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A Bridge to Nowhere…

| | General Leadership

Take a look at the photo below and ask yourself, what is the purpose of the dock? I was at a friends house the other day for the first time in daylight. Looking out from their kitchen window this is what I saw. The thought that instantly flashed in my head was, why the heck would anyone build what looked to me like a bridge that goes nowhere?

bridgetonowhereSo I asked about it. Turns out it is a dock and it actually does go somewhere even though it looked to me like a pathway that dead ends. It is actually a floating dock that enables you to walk across the marsh and a small stream to get to a trail on solid ground. That trail leads you to the beautiful Indian River Lagoon. You can’t see the Lagoon from their house because the vegetation is too high. And you couldn’t get directly to the water from their backyard because of the wetland. Now they can walk to the lagoon directly from their back yard.

Sometimes we look at what someone else did and think, what the heck were they thinking? We spout assessments like “what kind of idiot would ____________?” And we are absolutely right, in our own minds anyway, based on what we can see.

But what about what we can’t see? And what about all the things we have not even thought to consider that someone else might have?

There are often things we can’t see or understand unless we actually ask. For instance, that at the edge of that dock is a trail to the lagoon. Just because I can’t see it does not mean it is not there. And just because I don’t understand something does not mean it makes no sense.

I hear a lot of people say “management or leadership doesn’t have a clue”. Yet when you are thinking that or something like it I challenge you to consider whether you actually made a sincere attempt to find out what the parties involved were actually thinking. And if you think you have done that already, did you truly approach the conversation with an open mind or were you listening for evidence of your already formed conclusions?

It is human nature to at times make snap judgments. I certainly do sometimes. Yet even after we have made a snap judgment we can still make a choice about what to do with it. The bottom line is we can approach other people’s choices or point of view with curiosity or we can approach them with judgment and already formed conclusions. One will open possibility while the other is a sure way to shut it down. And when what we really want is progress curiosity is a much more productive choice.

It is also human nature to want to be listened to and heard. Employees expect their bosses to listen to them and to listen for the best in them. We expect leaders in our community, especially our elected officials, to do the same even if we did not personally vote for or appoint them.

Yet do we return the favor? Do we listen to them the way we want to be listened to? And do we speak about them when they are not around the way we would want them to speak about us?

Sometimes people make mistakes and they do stupid things. Sometimes they rise to their own level of incompetence. But I also think it is way too easy to make judgments that just aren’t grounded in anything other than our opinion and the limits of our own perceptions.

And rather than challenge the merits of our own and each others thinking, how often do we unwittingly jump on the bandwagon? Agreement from others does not make our beliefs any more true even though we often use it as evidence for truth. And when we let agreement fuel our righteousness we stop possibility in it’s tracks. If you want a live example of this consider the U.S. Heath Care reform debate. This phenomena is happening on both sides of the isle.

We talk a lot about what our leaders or managers can and should do for us. We talk about needing more and better leaders now more than ever. If that is what we really want I think we need to invest a little more of our attention on what we can do to support the people already in positions we refer to as management and/or leadership.

Maybe it is time to give the “boss” and/or our leaders a break. This is not about taking anyone off the hook for bad judgment, poor decisions or incompetence as a manager or a leader. I am not suggesting blindly following without challenging what does not make sense to you.

What I am talking about is sharing the responsibility for empowering leadership where we work and live. It is about empowering and respecting the people who are courageous enough to be accountable for someone and something other than themselves.

Leadership is not about us. However, I believe if we want leadership to flourish it is up to each and every one of us, both when we are leading and when we are following. What do you think?

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Enter A Comment

Wally Bock   |   20 September 2009   |   Reply

Sometimes that “bridge” is just waiting for the moment. In the salt marshes and tidal creeks there are docks that exist only for the time that the tide is in.

Susan Mazza   |   21 September 2009   |   Reply

Great point Wally, both literally and figuratively.

Mike Henry   |   23 September 2009   |  

Great post on perspective. I am a firm believer that if I knew what the other person did, I’d probably make the same decision. But the flip is true, if I know something they don’t, it’s my responsibility to share so that they make the best decisions they can. Congrats on making Wally’s Midweek Review too!

Susan Mazza   |   27 September 2009   |  

Excellent points Mike and well said.

Jeremy Nash   |   08 October 2009   |  

Very provocative, Susan. You mean, I need to take some responsibility? I can’t just throw harpoons off the deck? 🙂 What would it be like, I wonder, if, for one day, we walked down the path that our leaders and executives do? If we had to attend the meetings, make the phone calls, put out the fires? Our disappointment and frustration is so profound. Odd, isn’t it, how much we appreciate having our leaders ask US to step up, a la JFK and you could argue, Obama? There’s is an acknowledgment we are in this swamp together.

Pam Wyess   |   20 September 2009   |   Reply

Great post, Susan! I love the idea of approaching with curiosity rather than passing judgment. And of supporting our leaders rather than looking for ways to throw them under the bus. Lots of good food for thought 🙂

Susan Mazza   |   21 September 2009   |   Reply

I think seeing leaders/manager get “thrown under the bus” is one of the reasons some people don’t want to get promoted and why others don’t want to risk leading. Thanks for your comment Pam.

Nellie Felipe   |   23 September 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan~

Thank you for the insightful post. It made me stop and contemplate the times I have been guilty of doing just that. That is a great picture! I was definitely thinking to myself “What were they thinking???” But isn’t that life… we don’t really know until we “seek to understand”. Thank you for this great reminder that it is not always what it seems. Great writing!

Monica Diaz   |   20 September 2009   |   Reply

As always, Susan…I love your thinking here. Supporting leadership is part of creating a workable society, too! Think of how we approach government decisions in the same way. If someone built a bridge, it was meant for someone to cross at some time. Who? When? Why? Curiosity is always more productive than hasty conclusions. Being smart enough to ask or humble enough to seek understanding are great traits to have, and wise abilities to build upon.

Susan Mazza   |   21 September 2009   |   Reply

Well said Monica. I think sometimes we forget we are on the same team!

Anne Perschel   |   24 September 2009   |  

Susan – Thanks for this terrific post. You have a lovely way with words and images. You remind us to ask questions such as “What is it that I’m not seeing here?” and use methods like appreciative inquiry that help people explore and build on each others’ idea.

Anne Perschel, Leadership Psychologist
http://www.germaneconsulting.com

Susan Mazza   |   27 September 2009   |  

Thank you Anne. Always great to get feedback that my writing is delivering on my intention to help people explore and build on ideas.

Nellie Felipe   |   23 September 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan~ Thank you for the insightful post. It made me stop and contemplate the times I have been guilty of doing just that. That is a great picture! I was definitely thinking to myself “What were they thinking???” But isn’t that life… we don’t really know until we “seek to understand”. Thank you for this great reminder that it is not always what it seems. Great writing!

Susan Mazza   |   27 September 2009   |  

Thanks Nellie. it is amazing how easily we can miss opportunities to “seek to understand”.

Chuck Musciano   |   21 September 2009   |   Reply

Good post, Susan. I do think it is easy to jump to conclusions instead of diligently seeking more information before deciding the merits of some issue or decision, especially when you are down below, trying to figure out what is going on up above.

However, since leaders are supposed to, um, lead, I’d also ask leaders what they are doing to make it easier for their people to prove and figure things out. The leader’s view is very different, but if they don’t explain it periodically, or make themselves available to answer questions, their people have no choice but to act on their limited data.

Followers need healthy curiosity; leaders need to empower that curiosity with transparency and accountability.

Susan Mazza   |   21 September 2009   |   Reply

This is certainly not about letting leaders off the hook for communicating. Your last statement says it well: “Followers need healthy curiosity; leaders need to empower that curiosity with transparency and accountability.” Thanks for bring that to light here.

Joanne Maly   |   23 September 2009   |   Reply

Thanks Susan for the insightful post this evening. I need to thank my friend @eschreyer for alerting me to your blog.

I found your words particularly timely with the November elections upon all of us. This time of year can bring out the ugliest, nastiest and most aggressive (and oftentimes, personal) comments about our public servants who are already in office…. all in an effort to unseat an opponent. Sometimes it is a surprise to me that anyone wants to run for public office any longer.

I hope many read your post and see that there are indeed two sides and two views (or at least two ways of looking at the same view as your bridge-to-nowhere story demonstrates so well.)

Thanks much.
Joanne Maly
Lincoln Maly Marketing, Cincinnati, Ohio

Susan Mazza   |   27 September 2009   |  

Thank you for your kind words Joanne. You make an important connection to our upcoming elections. I supported two campaigns this past year and watched my friends – committed and honorable people – get slammed and have their words and actions misrepresented on a daily basis. Both of them inspired me with their courage and ability to keep rising above the fray.

Wally Bock   |   23 September 2009   |   Reply

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2009/09/23/92309-midweek-look-at-the-independent-business-blogs.aspx

Wally Bock

Susan Mazza   |   27 September 2009   |   Reply

Thank you Wally – I am truly honored that you selected this post.

Joanne Maly   |   27 September 2009   |   Reply

Congratulations on being selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of Business Blogs.

http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2009/09/23/92309-midweek-look-at-the-independent-business-blogs.aspx

Randy Seitz   |   30 September 2009   |   Reply

A great lesson and just what I needed to be reminded of today. You have given me a new perspective on a current negotiation. Thank you!

Susan Mazza   |   05 October 2009   |   Reply

Thanks Randy. I hope that negotiation turned out just the way you wanted!

Dan McCarthy   |   27 September 2009   |   Reply

Susan –
I just found your blog via Wally Bock. What a great post. It’s a good reminder, that as leaders, we need to role model the kind of support that we all want from our own employees. And not just supporting our managers – we should be advocates for our peers behind their backs as well.

Susan Mazza   |   27 September 2009   |   Reply

Great to see you here Dan. I have been following your blog thanks to Wally Bock also for some time now and always find value in your posts.

Great point about advocating for our peers as well.

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