Last night was not one of my finer leadership moments. However, it turned out to be an excellent lesson in leading with perspective.
In our busy home, our evenings occasionally require a finely choreographed schedule. Fulfilling various commitments throughout the evening can require precise timing between those commitments. Last night was one of those nights.
We finished dinner and my wife needed to run some errands with some fairly tight deadlines. I also had a commitment but I had about 35 minutes of downtime. After some debate, our 4-year-old son convinced me a Ghostbusters-themed YouTube video was the best way to fill those 35 minutes. Before we knew it, YouTube evaporated our 35-minute buffer and we hurried out the door.
I opened the back door to my car and pointed our independent 4-year-old towards his car seat. Just as he was about to seat himself he yelled out “look, dad!” and he pointed to the straps of his car seat. Knowing that a delay would disrupt the rest of our tight schedule I politely acknowledged my son but didn’t really look where he was pointing. He saw my lack of focus and yelled out again “no, look dad!” He continued jabbering, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention to make out what he was saying.
No Time to Waste
At that point, my impatience got the best of me. I spun him around and began the buckling process. I knew what my son was pointing at. The car seat has multiple height adjustments. With enough imagination, the empty slots formed a crude smiley face. If I delayed any longer I would be late for an engagement. It was an engagement where I would likely have the opportunity to speak to a room full of people on leadership. I didn’t have time to discuss the smiley face on his car seat for the tenth time.
I finished the buckling and we drove off in a rush to my engagement. After several minutes of silence, I took a quick glance into the back seat. He was silent, but his bottom lip was quivering and tears began to streak down his face. I knew his heart was wounded.
After I kissed our sleeping little man goodbye the next morning I was convicted about my hurried actions the previous night. I was even more convicted when I arrived at my office and reached to retrieve something from the back seat. My face ended up directly in line with where my son was looking the night before. I finally saw his seat from his perspective. From that angle, it kinda looked like a stay-puft-marshmallow-man with an injured eye. Something hurt my son’s smiling “friend”. My son’s senseless jabber the night before was his attempt to explain to me the concept of empathy for the injured.
Leading with Perspective
Empathy for injured fictional paranormal monsters likely won’t define the effectiveness of most leaders. However, my interaction with my son taught me a powerful lesson on seeing things from the perspective of those we lead.
What does leading with perspective look like? As leaders, our own agendas can often drown out those trying to get our attention. Our busyness can disconnect us from the needs of those we lead. This can be especially dangerous when in our haste we make assumptions.
Our brains are incredibly efficient. To achieve this level of efficiency our brains will make assumptions if they believe they have seen a similar pattern in the past. Disrupting this process often requires intentional effort to place ourselves in a position to see things from a different perspective.
The ability to understand and connect with others is at the heart of many things we do as leaders. Often understanding and connection will require a perspective change. We add value to others when we take a moment to view things from the perspective of those we lead.