The Leader’s Posture of Understanding

I wrote in an earlier post about Stephen Covey’s habit, Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. Taking the time to understand another party is so important in setting the stage of building trust. If I don’t show any interest or effort in trying to understand you, why should you trust me? Especially if I am someone in a leadership position who will be attempting to move you in a agreed upon direction.

If we have a difference of opinion or perspective that is causing friction and inhibiting progress and momentum, then this difference needs to be addressed. Maybe the incorrect position is mine, maybe it’s not. Regardless, to reach an agreement, the differences must be discussed, and I need to hear you out, and you need to hear me out. As a leader, I should defer and make every attempt to understand your position first. To understand you requires, once again, some vulnerability and proximity. I will be “standing under” you. This requires a moment of submission, while I put my preconceived notions aside and listen without prejudice. I can’t do this at a distance. I must let you in, and you must let me in. But the leader takes the initiative in vulnerability.

Understanding means taking the time to seeing the matter at hand from the perspective of the other. I have to get into their context. “I see where you’re coming from.” It involves walking a mile in their moccasins. It requires some humility. Only once you have given your position and I have made every attempt to see it as you do, can I then give my perspective. By truly listening and understanding you, hopefully I have purchased the right for my perspective to be listened to and understood by you. Then, and only then, can a proper resolution be made. This resolution has a higher potential to be a win-win, rather than a one sided victory.

Empathy also comes into play. Not only must I see your perspective, I must feel it as well. In fact, one might venture to say that I can’t really see your perspective until I feel it. This takes much discipline, because empathy is a scarce tool in people’s emotional toolbox these days. Patience comes into play, as also the idea of being present in the moment. This can’t be rushed.

It’s also helpful that I, as the leader, approach the issue with an optimistic mindset, rather than a cynical one. I should give the you the benefit of the doubt. I should believe that you have the best interests of both parties at heart. Being shrewd is always recommended, (Jesus told his followers to be shrewd as serpents AND gentle as doves,) but a gentle hope in the other party complements any caution one might have coming to the table. Do your homework, be mindful, alert and aware, and take the time to be discerning. If any pretension is truly present, it will come to light .

Taking the time to understand the other is one of the best investments in fostering trust. Trust still remains one of the three core values needed to influence others. Take the time to stand under your people. This is the true posture of servant leadership.

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