What can we learn about
the view that "Everybody's Right?"
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
Seek first to
understand then be understood-- Stephen Covey's 4th Habit.
After reviewing much of the wisdom literature, Covey shortened
and simplified what many have been referred to as the Golden Rule. Do unto
others...For the purposes of this discussion of a leadership strategy I would like to
focus on a particular aspect of this rule.
As leaders, we are continually put in the position of evaluation.
It seems like it goes with the territory. Authority always seems
hierarchy and leadership often results from hierarchy, for no real clear reason. It
must be said that leadership--at times--would be better served without these
vagaries. With that aside, the job of categorizing, communicating and translating
meaning often falls to leadership. People just look to leadership for that function,
no matter if it is proper or predicated.
The concept of everybody's right came out of my own experience in
dealing with people in leadership conditions. Often times, people are dependent on
feeling important and one of the ways to cause that condition is for them to feel
understood. Yet, how often can we actually understand someone? We often are
caught up in our own filters--encoding and decoding information into meaning--so much so
that we really fail to cross over our own prejudices, even for an instant. I am
suggesting that we can suspend those filters in the short run by taking the position that
"Ajmal Hussein and The
Sufi Ajmal Hussein was constantly being criticized by scholars, who feared that his
repute might outshine their own. They spared no efforts to cast doubts upon his knowledge,
to accuse him of taking refuge from their criticisms in mysticism, and even to imply that
he had been guilty of discreditable practices.
At length he said:
If I answer my critics, they make it the opportunity to bring fresh accusation
against me, which people believe because it amuses them to believe such things. If I do
not answer them they crow and preen themselves, and people believe that they are real
scholars. They imagine that we Sufis oppose scholarship. We do not. But our very existence
is a threat to the pretended scholarship of tiny noisy ones. Scholarship long since
disappeared. What we have to face now is sham scholarship.
The scholars shrilled more loudly than ever. At last Ajmal said:
Argument is not as effective as demonstration. I shall give you an insight into
what these people are like.
He invited question papers from the scholars, to allow them to test his
knowledge and ideas. Fifty different professors and academicians sent questionnaires to
him. Ajmal answered them all differently. When the scholars met to discuss these papers,
at a conference, there were so many versions of what he believed, that each one thought
that he had exposed Ajmal, and refused to give up his thesis in favour of any other. The
result was the celebrated brawling of the scholars. For five days they
attacked each other bitterly.
This, said Ajmal, is a demonstration. What matters to
each one most is his own opinion and his own interpretation. They
care nothing for truth. This is what they do with everyones teachings. When he is
alive, they torment him. When he dies they become experts on his works. The real motive of
the activity, however, is to vie with one another and to oppose anyone outside their own
ranks. Do you want to become one of them? Make a choice soon.
From Wisdom of The Idiots' by Idries Shah
OF COURSE NOT! Here is what I am
asking you to do. Stop...and think for a minute what feelings and discomfort I have
invoked in you by trying to infect you with this meme...are you in touch with those
feelings? By the mere expression of an idea which is counter-intuitive to our
systems, we immediately sense dissonance.
"Everybody's Right?" You got to be kidding?
What creates this discord within us?
our own set of "truth-filters" kicking into high gear which
emanates from our
beliefs and reality models. These cognitive maps guide us throughout our lives to
behave in accordance with what experience has taught us as the "truth."
What the model--everybody's right--attempts to install in your software is a suspension
loop which opens up what normally is a closed system--your own reality models--and allows
new data to be taken in without prejudice. This seems complicated and it is.
In order for us to be better leaders, we have to
learn to listen--nonjudgmentally.
If we kick into our evaluation sequence too
quickly, we forget to probe, empathize and deeply understand what is being communicated
to us by others. This "willing" suspension of judgment through the
"attitude" that everybody's right is precisely what can provide us with the
"moment of understanding." (MOU) Think for a minute back to the initial
time you heard "everybody's right." What was your reaction? Did you
attempt to remain open with the statement or did you immediately begin justifying why
everyone is not right?
The absurdity...everybody's right (ER) is designed
to key your mind to this moment of understanding. This very narrow point in time
where you recognize that the greatest need for a fellow human is to feel understood and
important. In the MOU, a new set of dimensions is available to you as tools that
enable you to clarify, understand and communicate to another that their opinion was heard
and an genuine attempt was made (empathy) to view their position.
Leading with empathy and understanding.
As complexity forces leaders to take on additional dimensions in
leadership practice--as well as forcing a whole new subset of people to assume leadership
for brief periods of time--the concept of leading with empathy with become
imperative. It will be through community that great performance will be achieved as
people have lives. In applying the concept of ER there are several steps that we can
take to assure that we are allowing for this emergent understanding to occur in a field of
Too often, we close ourselves off to the universal intention by
holding too closely to the mental models we have used throughout our lives. While no
one can merely flit in and flit out of their own cognitive maps, we can key our behavior
through new models which take into consideration the effects on cognition and behavior of
the everybody's right scenario..
We begin by accepting ER as an absurd notion, so we disable our truth
detector (some refer to this as a BS Detector) and look into the concept with an open
mind. In other words we agree to accept ER as a convention--an unquestioned fact
which is used to move us down the path towards further understanding. A convention
is often used in the movies, because there isn't time to explain why and how, and argue
all the fine points in order to tell the story, so let's for the sake of argument accept
ER as a convention.
Next, we look at the effect it has on opening our mind and heart to the
viewpoints of others. At once, we find ourselves looking outward rather than turned
inward. We accept the fact that while everybody's NOT right, people
think they are! I don't remember the author, but there is an old
saying that "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
This axiom is clearly representative of most people and their closely held views.
Remember, that people are desperately hanging on to their own mental models of
Following this acceptance, we can really get down to listening to the
merits of what the other person is feeling and trying to communicate. We can use
this MOU to empathize with the person's position and the likely reason that they feel the
way that they do. At this point, we don't go into a redirect questioning period
hoping to influence the person to the "right" (our) way of thinking. The
right way of thinking is already being exposed if we will listen to the person trying to
communicate. There will be time to influence that person towards a different reality
model ONCE we have heard that person state clearly their position, perhaps their feelings
behind the position and even more important, the reason that the position is so important
AT THIS LEVEL, we can truly begin to communicate and make meaning which
is conducive to further exploration and deepening of relationship. This is really
the crux of the matter. For it is relationships which will drive high performance in
complex organization. Relationships that have depth of meaning and understanding are
key to the operation of enterprise under ambiguity and high levels of uncertainty.
In this MOU we approach the benefits of dialogue,
appreciative inquiry, future search and many other attributes of successful relationship
strategies available to organizations. Yet, it all starts with the emergent
possibility created from "everybody's right."
The tendency to discount the
most complex aspect of this mental model is for leaders to
understand that they no longer will be looked to for answers. Most of our lives we
have been taught to either provide solutions as leaders or to look to leaders for answers.
The concept of ER is counter-intuitive in this respect and
will be very difficult to embrace in practice. I think that I have presented a
compelling enough argument for why leadership needs to operate in this fashion as we move
from the role of solution provider to solution facilitator yet the utter absurdness of
thinking ER will be difficult to embrace.
It is both paradoxical and upsetting to think that WE are not in fact
right! Obviously we are. Herein lies the key. If we know that we are
right at least from our point of view, then perhaps we could understand why others feel
the need to be accepted as being right also. It is a point of bifurcation.
That point in leadership practice which we can choose to embark into another framework of
relationship or become mired in continually justifying our own position.
The high-performing organization of the future or the optimum enterprise
as I like to refer to it as will require strong relationship building skills. A
strong relationship will often be the only advantage that we have as a leader in this new
era as we may not always have access to the resources we need to retain our most important
followers. Leaders who are able to empathize and reach a deeper level of meaning and
understanding with their followers will have a distinct advantage in the future.
Learning how to use ER effectively.
We've looked at some of the stages of ER:
What follows is an additional step in ER.
Learning to derive meaning from the meaning or listening for meta-meaning. What is
the meaning behind what appears to be the meaning, or what is the truth that is held that
leads to the ownership of the communicated meaning. This is probably the most
important step in building relationship. Many people think this is second guessing
but this is the fatal flaw.
- accepting the convention
- looking outward instead of inward
- listening to what is being said
- listening for the origin of what is being said
- creating shared meaning
- realizing empathy
- building relationships
Second guessing people based on OUR OWN VALUE SYSTEMS of
interpretation is a deadly disease of leadership. For in this instance we have
failed to see clearly the meta-meaning. We have stopped listening too soon!
Deep relationships and MOU's occur when we connect with people. We need to go beyond
empathy to connection. Understanding the authentic person behind the communication
is what creates the ability of dialogue to extend our leadership into people's lives.
People who are connected need far fewer rules, policies, procedures and
The true connection created by genuine appreciation for another's point
of view is evidenced with a far stronger and more powerful bond that mere empathy.
When people have a genuine relationship built on trust and understanding, connection
deepens the intrinsic motivation potential resident in all of us--seeking expression in
our everyday lives. The principle of ER can be the gateway to this potential and
offer the opportunity to connect at deeper levels of relationship. Leadership will
become more about relationship than finding solutions to problems. If we take care
of relationship, the rest will take care of itself in its own time.