of my behavior. My effectiveness in leading, relating to, or working with others is highly dependent on their perceptions of me. I may not agree with what they see, but their perception is our reality. Those around me have an opinion of who they think the real me is. Their perceived “truth” becomes the way they treat me. Their perception forms their part of the reality of our relationship.

The discussion of perceptions is often a thorny one as we work with individuals, teams, and organizations to improve their effectiveness. For example, we tend to define levels of service or quality through our own eyes and values. That may not be the way our customers or partners define it. There is no objective definition. There is only the reality that I see, you see, he sees, or she sees. Our personal perception is our personal reality. There’s no accounting for taste. Everyone forms his or her own opinion no matter how wrong we may think it is. If we’re going to improve the service or quality delivered, we need to first understand how those we’re serving, or producing for, perceive service or quality.

Like beauty, service, quality, honesty, or integrity, leadership is in the eye of the beholder. I judge myself by my intentions. Others judge me by my actions. My intentions and the actions that others see may be miles apart. Unless I know that, I am unlikely to change my actions or try to get others to see me differently. I can become trapped in their reality and get very frustrated when they don’t respond to me as I’d like.

Getting feedback from others on our personal behavior is tough. It often hurts. The truth may set me free, but it will likely make me miserable first. When we get feedback, we nod our head to the positive and supportive statements that agree with our own views. However, when it comes to our weaknesses or improvement areas we take those to heart and sometimes dwell far too heavily on them. We can get ten rave reviews for work we’ve done and one critical comment. That one comment hurts. If we’re not careful, it can fester into doubts and a loss of confidence. As a result, the truth that may set us free of our less productive habits becomes the truth we prefer not to hear. That’s human nature. What stunts our personal growth and gets us stuck in a rut is when we refuse to hear any more of it. As a parent, boss, or appointed leader of some type, it’s too easy to hide behind our position and avoid feedback.

The wider the gap between our own perceptions of areas to improve and the feedback we’re getting the more we may experience the “SARAH process.” This approach comes from grief counseling. The first letter of each stage spell “SARAH.” The stages are Shock, Anger, Resentment, Acceptance, and Help. When I get open and honest feedback on how others perceive me, I may be shocked, angry, and resentful. But unless I accept that as their perceptions of the real me (their reality of me), I’ll never progress to the final stage of self-help or seeking help from others in taking action on the feedback and making the changes called for.

Human nature seems to endow us with the ability to size up everybody but ourselves. As painful as it may be, feedback is a big contributor to our leadership development. Feedback is often a key element in personal learning and improvement. It helps us to size up and see ourselves as others see us. We may not agree with the perceptions of others, but unless we know how we’re perceived, we stand little chance of improving our relationships and effectiveness with them. Feedback also gives us another opportunity to reflect on our behavior from the view point of others. It provides outside perspectives on the exploration of our inner space.

Not all feedback is valid and helpful. Ultimately I have to decide what fits and what doesn’t. I have to choose the feedback that rings true to me. According to an ancient story, a man once approached Buddha and began to call him ugly names, Buddha listened quietly until the man ran out of insults and had to pause for breath. “If you offer something to a person and that person refuses it, to whom does it belong?” asked Buddha. “It belongs, I suppose, to the one who offered it,” the man said. Then Buddha said, “The abuse and vile names you offer me, I refuse to accept.” The man turned and walked away.

Asking for help can be traumatic experience!

As humans we are wired to think and believe that we are born equal. It’s the journey which puts us in different contexts or life experiences. It’s therefore not easy for us to come to an acceptance that some of us have less of somethings in life when compared to others. It could be power, authority, money, health, family, relationships, food and many more.

So when someone comes asking for your help, it can be very humiliating or traumatic for the person asking. Remember, the default position for us is that we are all equal. The person seeking help has to deal with his ego and self-esteem. The act in the persons mind is considered as conceding the ground that you have more power or influence or even ability than the seeker.

You find that most misuse this power without even understanding the context of the help seeker. We judge people based on their current state or appearance and start to behave in a way that compounds the sense of trauma or humiliation that person is already suffering.

I have had leaders asking me to teach people in their organizations to seek help when needed. I tell them it is pointless to teach people to seek help as the person giving help or having the power to give help is not going to change. The fact that they are asking me in itself demonstrates that people working in their organization have been humiliated when they sought help. No one likes to be in that state for long and before time people stop asking. Statements like ‘why don’t you figure out for yourselves’; ‘don’t you have brains’; ‘why don’t you grow up’ and so on can be from the many unintentional one’s which would have accentuated the problem.

There is a need for you to be empathetic to people who come seeking help. You have the power not to abuse but to use and help. You are equally a seeker as much as a giver. Do not push people away when they come seeking cause you have a great responsibility.

How many come to you seeking help? It’s a good measure of how you have dealt with seekers in the past.

Depression – Are you suffering without knowing?

Sometimes the pressure to smile and keep smiling against all odds, shuts the doors for people to express or discuss how they actually feel. We have been conditioned early to answer to a ‘How are you?’ question with a ‘I am fine’; ‘great’ etc. We have not been taught to respond to this question with actually how we feel in the moment. People should know that it’s okay to be not okay. That’s the only way discussion will take place.

Talking about how you feel in the moment acts as a great safety valve to release pent up emotions which eat you away slowly and gradually like termites until its too late. We understand depression only as the point when someone visits a shrink and is in extreme distress. Rarely do we indulge in discussions around the type of depression which afflicts us without actually exploding the way we know of.

The problem is accentuated with the stigma associated with the use of the word ‘depression’ to describe genuine mental distress in people. The need to project a positive self-image and all the talk of positive thinking and positive outlook actually causes people to shy away from addressing the issues as they occur.

The ever increasing cases of stress related or accentuated health problems in the world is a pointer to the fact that somewhere we are missing the point. Talking about how you feel and encouraging others to do so is an excellent way to avoid or overcome problems of a depressive mind.

Imagine if your response to the same question ‘How are you?’ is ‘Not feeling good’ or ‘I am upset’ (only if you feel that way). What do you think such a response will do in the moment? Most certainly it will open the door for some conversation around why you feel the way you feel. I am not suggesting that it will give you answers or quick-fixes for your problems. Talking about how you feel at times and the reasons you feel that way will in itself throw up solutions.

It’s important to talk not just in your personal life but also in your workplace or for that matter any walk of life. It just might aid your mental and physical health.

So let’s encourage people to talk…. Let’s lead by example. Denial is no way to feel good.

Share if you agree. You might just contribute to saving a life!