Leadership Best Practices: Respecting Multiple Perspectives
by Jonathan Roth Magidovitch
The best leaders do more listening and less telling.
But to what do they listen?
We all are accustomed to hearing multiple accounts of the same events. What parent hasn’t heard, “But, Mommy, he started it.” What CEO hasn’t heard that the problem comes from another department.
To deal with multiple accounts of the same event, there are tools to guide parents, CEO’s and all leaders.
One such guide is probably already in your house. Open the family Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four Gospels, are each telling the same story. They are each biographies of the life of Jesus and they are not the same. Each disciple has his own take.
You might expect that we would be hearing a lot of sermons about which Gospel gets it right, but that doesn’t happen. Instead all four perspectives stand as authoritative and worthy of respect.
From a Jewish perspective, we have the adage “two Jews, three opinions.” It is part of the culture to disagree, often vociferously, on everything, and at the end of the day, everyone is still part of the family.
As leaders, it is our job to hear out various perspectives and process the entirety into an overall understanding.
There is a caveat: this processing is not just about facts. The leader’s job is not as simple as determining who is correct. Perceptions and feelings and agenda are significant parts of the picture. As leaders we understand that each perspective represents some element of the target population for whatever product or service our business is offering. As parents we understand that each perspective is part of the unified vision for our family. We may personally differ with what we hear, but choosing to hear it anyway makes our decisions robust.
The leader’s job is to hear multiple perspectives and understand from them how to proceed with real actions in the real world.
The leader responds to each voice with respect and gratitude. Having been part of the conversation is what matters about the team members. The leader is ultimately responsible for making the decision. That decision being correct or not accrues to the leader having properly understood the various inputs.
Furthermore, it is the work of a good leader to make sure that the voices around the table do actually represent crucial aspects of the target population. Ten voices saying one thing could signal unanimity in the target population. However it could also mean that there is something wrong with the team or the management processes. That is, “Is dissension allowed? Have people with various perspectives been brought to the table?”
Going back to Scripture, there are actually more than four Gospels. The others did not make it into the Bible. Instead they are found elsewhere in New Testament as apocrypha or pseudepigrapha.
These other Gospels did not pass whatever review. And, perhaps there are yet other gospels that did not pass muster even to the level of being preserved at all.
Not all voices get heard and that is an issue. It may be a moral issue or a validity issue. And, there are procedural issues here as well.
Who gets to speak at our table? That is the question. A fact of human capacity is that we don’t have time or treasure enough to hear all the possible voices. How we determine who gets to our table matters.
Here are some considerations:
- Is someone knocking on our door? If someone has expressed a desire to speak in our group why have we declined them? If it’s racism or sexism or any other “ism” this is a moral failure which will lead to a business failure.
- Have we searched for team members broadly enough? In business we have a sense of our target audience. It is important that audience is represented in the thought process of our business. To assume we know people’s thoughts and preferences especially across cultural lines is taking on unnecessary risk. *** Furthermore, have we understood our target audience? Maybe people in addition to those we’ve already identified could be in our target population. Find ways to discover new segments. For example, look at your sales records for outliers and find out who they are. Or, talk with other leaders or experts.
- Are we listening only at certain times and in certain places? Being a leader is 24/7 work. Listening at meetings matters but it also matters that off chance of hearing something in a song lyric or in a phrase caught from the conversation of passers-by.
Wherever we stand as leader, be it home or office, a key part of our role is processing correctly multiple understandings of events. Each input represents some part of the picture. The points presented here will increase your clarity in deciding the right thing to do.