Todays story reflects my hard-won victory over . . . well, over me. It was grueling — like a 5-set tennis match. And, like a lot of my wins in the world of self-management and other-leadership, I’ll forget how I pulled out a win, why such a win is worth the effort, and how to do it again. I hope replaying it will contribute to my, and perhaps your, future wins.
I was enmeshed in a confrontation with one of my kids. We stood in the side drive quite literally face to face, for about an hour. The long and short of it was that I felt frustrated by what I felt was a pattern of reclusive and sometimes chilly behaviors. The discussion went through distinct phases. Stage one: issues raised, defenses raised, volumes raised, defenses on both sides raised even further. Stage two: harder listening – in both senses: first, hard to exercise the discipline to totally get what each other are saying. I find it takes enormous concentration to fight my urge to interrupt and argue, and to instead simply understand her point of view. Then it’s hard to let reality be something other than what I see it as, but instead to see how we truly experience different realities. After much external struggle and then even more internal struggle, I finally heard her fundamental questions: Why is it that I have to meet your needs? Why do we have to communicate in the times and manner that work best for you? And why can’t you accept that we’re different and let me be in my own way, even if it sometimes looks reclusive?*
That led to stage three: an odd moment of radical choice. I could almost hear the inner voices asking what my choice would be: “How important is it to you to’win’ this argument? Does ‘winning’ really make sense in this context? Is it really surrender, are you conceding the game?” So, what would I do? Would I continue to insist on the primacy of my view of reality? Or would I let that go, and allow that she and I had vastly different experiences of reality. Would I focus on doing my work of gaining and operating from a full understanding of her reality, or would I keep pushing her to understand and live inside my view? I chose to explicitly acknowledge the legitimacy of her reality and her way of being. I am pretty sure she heard my request in turn for her to be sensitive to how her way impacts those around her, including me. But it’s her choice and not my insistence that stands to generate movement.
Is there broad leadership relevance to this story? I think so. I suspect that a manager-employee relationship in most traditional workplace cultures mimics this relationship of a parent vis-a-vis a nearly-mature older teenager. Oh, the tension and conflict may be masked at work, but the resistance to accepting the singular importance of the manager’s worldview is often working beneath that surface. So the manager has a choice: keep expecting and assuming the other must accept the primacy of the manager’s view of reality and chosen style of working together (and see deviations as insubordination, rebelliousness, ignorance, etc) , or do the hard work of understanding the other’s legitimate views, style and needs.
I look forward to reading responses to this post to find out whether you find it as hard as I do to close your mouth, open your ears and mind, and
Lead with your best self,
*I am not saying that I relinquished all parental standards in our talk. It would take many more paragraphs to reconcile and distinguish my legitimate authority and responsibility for standards with my commitment to meet my daughter as a fundamental equal.
** There was a glitch in last week’s link to the book Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent Keith. Sorry for any confusion. You can find Kent’s book here.
Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments
By: Kent M. Keith