“Driving me crazy”

That was the thought that often popped into my mind early in my career (well, perhaps even later than I care to admit) when my colleagues and I worked together. Yes, I valued diversity and respected others but I was frustrated by those certain personalities or work styles that I just thought were “wrong” and certainly not effective at work! In fact, I remember during a strategic planning session I was leading how frustrated I was getting with the behaviors of a team member. She kept interrupting others, would cut people off when they asked questions. She was rolling her eyes and shaking her head as we discussed goals. Despite my frustration I utilized a strategy that I have found effective as a leader. I asked myself, “I wonder why she is behaving like that?,” instead of jumping to a conclusion. As the meeting went on, I focused on listening to understand her point of view. Through careful listening what I discovered was that she was extremely passionate about the goals. She wasn’t trying to be difficult or derail the meeting I had planned for our team. Behaviors that I perceived as aggravating were actually her demonstrating her commitment and confidence in our team.

The leadership competency we are focusing on in January is “Understand Self and Others”. This means all others, not just those work personalities and styles I like or make sense to me! As leaders, our biggest challenges often occur with those people whose style or behaviors just don’t make sense to us. That is where we need to stretch ourselves and work hardest to understand others. An “ah-ha” moment that has helped me understand others was when a wise person said “they are not doing it to drive you crazy.” People do what makes sense to them from their own perspective, just like you do.

This insight has helped me as a leader better understand others by refocusing my attention to seeking information. I ask myself “I wonder why” that makes sense to that person? This simple question refocuses my energy and opens me up to understand others. Instead of feeling frustrated or angry I am able to approach them from a sense of wonder. I can ask questions or listen differently or look for other information that helps me better understand them and appreciate the differences between us.

As a leader what behaviors or styles tend to drive you crazy and how can you move to a sense of wonder to better understand those that you lead?

Todd Thorsgaard


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