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Hard Won Lessons on Leadership – Part Three

Perception is truth to those who believe it.

I’ve previously defined a worldview as, the sum total of everything you believe to be true, whether it is or not.


When you’re a leader, some people you lead will not share your worldview. I’m not talking about whether they are Christians or not, or whether they share the same philosophy or politics. On the most elemental level, everyone believes certain facts to be true, that you do not. And, unless you understand exactly what their truth is, you can’t begin to solving problems or change in an organization.

I once met with an employee I supervised in a non-profit, whose performance was not meeting my expectations. Obviously, she thought she was doing exactly what I wanted. I didn’t. As we talked, it quickly became apparent there was something missing – we simply weren’t getting anywhere. I was getting frustrated and close to violating this proverb, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27

Finally, she pulled out her job description, which I had written and asked, “Ok, where does it say in my job description, you have this expectation of me?” As I reviewed it, sure enough the issue we were discussing wasn’t even listed.

“Well, we discussed doing this function many times.” I responded a bit defensively. “That’s true,” she answered, “but if it was as important as what you say, I would expect you to put it in my job description.” She had me. I had made an assumption that something very important to me, was understood by her to be equally important. It wasn’t and I had to apologize and begin again from this new reality.

Help me understand.

There is a phrase I’ve learned to use when it’s obvious two people have a disagreement, whether it’s friend, fellow elder, our adult children, or with my wife.

“Please, help me understand.”

I have to confess that generally when I’m in conflict with another person I’m more interested in being understood than in understanding their point of view. That’s the nature of conflicts. If you didn’t believe you were right, you wouldn’t be in conflict – right?

The wise man or woman learns the skill of asking questions in an attempt to understand the other person’s reality, whether it’s true in your mind or not! I’ve found that as I ask questions, it’s like peeling an onion, layer after layer, until we get at the root of misunderstanding – either theirs or mine.

For men only I have a strong personality. So, when I have to meet with a woman on something that could be contentious, I prefer to have another woman present. It’s not because women are weak. It’s because when I’m in persuasion mode, I’m told I can be intimidating without even realizing it. And, I know I tend to listen better and communicate more gently if another person is present. “Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.” Proverbs 11:12

Do you really know how you come off to others? Is there someone you work with you trust enough to tell you the truth? Wise leaders know that they will either have to change the other person’s perceptions, or change your own if you are going to work in harmony with another.

I often choose to write a letter or email to the person I have an issue with, so I don’t catch them off-guard in a meeting. People caught off guard tend to be defensive. I’ve often had days or weeks to think about this issue and formulate my thoughts. They, on the other hand, may not have a clue.

So, if I’m not able to write a letter or email ahead of time and sense that they need to process this new information, I’ll usually stop the meeting and give them a few days to gather their thoughts. My father had this proverb, “If you back people into a corner, either you’ll break their spirit or they’ll come out swinging.”

“Turn your ear to wisdom and your heart to understanding.” Proverbs 2:2

Question: What techniques have you used to truly understand, rather than simply be understood?

On Wednesday, I’ll be posting “Six Out-Of-The Box Ideas to Inspire Creative Thinking in Your Organization.”

Following Jesus in Real Life

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