Rule #14: Seek to Understand, But Accept Being Misunderstood

When you find yourself in a leadership capacity, especially if you’ve been there for a while, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you have an inside track that is closed off to all others around you. This fact, by itself, can breed resentment. This natural resentment is then magnified if you don’t listen and can fuel all sorts of downsides:

• You won’t get anything done.
• You’ll miss out on a lot of good ideas offered by your colleagues.
• You won’t have any friends when it’s all over.

At the same time, I’ve always felt that the hardest part about leadership is learning to live with being misunderstood. Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. When this happens, you might do well to expect to be accused of not listening.

When I first had to make difficult decisions, I felt overcome with a temptation to call everyone together and explain why I was doing what I was doing. I was sure that if I could just spend a few hours with my colleagues that I could at least get them to see why I was doing what I was doing, even if they never ultimately agreed.

Then it would dawn on me, But I don’t have a few hours to spend on that….and neither do they. So, I had to learn to trust that things would work out for the best and that my colleagues would see the benefit down the road.

Years ago I had a boss who taught me how to manage a team of salespeople. He used to say, “Don’t worry about whether they like you. If they succeed, they’ll like you no matter how much you pushed them. If they don’t succeed, they aren’t going to like you, no matter how nice you were to them.”

All this adds up to the fact that leadership can be a lonely road. As President Harry Truman reportedly once said about his job, “If you need a friend… get a dog.”

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld