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Is this what you believe about Koala Bears? What else might you believe that could be false?

She didn’t stutter. She said crazy, wicked, evil little bears will scratch your eyes out. I laughed and then wondered if she was serious. What if I saw a Koala and was attacked? Could this headline be true?

By the time you read this I will be nestled aboard Delta jetting to Sydney Australia to provide Make Difficult People Disappear training to members of the financial industry. It’s my first time to Australia and as I told a colleague of my desire to see a Koala there in my spare time, she described the bear as evil and not so cute and cuddly. We laughed, but I started thinking. How often do we see things one way and those we lead or work with, see things in a completely opposite manner? How often do we THINK things are one way, when in actuality they are something quite different? And when it happens what do we do about it? Leaders respond and here’s how they do it:

Gather More Data

Perhaps I could have said “What do you mean by crazy and evil, claw your eyes out”? (Though her words seemed fairly clear.) Do I believe her beliefs or continue with my cute and cuddly theory? When an employee says something you don’t agree with or believe, do you instantly change your belief? Do you go through an immediate paradigm shift or do you hold on to your belief and wait for proof? I often choose to maintain my current belief. Call it stubborn or a sense of control and in this case, you may call it the way in which I get my eyes clawed out. Ha! However, what the best leaders do is ask for more information. They gather data and look for holes in their own beliefs. They seek out more details and then begin to make their own modifications or convictions about what they believed. In the case of a cuddly Koala, I threw caution to the wind. That kind of freedom doesn’t exist when employees or jobs are on the line in your workplace based on your beliefs about new information.

Test New Theories

I’m sure some Koala handler will know the safe staring distance for me and my future Koala encounter. However, if you are the leader and someone is testing your belief and saying that what you believe is simply untrue, gather new data and then start testing. Testing is much different than leading by trial and error. Testing your new potential theory involves creating boundaries, setting up a safe space in which to test, and trying out parts of your hypothesis, followed by a thorough assessment of the outcome and requisite adjustments, if any, to be made. A leader who doesn’t test a new belief will likely fall into old habits of behavior, which in a new environment, will no longer work. A leader who doesn’t test a new belief will find themselves flying by the seat of their proverbial pants and wondering why they landed on their tuccus. The challenge is that in both cases, in a lack of testing, those who suffer will be those you have the privilege of leading. Let’s use an example. Perhaps your customer’s need has changed dramatically over night and without notice. You gather data, limited as it may be unless you are able to ask a statistically relevant sample of your client base, and then direct the marketing department to change everything, the manufacturing arm to rekey several machines, and the sales team to stop selling the old product and wait for new ones. Those actions have significant consequences that could cost a company a quarter’s worth of revenue. In short, testing is cheaper.

Consider the Consequences

In the case of my Koala encounter, I will indeed exercise more caution than I may have thought necessary before. I will still go to see one and I will still likely stick my hand through the cage, if one exists, just as I did as a child even in front of the beware of “rabid dog” sign. The consequences of a crazy wicked animal lunging at me are to be feared and yet my love of animals trumps that fear. For some the love of their own beliefs being right, also trumps common sense. For others, the love of being able to prove someone wrong or do it just because someone said they couldn’t is a hefty motivator. Yet, as a leader, it has value to consider the consequences of that which you believe to be true. What would happen if that customer base did change? What would happen if what that employee just said about your favorite star performer stealing was true? What would happen if a manager colleague you didn’t know well said they thought your long time assistant of ten years was doing things to sabotage your success? It’s truly trust we’re talking about, isn’t it.

Leadership requires trust. One must trust one’s own instincts and judgment or test it if they don’t to find the answer right for them. A leader must trust the team he or she leads. They must trust him not to do something wild and crazy that will limit the length of their employment. Leaders must trust other leaders. The layers of trust in an organization could go on infinitum. Do they in your organization? Not all who warn of crazed cuddly bears are crazy themselves and yet, the question is do you believe what the team and employees and others tell you or do you risk making a headline? Your answer may differ from day to day, but the way in which you get to the answer is the part in which you have the most say.

I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay contagious!

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