DISCLAIMER: This is not a political commentary and has nothing to do with the politics of the examples cited. This post is a lesson in human nature and the implications for those of us who aspire to lead large numbers of people toward a common goal.
One of the most troubling phenomena of the modern world is the degree to which people seem to be divided. What is truly disturbing about this circumstance is that people don’t see the other side as just wrong. They see them as evil. Around a bevy of issues, one side will see the answer to a question as obvious and can’t understand how anyone could arrive at a different conclusion. Since no explanation for a different opinion makes sense on the surface, it is assumed that the other side must be not just incorrect, but nefarious. There is a broad and profound leadership lesson for us to learn in this. This isn’t about politics or religion. This is about human nature. If we will take the time to understand what is at the root of what we’re seeing we’ll be better equipped to lead all types of people.
I snatched an example of this from the headlines and the recent scandal surrounding Judge Roy Moore who is running for Senate in Alabama. I could have picked almost anything. My comments have nothing to do with politics. They have everything to do with the human condition and how we can raise our leadership lid.
In recent days Judge Roy Moore, who is running for the Senate in the state of Alabama, has been accused by multiple women of having inappropriate sexual interactions with them when they were teenagers. Many have called for him to end his campaign and step aside. On the other hand, many conservatives and Christians have rushed to support Moore and become entrenched in their determination to have him continue the race. The support from the GOP and from people who claim to place Christian values above everything else has dismayed the people to the Left of the political spectrum. Many people on the left of the political aisle are appalled that so many people claiming to be Christians have not withdrawn their support for Roy Moore in light of the allegations of sexual impropriety with underage girls. How can people support a man accused of such despicable behavior? Twitter is awash with inflammatory comments to the effect of, “The GOP now promotes pedophilia.” These people can’t understand how it’s possible to support a man like that. They’re thinking, “What is wrong with those people?” They conclude merely that the GOP and supposed Christians must be evil. It’s the only possible explanation.
Or is it?
Let’s go back 22 years to October 03, 1995. That’s the day OJ Simpson was acquitted. The Simpson trial divided America and almost exclusively along racial lines. To white Americans, the case was cut and dried. His DNA was all over the crime scene. The victims’ blood was inside his car. How could black Americans not see it? Were they willing to overlook murder? “What is wrong with those people?” Just as is happening today, white America concluded nefarious motives were the only logical explanation.
Or was it?
What white America didn’t understand was that many black Americans had a justifiably skeptical view of the criminal justice system. Especially in Los Angeles, there was a deep-seated history of injustice, bigotry, and corruption. There were well documented and highly visible cases of black Americans who had lost their lives at the hands of a justice system controlled by what were perceived to be racist authority figures. That history profoundly influenced the way the facts of the OJ case were regarded. Yes, there was “evidence, ” but we’ve been down this road before.
Now back to the Roy Moore case. Conservatives and Christians believe sincerely that the media and the prevailing culture have an agenda to destroy what they hold most valuable. They are highly skeptical of anything that the mainstream media says. So when reports emerge that place one of their standard bearers in a damning light, they are reticent to believe it.
Just like in the Simpson trial, what is “obvious” to one side is disregarded by the other as the product of bias.
So what do we learn from this? There is a HUGE lesson for us as leaders. The lesson is this: Our experience heavily influences all of us. Our experience skews our perception and judgment of just about everything. Each of us brings into every situation biases, assumptions, and skepticisms that are subconsciously held but consciously manifest in our behavior, decisions, and rationale. It is easy, when we have a different experience, to pass judgments on the other person. We can just write them off as crazy, dangerous, evil, hypocritical, or whatever simplistic motive we want to choose. Leaders can’t afford to be that lazy. Take the following example:
Democrats forgave Bill Clinton but condemned Donald Trump.
Republicans forgave Donald Trump but condemned Harvey Weinstein.
What’s going on here? The hypocrisy seems obvious. But neither side sees it in themselves. Are these people crazy? Are they evil?
Their judgments are passing through heavy filters of experience.
So what’s the take away for a leader? Remember that everything is about people. If we are going to lead people, we have to love people. And if we are going to love people we have to go the extra mile to understand their experiences. We have to empathize with their “come from.” We also have to give people the benefit of the doubt. When something is obvious to us, but not obvious to one of our people our first assumption should NOT be that they are broken. It should be that we are missing something in their experience that is impacting their perception of the situation. That should spur us to ask questions and initiate dialogue. “Tell me what is going on. What do you see here that I don’t see? What am I missing?”
By the way, once someone sees that you genuinely care about hearing them and understanding their side, they are far more likely to return the favor and begin viewing your side as well.
The next time someone responds to something in a way that doesn’t make any sense to you, avoid the temptation to write them off. When they see something in the opposite direction from what you believe is obvious, assume that their experience is impacting their perception. Determine to go more in-depth to understand them. You’ll build a relationship. You’ll develop understanding. You’ll make a friend. You’ll be a wiser leader. You’ll move people toward a shared vision. You’ll get results.
I’d love your comments below. Thanks for being a part of this community of iron sharpening iron.