We're Swimming In It

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In a blog posting sometime ago, Seth Godin made a statement of particular importance to leaders. Godin wrote,

"The next time you're puzzled by the behavior of a colleague or prospect, consider the reason might have nothing to do with the situation and everything to do with who is making the decision and what they bring to it."

Our Followers Are Constantly Swimming In Their Own Water

Godin's comment speaks to the fact that we all have histories, educations (whether formal or informal), families of origin, and experiences that have marked us. This collection of influences, called a "worldview," influences and even determines how we respond to what life throws at us. Worldviews to humans are like water to fish. Each of us has a worldview that surrounds us at all times. We don't really notice it until someone pulls us out of it...and sometimes not even then. We seem to accept our worldviews as 'normal' while people all around us baffle us with their choices and perspectives. But the truth is they are operating out of their own worldviews, swimming in their own water, just the same as we are in ours. No matter how crazy they may seem, what they are thinking and doing is as natural to them as our thoughts and actions are to us.

Remembering That We Are Also Makes Us Better Leaders

So what? Why should this matter to us as leaders?

First, Godin suggests that keeping this idea in mind is valuable in helping us have empathy towards others. Secondly—and here is where I actually get to add something to what Godin wrote—empathy is an essential quality of exceptional leaders. It has deep connections to one of the golden keys of great leadership, humility. Being able to empathize with those we lead, even those whose decisions and thoughts we find difficult to understand, is both connective and motivational for our followers when we do it genuinely and without judgment.  

Godin has authored a thought worth remembering. Those we lead are operating in the world just as we are, naturally responding to events through their own perspectives. To those of us who aspire to lead well but are tempted to judge first and empathize second, keeping Godin’s thought nearby may enable us to reverse that order, and in doing so, help us become better leaders.

Share Your Thoughts:  Have you found it difficult or easy to remember that those you don't understand, especially subordinates, are operating out of their own worldviews just as you are? Have you ever felt tangible empathy from a leader you were following? If so, what impact did it have on you as a follower?We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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