Go ahead and put away any unfinished leadership book because I am going to tell you one way that you can positively affect your leadership capability.
Let me illustrate with a story.
A couple of weeks ago I received a text from Fred, my banker.
I love living in a small town. I have yet to go to Wal-Mart and not see somebody I know. I can’t rake the leaves in my front yard without stopping to talk to passers-by. And my banker texts me.
He texts stuff like:
“Hey, did you want to make a payment on your equity line?” Translation: It’s overdue idiot.
“Hey, did Sam buy books this weekend and not tell you?” Translation: He’s got $0.52 in his account with a pending debit to Krispy Kreme.
Or the one we’ll talk about in this blog . . .
“Hey, did you know that one of your accounts was waaaay overdrawn?” Translation: Hey, idiot, your account is overdrawn.
Upon receiving that text, I immediately got online to see what had happened. One look at the number in question and I knew.
About two weeks prior, Christy and I had to fork over our last quarterly estimated tax payment for 2017. For those of you who are not self-employed, once your employer sets this up you probably don’t think about those deductions much. For the self-employed, writing one large check every quarter only fuels the angst against our government for wasting so much of our hard earned money.
Nevertheless, we must pay.
I wrote the first check to the U.S. Treasury department.
The second check would be to the State of Alabama. Only there was no check left in our checkbook. I wrote the last one to the Federal government.
No problem, I thought. I had previously ordered checks and I was sure that they came in the mail the day before. They had not.
I panicked, because of course I waited until the last possible day to pay taxes. So I began scouring the house like Uncle Billy looking for that missing $8,000 in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Luckily, Christy came to my rescue.
“I think I saw a check in my car the other day. Let’s see, was it in my car? Or was it in my sock drawer? Or maybe it was in that thingy in the kitchen where we keep everything that doesn’t have a home? Hang on, lemme look.”
Wisely, I kept silent. Now was not the time to comment on her filing system. After all, there was a chance she could help me.
She came back to me with a sheepish grin on her face. “Will this work?”
I took the check from her hand. It was about five-sixths the size of a normal check. It looked like it had been cut to fit those four slots for a business card in a marketing brochure. There was no trim. No border. Just a check. Fortunately, the routing and account numbers remained in tact, so I gave it a shot.
The fact that the State of Alabama accepted this check proves how desperate our government is for revenue.
I hastily filled out the accompanying paperwork and mailed it so it could be postmarked on time.
A couple of weeks later is when Fred texted me.
Since the check cleared, I was puzzled. Then it came to me. Christy had given me a check . . . from the wrong account. Ends up that Sam had a lot more pending on his account than Krispy Kreme donuts. Perhaps now was the appropriate time to revisit Christy’s filing system.
Instead, I bit my tongue.
I did something counter-intuitive. I assumed that Christy had positive intent.
Leaders establish direction, guide people toward that direction, and take steps to ensure their organization is marching toward that direction. So what is a leader to do when a follower falls out of line?
Here are some typical knee jerk reponses:
(1) Why is this person trying to make me look bad?
(2) Why are they attempting to undermine me?
(3) What’s their angle? Who are they trying to impress?
(4) Why is this person mad? Is this payback?
Rather than go down this path, why not flip the script? Why not assume that the other person means well, but may be misinformed? Or that they are unaware of their mistake?
Assuming positive intent prevents a leader from:
(1) Looking silly — Had I confronted Christy about her filing system, her natural (and justified) response would have been “You asked for a check. I gave you one. You didn’t specify an account.” Touche.
(2) Appearing weak, cynical, or distrustful — leaders motivate people. When was the last time you were motivated by someone demonstrating these traits?
(3) Building team — if employees sense their leader is looking out for ole #1, guess who will follow suit?
(4) Building trust — you think Christy will bring me a check the next time I ask? Probably so. Had I pointed out her mistake and criticized her organizational skills, I’d still be doing my best Uncle Billy.
Besides, assuming negative intent is EXHAUSTING. Such an approach requires you to “keep score” with everyone you meet, tabulating whether or not they have done enough to earn your trust.
It makes you a bad listener too. Trying to catch someone in a trap is a terrible way to enter a conversation. Such an approach puts both parties in the talk on the defensive.
And finally, negative intent creates a strong headwind for a leader trying to build a culture that balances results and relationships.
And you can take that check to the bank!
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