Only Great Leaders Have No Filter

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on  Unsplash

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

Anyone with the slightest amount of objectivity would agree that we look at ourselves, other people, our circumstances, and everything else around us through filters that we have consciously or subconsciously constructed. We simply see what we look at and find what we look for, and take what we see as “the truth” for granted while rejecting every other perspective as wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to support them. But knowing this makes no difference when we feel strongly about our worldview. When we are right, we are right and that’s that! We make up our mind which politician we are going to support or which department we are going to give our allegiance to, come hell or high water, and we end up doing everything we can to point to the speck in “those other people’s” eye while ignoring the plank in our own. We all have the tendency to act as if a foolish consistency is some kind of virtue, rather than “the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson put it.

The impact of this phenomenon on workplace culture shows up in the form of rapid degradation of collaboration and teamwork on a broader scale and significant losses both in terms of KPI’s as well as the level of satisfaction and fulfillment among team members. Unless it is intentionally managed, people’s natural tendency to gravitate toward others with similar views will quickly drive a wedge between people, departments, or functions, creating an “every man for himself” culture that is focused on survival at the expense of sub-optimizing the whole and compromising what is possible.

Although much of what I’ve been talking about can be attributed to “human nature,” it is also in our nature to change our nature in accordance with our goals and intentions. This tendency can be managed and it is every leader’s responsibility to actively influence people to see the world from a different point of view that is more conducive to success and fulfilment. In other words, to offer them a different lens to look through than the one they consciously or automatically chose in the past. And unless this process starts with the leader himself/herself, it is simply not going to work. A leader who does not recognize, let alone admit to, his/her own biases will never be effective at breaking down silos and causing others to actively and openly discuss their differences and collaborate toward achieving common objectives.

I am certain that, during my 31 year corporate career, I have been guilty of everything that I have discussed on this blog countless times and I consider myself fortunate to have had courageous people around me who were willing to point out the error of my ways and demand a course correction. I was confronted by a member of my team once for having a negative bias toward the people in one function in my operation while cutting another function a whole lot of slack. I didn’t see it at first but after a few nudges, I began to see that he was right and I corrected my behavior. I have also done the same for others when they weren’t able to see that their worldview was biased and driven by their past experiences, as opposed to by a vision of what is possible in the future. As much as I’d love to talk about my successes in this area, I have had plenty of failures. I was once in a role that resided in the Supply Chain function but had dotted line reporting relationships both up and down with the R&D function. I tried for months to convince my counterparts in each function to stop viewing the other function as antagonistic. I failed miserably. At the end of my two year assignment, the adversarial relationship was still there and I was known by both functions as the guy who was naive enough to only see the positive in the other function.

By contrast, I have also had many experiences along the way in causing people to see the world differently and therefore completely transforming their lives and the lives of the people around them.

Every leader ought to make a commitment to examine their own filters and look for every opportunity to have others do the same. I’m not just talking about their biases toward or against other people but their view of what’s possible and their perception of just what challenges they can overcome and at what point they ought to just throw in the towel and give up.

The problem with identifying and exchanging the filters that shape our reality is that they are invisible and apparently non-existent to us. So, how are we to manage our filters and increase our chances of catching a glimpse of reality as it is? The solution is simple if you are genuinely interested in implementing it:

1.       Take any aspect of your professional or personal life that you are willing to examine more closely and make a list of all of your assumptions in that area. What do you know to be true?

2.       Physically write down as many of your assumptions as you can possibly think of.

3.       Enlist the help of someone who is willing to be honest and straight with you and challenge your assumptions. This cannot be your buddy that you commiserate with, but someone who might sometimes rub you the wrong way by calling you out.

4.       Once you identify the assumptions that need to be adjusted, get in action to get to the root of why you are holding on to those assumptions and where they came from. Then let them go, commit to approaching reality with fresh eyes, and intentionally replace those outdated assumptions with new, productive ones.

Once you take this approach for a test drive and begin to realize the liberation and the dramatic shift in your results, you will be hooked on not only exploring your own filters further but actively looking for ways to create the conditions for others to do the same.

Do you know someone who could use this advice and should go through the above steps? How about you, yourself? Are you willing to pick a topic and go through the steps to examine your filters and adjust them? I would encourage you to just go through the steps, even if you don’t think you need to. You can pick from a variety of topics such as the vision you have for your organization, or the amount of engagement you have from your team members, or the satisfaction you feel in your career, and even assumptions you hold outside of work. The more certain you are about something, the more you ought to examine that assumption. What have you got to lose?

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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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