Momentum. Our lives naturally develop momentum. The question is, are we creating momentum in the direction we want to move or are we allowing life to push us along? Like a fast moving river, there is momentum that will carry us. Unless we learn how to skillfully use that momentum to get where we want to go it is going to be a dangerous ride that often ends badly.
In a previous post, we started talking about how to get steam behind our ideas. Big ideas require the help or participation of others. Ideas run into walls when they aren’t introduced skillfully because we have a tendency to resist others pushing us in a direction we didn’t choose.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to begin the process by Seeing with Their Eyes. I want to admit right up front that this is one I struggle with. My task oriented, strongly opinionated mind just doesn’t naturally slow down and see how the wake I create affects others. Habits can change, however, and while I’ll never be as empathetic as my wife I am working on getting better.
Point is, whether you want to help your kids grow into amazing men and women or you have a vision for a project that could help your teams have a banner year, there is a there is one subject we’ve all got to become an expert on – the people we lead. The way you move someone begins with knowing what makes them move. Obvious, I know. But then again, how many times have we begun excitedly pushing forward our agenda only to have it fall flat because we hadn’t think about how others would perceive it?
Cherie and I try to make sure we pay attention to our kids love languages. It’s how someone best receives and gives love. If you don’t know their language, you may be showing them love in a language they don’t “speak” and the relationship suffers. Both of us are heavily physical touch people with each other and our kids. We love to hug, kiss and just generally be close. (That doesn’t translate to people other than my wife and kids, though. i.e., please don’t give me a lingering hug or rub my back. Just sayin’.)
Caleb was easy to figure out – he was and is just like us in his love language. When he watches TV, he wants one of us literally at his side. He asks for family hugs and wants me to hold him while we read together. Then there was Logan! For a while, I was having a hard time figuring him out. We worried that he felt left out or disconnected. He’d play alone, leave the rest of us to actually go upstairs and be by himself or literally just lay down in his bed. I tried to engage him by playing with him and he’d seem like he liked it for a while and then just stop interacting with me and play alone. Caleb would come in and I’d try to play with them both and Logan would yet again either leave or just almost ignore us. This really bugged me for a while because I couldn’t tell if it was just a more solitary personality or if he really felt like somehow we weren’t pursuing him the way he wanted to be pursued.
One day I took Logan with me to run a few errands. Because of schedules with naps and how much Caleb likes to come with me whenever I leave the house, I usually either only took Caleb or both of them. But that day it was just me and Logan. An interesting thing happened. He talked. Normally a pretty quiet kid, Logan talked with me all the way to the store…and in the store…and on the way home. And I noticed something else as well. When we did get home he seemed to be more engaged. When we played, he wanted to be a part. He was also more interested in the hugs and kisses we so loved to give out. What happened? I realized we were witnessing the playing out of a different love language…quality time. My Logan just needed to know that he was worth singling out. That I wanted to spend time with him specifically. Now, we try to make sure he gets the quality time he needs and as a family we have more momentum toward becoming the kind of people who know and love being together.
Knowing people at the level where I can see these kinds of things isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s outright hard:
- Time. This level of knowledge requires investment and there’s limited time in the day.
- Emotion. To dig in at this level requires strong emotional strength and maturity. This can get messy at times. And to be honest, I don’t always handle it well. My attitude can tend to be a bit like a drill instructor. This is an area of real growth for me.
- Chemistry. What if you don’t really want to get to know someone because you just don’t mesh with them? Either you have a lot of baggage in the relationship or you don’t mind working with them but just don’t want anything other than that? It can be hard to see the benefit of getting to know someone you don’t really love being around anyway.
Andy Stanley said something that helped me begin to better handle issues like this. Not all things are problems to be solved. Sometimes things we see as problems are, in fact, tensions to be lived with. In other words, there are tensions in life that are good to maintain. In this case, the tension lies in balancing the real constraints of our time, energy and connections with others with the equally real need for our leadership to be guided by a deeper knowledge of those on our teams. I think of it like an equation. This may be overly simplistic, but let’s say we have 2 variables – Constraints (time, emotion, chemistry) and Investments (in more deeply knowing others). Here’s how they may play out:
- Constraints – Investments = Lost potential
- Investments – Constraints = Burnout
- Investments / Constraints = Enduring Impact
Choosing to invest within the constraints we have on our lives will give us an edge on becoming the best dads and leaders we can be. I’m still figuring all this out myself, but here’s a few things I’ve learned so far. First, don’t mistake the level of depth you have to have with each person. In the context of the story above all I had to do was:
- Be aware enough to know there was a disconnect
- Be intentional enough to try something different (make sure my trip was done when I could take him alone)
- Observe his reactions
- Adjust or Replicate based on my observations
In the context of work, as you interact with your family and teams, be observant. Try different words, activities and approaches. Experiment and see what works. For me, simply being aware of these people has altered the dynamic and provided the effects of deeper relationship. And like all things you learn in life, failure is not only inevitable, it’s may even be good. Sometimes failing can be the opportunity to go to someone and apologize. When they see you’re willingness to be humble and admit wrong or failure, you become more human to them. (Done this more than once and recently…)
A few words of caution here. If you decide to undertake this because you hope to learn enough about people so you can change them for your goals or so they’ll be more likely to do what you want them to – please DON’T. You learn about people because you care and want to lead them well. If you get that out of whack the only thing you’ll leave behind is a mess.
To do this you’re going to have to create a plan. If you were going to do this without one you would have already. Having a plan provides structure to your activities. It gives you something to measure against. Something to optimize. If you have no structure and you win or lose it is very difficult to know what caused the result and how to adjust or replicate in the next interaction.
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
- Intentional touch points with those you lead and an agenda in those touch points.
- Kids: dates, spontaneous donut runs, dinner time, bedtime routine, etc.
- Teams: “walking the halls,” daily/weekly meetings, team huddles (spontaneous or planned), taking different people to lunch, outside events, etc.
- Have accountability. If you were one of the 2% that had the internal discipline and force of will to accomplish the goal, you would have already. Share your desire, plan and concerns with some one. And then be accountable.
- Ask questions. Always look for opportunities to take questions one level deeper to know the person. Learn not just what they are doing or thinking, but why? How did the get where they are? What do they want and why?
I heard it once said that if you want to like something more, learn more about it. Knowledge creates interest. The more you learn about the people you lead, the more interest you will have in them. And when you know more and are more interested in those you lead, the more momentum you’ll gain with them when it comes time to take them somewhere. A side benefit of this is having a greater perspective and appreciation for what is really important. If we kept in mind the real ultimate goal of legacy (adding value to those we lead) how many of our arguments would we let go? Or “chances to teach” would we see as just nagging? How much more effective could we be by seeing with the eyes of those we lead?