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Posted by on Nov 20, 2013

Just Remember. People Are No Damned Good.

DamnPeopleOnce in a while, someone in a leadership development workshop says something that seems to reveal a fundamental truth, a perspective that greatly illuminates the topic at hand and greatly raises awareness.

This happened recently when I was working with a group of leaders in the Midwest. We were talking about the admittedly somewhat abstract topic of worldview. This term means the way a leader interprets reality – how he or she sees things. Examples of worldview might include, “If I really want something to be done, I have to do it myself,” or “You have to really watch your back,” or “You have to do whatever it takes to get to the top.”

Worldview is powerful. It sets the frame for how life is experienced, and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to see how significantly it impacts how one seeks to lead others. What is particularly problematic is that leaders are often unaware of how their deeply imbedded worldviews affect how others react to them.

In the session I was conducting, the head of the organization related how, on his predecessor’s last day, literally, as he was walking out the door for the last time, he turned to his successor and said the following words.

“Just remember. People are no damned good.”

If there was any confusion about what I meant by worldview, it ought to be cleared up by now.

Consider, if you will, the kinds of behavior, communication, interaction, thinking and emotion that come out of a worldview of “people are no damned good.”

You probably get things like micromanagement, suspicion, lack of trust, inspection, hostility and distance.

Imagine how it must feel to be an employee treated this way.

I will not try to argue here that some employees have not richly earned the kind of reputation imbedded in the participant’s worldview. Maybe they were milking the system, or playing a game.

The problem is that when such an interpretation is applied to an entire organization, it forges a culture that practically guarantees dysfunction, negative emotion and resentment.

And here’s a really big problem. The people I have worked with who hold such a worldview are almost always oblivious to the impact that it has on the behavior of others. They cannot see that the way they see things is dialing in the results they are getting. It is unconscious.
Meanwhile, blame, frustration, resentment and even anger at employees are expressed. Why won’t those people do the right thing? Why do they drag their feet? What’s wrong with them?

And so it goes.

One of the best book titles ever chosen was, “How Come Every Time I get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints are on the Knife?”

Here’s the key: By becoming aware of your own worldviews, you can start the process of asking yourself whether they serve you and get the results you want. And how do you become aware of them? The best place to start is your patterned, chronic, recurring problems. You may recognize some fingerprints.

There should be no mistaking the fact that this is deep, subterranean work. It is not for the faint of heart nor easily discouraged. Recognizing patterns of interpretation that have set into motion workplace demotivation, disengagement, frustration or resentment is probably the hardest work a struggling leader could undertake. It may mean a long look in the mirror, admitting what some psychologists would call a “basic mistake.”

If you relate to any of the above, and think it’s possible that at least a part of the problem all along has been the way you see things, I recommend getting a leadership coach. He or she can help you work through the story of how you got where you are with your thinking, and set into motion new ways of thinking and acting that can be nothing short of transformational.

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