Don’t Let the System Lead You Astray

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen R. Coveylisten

INC online has a very cool article – 365 Quotes to Inspire You in 2014, by Dave Kerpen.    I bookmarked it, and hopefully will be able to find it again when I want to add quotes to a presentation or article.  That, of course, will depend upon whether or not my logic of filing today is the same as my logic for searching tomorrow.  That’s not where I’m going with this, though.

As I was perusing the list of 365 very powerful statements that truly do inspire, the question that loomed large was….why, when everyone loves these quotes and is hugely inspired by them do we still have behaviors that are not aligned with those espoused?

I’m not sure when Covey made the statement about people not listening with the intent to understand but the intent to reply, but I suspect it was a few years ago and several hundred thousand of us have read and been inspired to change our behavior.  I will be the first to admit that while my intentions are good, I continue to frame my own response as I listen to others speak.

The topics in Kerpen’s list of 365 inspirational quotes are terrific….authenticity, transparency, teamwork, responsiveness, humility….by such leaders as Jefferson, Churchill, King, Ghandi, Mother Teresa.

My question about all of this is somewhat rhetorical, but one worth pondering.  When we read these inspirational quotes or hear an inspirational speaker share wisdom that we truly believe is important to embrace, why don’t we do it…all the time?

systemFrom my point of view, the simple answer to that rhetorical question is “the system gets in the way.”  I don’t always listen to understand, because the system has trained me to need to appear knowledgeable, and therefore I cannot afford to not multi-task and conceptualize my response, or I might be seen as not knowledgeable.

In organizations, the system is a powerful magnet that keeps us tethered to behaviors that may not be the behaviors that we would choose were the pull of the magnet less strong.   Let’s take authenticity in leadership.

I believe that leaders, for the most part, want to be authentic – goodness knows there’s been enough inspirational business books written describing authenticity, and inspiring us to exhibit those behaviors.

Why would a leader not behave authentically?

Perhaps they don’t have the confidence or skill to speak authentically, because their boss told them to “keep it to yourself and don’t share with your team.”  An inexperienced manager may not realize that there are ways to share information without disclosing something of confidential nature, and so they say that they don’t know or deflect the question, but then acts on the confidential information that then confuses the team.

Perhaps they don’t agree with a decision made by senior leadership, but they feel they must communicate it as if they do.  Employees are perceptive, and pick up quickly when words and non-verbal communication don’t match.  Inexperienced leaders haven’t yet learned how to authentically represent the decision, while remaining true to their own feelings.

Perhaps the leader is overwhelmingly busy, as so many leaders are today.  Facing deadlines and demands, their stress gets the best of them, and they snap at the team.  Without being comfortable apologizing authentically, the team grows frustrated.

Each of these “systems issues” can deflect authentic behavior and although leaders want to be authentic, are caught up in what the system is asking of them.

How can we make inspirational quotes and books actionable?
Pick up a mirror.

If you are moved by an inspirational quote, and vow to be guided by it, you probably see a need for change within yourself.  Pick up that mirror and talk to yourself, identifying what it is you want to change, why you feel it is important to change, and what you are going to do differently.

Write it down and put it somewhere visible.

Tape it to your wall, or put it on your desktop.  But, and here’s the important thing, don’t forget about it.  Place is somewhere where you glance over before you make a statement or write an email, to remind yourself about your commitment.

Acknowledge the system.

When you feel that uneasy feeling that you are not being true to your commitment, look around you to see where the system is guiding you differently.  If you aren’t sure how to behave within the system and still be true to your commitment, seek out a wise mentor or friend for help.  Sometimes it simply takes speaking out loud to come up with the answer, or sometimes it takes advice from a wise counsel.

Review your own performance.  Authentically.

Set aside some time to look back and see how well you were able to be true to both the system and your own commitment to yourself.  Perhaps a journal for “successes” would be a great way to recognize how far you have come, and what you have learned.

A New Year’s Resolution?

All the inspirational quotes in the world won’t change behavior.  Only you can change your own behavior.  Perhaps this is a great way to start the New Year?

Perhaps there is also a lesson for corporate America to aim to fix the system first, then inspire.  Otherwise, it becomes a wee bit frustrating.

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