As leaders, we can never escape the reality that our beliefs about people influence the way we lead them. We might fancy that we can neutralize our beliefs at least enough to not be found out, but the truth is, over time, reality always reveals itself. There’s no way for those we lead to avoid our beliefs about them over the long haul. This is why it is so important for leaders to pay close attention to their inner monologue about those they lead. Imagine — and this is totally hypothetical — that you have a couple of people on the team you lead whose attitudes and behavior are underwhelming. (I know, I know, it’s tough to imagine such a thing, but do your best to pretend.) In this scenario, your imaginary under-performers are the type of people who immediately go to Negative-ville whenever challenges arise and seem to have a ‘me first’ perspective in most of what they do. You tell yourself, “They just don’t understand the value of a positive outlook or how to be a part of a team.”
Let’s assume your evaluation of them is dead on. They do, in fact, hurt morale with their negative attitudes while having a self-centered perspective. Here is where a magical mindset can help you lead such individuals more effectively. It is defined by the words, “They come by it honestly.”
From Mindset to Better Results
The phrase "They come by it honestly" and the belief behind it was first introduced to me by my wife and has been repeated to me by my in-laws. It simple says that, despite the pain and difficulty some people create, most of them are reacting based on a multitude of life experiences (childhood included) rather than out of ill intent. No matter how difficult our most difficult-to-lead followers may be, "They come by it honestly" suggests that they are most likely nottrying to be a problem. That doesn’t change the fact that these particular followers often are a problem, but if we as leaders can hold “They come by it honestly” as a possible explanation for their behavior, it can make us significantly more effective in leading them.
When I see troublemakers as people who have become who they are through the influence of circumstances and people out of their control, I am more patient with them. I am more interested in them as individuals. I am more willing to see positive possibilities for them. These changes in me result in a dramatically different experience for those whom I lead. They can easily feel the difference between a leader who is frustrated with, annoyed with, and judgmental of them and a leader who is patient with, interested in, and invested in them. What impact does that have on their performance? Just ask yourself who you’d be more likely to fully engage with: a leader who is frustrated with, annoyed with, and judgmental of you or a leader who is patient with, interested in, and invested in you?
Let me say for the record that just because those we lead may come by their shortcomings honestly, that doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible to change and improve themselves. Each of us is responsible to play the hand we’ve been dealt in life and work. But wouldn’t it be more effective for our followers to tackle their shortcomings with leaders who are with them rather then against them? “They come by it honestly” has the power to help us make the shift from against to with.
The Most Important Person to Influence
Leaders wield massive influence. That influence is permeated by their beliefs about those they lead. If we desire to be the most effective leaders we can be, the first people we should influence is ourselves. To reach our potential as leaders, we would do well to influence ourselves to remember that most followers, even those who cause us grief and pain, come by their shortcomings honestly as products of circumstance and upbringing without intention to be subpar. If we can hold on to this mindset, we just might be able to lead them to become more productive members of our teams. And isn’t that what leadership is all about?
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