Everyday we work, meet and interact with people inside (and outside) our organizations. We become accustomed to our colleagues and peers and their behaviors: What they have done in the past is what we expect them to continue to do. Truthfully, we seldom change our expectations and consequently, our perceptions of the behaviors, motivations and capabilities of those we “know.”
Everything someone is or does is filtered through our perceptions, and getting what we expect is a self-fulfilling act. If we expect bad behavior, poor attitudes and negativity, we will continue to receive it—or perceive that we are continuing to receive it—regardless of the intent of the other person. In other words, we actually perpetuate behaviors by having low expectations, setting the tone for the relationship with our demeanor and attitude, or by filtering communications through our own negativity.
Seeing Is Believing
We see the expected behavior. We become accustomed to the “bad egg” in an organization or group. Where one person sees stubbornness and –resistance, an outsider with no past experience may see intellectual inquiry, a need to understand or a different perspective that sees weak points to be addressed, alternatives that should be considered or other “positive” motives behind the questions, comments and concerns. The difference in interpretation comes from expectation and a lack of—or too much—history.
The perceived personality clashes can be real, but they don’t have to be counterproductive. Differing perspectives can be important to and give a richness and complexity to both problems and opportunities. Even the most curmudgeonly critic or the most pessimistic commentator can provide insight into a situation that may not have been considered. There is a time and a place for conscious objections: looking at a glass a half-empty instead half full keeps us from wearing blinders and seeing things in only the most optimistic light. If you think criticism is bad for business, then think again. A good challenge to an accepted view can bring innovation and an opportunity to identify the barriers and obstacles before you start.
Harvest the Obstacles and Harness the Potential
For every objection, identify a solution. For every obstacle, find an alternative path. Learning to anticipate the potential (and real) problems that an organization might otherwise conceal or ignore before an action or implementation, before capital and other resources are committed provides for contingencies. You will be ready for things to go wrong, and half the battle in prevention and in mitigation is being prepared.
Where surprises often disrupt or derail a project (and organizations as a whole), seeking out the obstacles and looking for the pitfalls is beneficial. Diversity of thought is often the biggest asset an organization can have in looking toward the future.
Personalities sometimes clash. Some people don’t fit into the cultural mold. This doesn’t have to be a negative situation when the differences are managed, understood and valued. It does require leadership and management to not let personality and stylistic differences bring projects to a screeching halt. Developing those skills can be just as important or even more important to organizational success than other abilities.
Strength of leadership within an organization rests with the ability to leverage the talents, abilities and diversity of perspectives throughout the entity and its life stages. An organization in which everyone is in agreement and always shares the same perspective is destined to failure (sooner or later), because important questions aren’t asked, assumptions aren’t challenged and innovation is stifled by a homogenous view (or a reluctance or incapability to differ in opinion and perspective). While a core “strength” may be present, weaknesses are all too often compounded and exponentially magnified by a lack of dissenting opinion.
Leaders and organizations should be strong enough and confident enough to take in criticisms and opposing opinions, evaluate validity, look at the differing perspectives and lead from a broadened perspective. Leaders aren’t leading if they constantly focused on who is catching up with them, rather than staying ahead of the crowd.
Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC
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