Qualities of a Caring Leader: Understanding

by Ron
Source: Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons

Source: Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons

We need to be acutely aware of other people’s needs, focus, dreams, and abilities before we can help them achieve.

For years the late cartoonist Charles Schulz delighted us as his Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Linus, and even Snoopy provided a window into the complex (and funny) realm of human relations.

Lucy, the extroverted big sister of Linus, was no exception. Her love affair with the Beethoven-loving Schroeder is legendary. Often we see Lucy stretched out by Schroeder’s piano, watching him with longing eyes. Or she is asking a question or demanding his attention in some other way. Schroeder is oblivious to Lucy, so she tries harder and harder to win his heart. In the end, nothing works. Lucy usually loses her temper and pouts, once again the frustrated lover.

What Lucy never gets is how a change in her approach might improve her chances at winning Schroeder’s attention. Lucy’s entire focus is on her needs, not Schroeder’s. Every attempt to secure the heart of the piano genius is from her perspective, not his. Her compassion is entirely self-focused and has little or nothing to do with him and his needs. No matter how bold or romantic she is, Lucy never gets close to Schroeder because she never learns to first understand him.

Increased understanding of others usually leads to better relationships. Our frame of reference becomes their needs, not our own. It becomes a habit to seek to understand our bosses, our direct-reports, and our peers. This understanding is not developed for manipulative purposes. It is an attempt to help people grow and develop by first seeking to understand them—their motives, needs, and styles. Once we understand others and their individual preferences, we can better communicate with them, train them, and lead them.

Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. In 1864 the New York Herald explained how Lincoln was able to overcome the difficulties of guiding the nation during the Civil War—“Plain common sense, a kindly disposition, a straight forward purpose, and a shrewd perception of the ins and outs of poor, weak human nature.”

Lincoln was a master at getting out to meet and know the people—from generals to office workers: “Lincoln gained commitment and respect from his people because he was willing to take time out from his busy schedule to hear what his people had to say.” From this information, Lincoln came to understand his people. From this understanding, he motivated them, challenged them, and moved them to achieve.

It is always interesting, upon entering an airplane, to look into the cockpit and see all those dials and gauges. Each one has a purpose. Many help properly guide the aircraft to its final destination. If the pilots don’t monitor the right instruments, they won’t have a clear picture of the flight, where they are going, how fast they are traveling, how high they are flying, or even if the craft is right side up.

Similarly, if we do not read all the “gauges” of other people, we will be forced to guess what their behavior and words really mean. Learning to read gauges gives you the ability to understand and respond to others based on their needs and frames of reference.

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