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I don’t know what started it or how it happened, but the moment I step on stage or begin to train a program or lead an audience, there are truly no stupid questions. There is zero judgment and zero finger pointing or criticism of any participants. (even the ones any other person might call down-right difficult!) The entire goal and my entire focus is helping those in attendance to absorb the information and break down resistance to the message or knowledge. However, if you change gears and put me in an airport, wow, does that ability to make judgments about demeanor, speed of walking, outfits, or who’s having red wine on an 8am flight, return quick. I’m not proud of it, but I’m fascinated by the difference. In one scenario, acceptance of differences is a given, a minimal expectation of behavior. In fact, I cannot imagine doing it any differently. In another scenario I’m impersonating a shallow high school teen who believes she’s omniscient. Is this just me? Or would a conversation about judgment have value? Phrased in the way of giving people permission to be just different (like they need our input to do so!) seems an easy way to digest what we’re actually doing and in today’s Monday Moment, we’ll break the conversation down into three sections.

1.      What Leads Judgment?

Oddly enough, our brains do. We are wired to seek out the causes of social behavior. We are consistently trying to answer the questions of “Why did I do that?” or “Why did he do that?” As Dr. Hall, of the University of Michigan, wrote for Psychology Today, “there are two types of attributions we make about others’ behavior: Situational and Personality. When we make situational attributions, we believe their behavior is due to something in their situation. Personality attributions are more about the person’s character. When we make these attributions, we believe the behavior is due to the person’s personality. Assuming that same coworker who was short with us is impatient or unkind is making a personality attribution.” But an attribution is different than judgment. We attribute a reason for the behavior or what motivated a behavioral choice. It’s when we decide if the behavior is good or bad or similar to our own belief systems that judgment makes an appearance. Can leaders really afford to spend so much time in making first an attribution or basis for the behavior, and second a decision about the motivation? No, is the answer, and yet we do it as part of the way in which we’re wired. Quite naturally our brains are wired to make automatic judgements about others’ behaviors, so that we can move through the world without spending too much time or energy on understanding everything.

2.      Why Does it Matter if Leaders Judge Differences?

Even if we’re talking about literally outsmarting our brains natural wiring, for leaders this issue of judgment and permission in the face of differences makes a BIG difference. Promotions and raises are often based on differing performance. The time we spend as leaders in developing others, expecting them to make improvements, or providing them with resources, is based on the attribution and decisions we are making when judging their actions and differences. In other words, your judgement of those you have the privilege of leading is contributing to whether or not you are pleased with them, their behavior, and their performance.

3.      What is the Key to Truly Leading a Diverse Workforce?

The answer is to lead without judgment assigned to each person’s differences. That statement is easy to make and quite difficult to do, enact, or carry out day to day. Or is it? Can we lead in a way that we see simply a variety of people we’ve been tasked with leading who each bring different contributions and will have different ways of understanding our message or direction? Can we lead others without considering the “why they don’t get it” as a negative, but more simply, just information that they don’t, and we need to give what we’re giving them differently? Both questions deserve a yes. Both questions answered with a yes would be the ideal way to effectively lead a diverse work force in which there are team members of all different backgrounds, beliefs, values, insights, origins, perspectives, personalities and preferences. Yet, both questions cause us to go against our natural wiring and provoke a need to fight our instinct of trying to explain social behaviors in our office. Can we fight mother nature? Ever watched a first responder run into an event from which others are quickly leaving?

No one needs our permission to be different and whether we gave such permission or not wouldn’t change the existence of their differences. But, where power dynamics are frequent, in an office or organizational setting, some leaders are lulled into the belief that nothing happens without their permission. Some believe power from a role or title grants them permission when the real power lies in letting go of both the need to give permission or to find the motivation for doing things in a way that’s different. Maybe it’s time to give ourselves, as leaders, the permission to exercise far less judgment and much more acceptance. Heck, since not everyone is willing to do that, wouldn’t that act alone be giving ourselves permission to be different?

Ready to Take the Become a Better Leader Challenge?

Each Monday Moment shares a Become a Better Leader Challenge relevant to that week’s topic. This week your mission, should you wish to make rapid improvement ahead of next week’s Monday Moment is this:

  • Track discreetly how often you negatively judge someone at work for being different
  • Track the time you would save if you weren’t spending time finding differences and being frustrated with them.

You’re on your way and you’re ready to become that better leader by Monday.

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

 Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.

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