Here at InnerWill, our work with individuals and organizations helps them to identify, define, and live their most deeply held values. We have seen how personal experiences throughout our life molds and shapes our beliefs and our behaviors. Perhaps the leader who struggled to be accepted at critical points in their life is now extra attentive to team collaboration. Another leader who found needed recognition in personal achievement may develop a competitive nature and focus on setting clear yet challenging individual goals. While each leader brings important strengths, they may have difficulty understanding the others’ perspective.
As leaders, we are challenged to understand ourselves first; this begins with how our own experiences have shaped our values and behaviors. Leaders may also struggle to determine how our own experience may limit our perspective and our understanding of others. A strong leader knows that every individual has their own strength and weaknesses, and that leadership is never a solo sport. In his recent blog post Bulletproof, InnerWill Board Member Guy Clumpner expanded on that concept further by stating that “Personal achievement is a team sport.”
This understanding of the limits of our own perspective is something I have encountered in big and small ways. I recently opened a meeting of volunteer leaders with a check-in question, “Where are you currently struggling to connect with others across differences?” While several shared stories of their struggle, my own limited perspective was revealed when one leader asked “May I share a joy I’m experiencing from connecting across difference?” I had to laugh as I realized that even my questions are shaped by – and limited by – my own experience.
If these differences can show up even in the formation of a simple check-in question, imagine how they impact the greater issues faced in our communities. Should more funding be allocated to schools or police? Do commemorative statues and symbols help to inform and teach history or reinforce a message of exclusion and intimidation? How do we bring our experiences, values and our leadership to these discussions?
As I’ve reflected on these experiences – to allow them to mold and shape me further, I’ve identified and worked to adopt a couple of intentional practices.
Listen With Your Heart – Stephen M. R. Covey identifies “Listen First” as one of the critical behaviors for earning trust in his book The Speed of Trust. He offers “Listen with your ears – and your eyes and heart. Don’t assume you know what matters most to others. Don’t presume you have all the answers – or all of the questions.” When I can listen with an open heart, rather than listening for a certain message or listening to prepare myself to make another run at sharing my own perspective, I can expand my understanding and enhance my ability to connect with others.
When Someone Shares an Experience, Believe Them – At times it seems to be a cultural norm to reject others’ experiences if they don’t match our own. In Brene Brown’s recent video discussing the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, she talks about the importance of perspective taking, which she further offers as “one of the critical skills that ladder up to empathy.” She describes our own experiences & perspective as a lens we view the world through that is “soldered to our face, we just can’t put it down.” As a result, we must choose to believe others’ stories as they are told to us – to see them as just as “real, honest, and truthful as our own experiences.”
These practices challenge me every day. Even as I seek to expand my experiences and understanding, I choose to stay highly aware of the limits of my own perspective.
What practices help you to stay open to the perspectives of others?