Empowering Difficult People

During my last seminar on the ideal image of a leader, Sue asked, “How can you help people who don’t want to help themselves?”

I took some time to think about that.

Sue was talking about Ron, a co-worker of hers. At some point, Sue decided that Ron doesn’t want to help himself. But how true is that? Where did Sue get her evidence?

Sue did what most of us do. She interpreted Ron’s actions to mean that he doesn’t care. Then, she assumed that his past attitude would carry on into the future.

What Sue didn’t do was have a heart-to-heart with Ron. She didn’t listen to him to determine how real her assumptions and interpretations are. Instead, she just wrote him off – a common (and ineffective!) practice.

We all deal with stuff, all the time. At the same time, we don’t often think about what others are going through (there’s a great video on this). Who knows what Ron has dealt with already? Who, besides Ron, knows what he is dealing with now?

It’s very easy for us to jump to conclusions about the way people are. It’s called judging. We do it naturally. It’s not wrong, it’s just ineffective. A leader who judges others is less likely to inspire and empower them… and they are less likely to reach their peak potential. 

Leaders do their best work when they empower others to stretch themselves, risk failure, and learn from their actions. That happens when you remove assumptions and interpretations about the behavior of others. It happens when you talk about the stuff that needs to be discussed, without looking to blame or hurt anyone.

Sometimes that can be difficult. But a whole new world of opportunities opens up when you can start a conversation by asking, “I’m noticing you’re dealing with a lot of stuff. What’s really going on?” instead of assuming someone isn’t interested in improving their situation.

In what relationships are you are jumping to conclusions?