Our leadership blind spots

Movie night in our house is now a tradition. The movie selection process can begin as early as breakfast – and can sometimes take all of 12 hours to finalize. You might say that ‘quick decision making’ is an area of growth in our house. This weekend, we’d settled on “A Dog’s Purpose“. I considered this a win because I hadn’t seen it yet, and both of our daughters are fans of watching a movie many times. Make that many, many times. 

So when I got home and got the news that everyone had decided that it was too sad of a movie for the night and that they’d all agreed instead on Freaky Friday, I did a mental eye roll. After at least ten viewings, this was overdue to go the way of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the High School Musical series. Instead of agreeing, I set out to find a new option we could all agree on. Throwing our normal democratic decision making process to the winds, I announced that we would watch The Blind Side

It’s now a decade old but I still love the feel good story of the kid who gets a chance due to the kindness of strangers. But what hit me last night was the story of Big Mike’s seeming inability to learn, as determined by a raft of elementary and middle school teachers, as the source of his failing grades. And yet despite the opinions of these so-called experts, some in his new environment who saw Mike with a fresh set of eyes saw something different. Not an inability to learn, but an inability to learn in the way classroom education is traditionally taught. 

When “they” can’t learn

In our own day to day, a similar challenge goes far beyond classroom learning. It’s about how many of us as leaders lead and informal teachers teach and communicate: in the manner that we were taught and that makes most sense to us. Or as this piece in Pioneering Collective plainly states: “With the ability to inform, persuade, and empower, communication is a leader’s most powerful tool. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and the world’s greatest leaders understand that effective leadership cannot exist without effective communication.”

So what’s effective? When our message gets through as we intend it to. A picture is indeed worth 1,000 words in this classic scene when Leanne, Big Mike’s new guardian, teaches the football coach how to do his job. She’s a designer, not a football coach, an athletic champion or a teacher. So how could she know better than the coach? She listened, watched, and saw what mattered to Mike. She adapted her approach to one that would connect with him and eloquently and quickly got her message across in a way that stuck. In fact, it stuck well enough to create an entirely new life for Mike.

How many of us chalk up our inability to get our message through to someone else’s inability, or unwillingness, to learn? How often do we lose some of the richest talent with invaluable perspectives and ideas to a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating, teaching and motivating, missing the chance to make the most of who they are? What if the solution for those we see as unteachable involves not just them needing to adapt but ourselves as well?

In response to one friend’s fawning praise, “Leanne,  you’re changing that boy’s life”, a knowing smile spreads across Leanne’s face as she says, “No, he’s changing mine.” Just as each of us are when we learn to communicate, connect and motivate those around us to make the most of who they are. A blindsiding experience to be sure.

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