How to be a Tuned-in Leader (part 2)

A young, successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.

The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister…please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.” With tears dripping down his face, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.

It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message: “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!”

GREAT POINT! It’s a point that every leader and every person has to remember.

Do people have to throw a brick at you to get your attention? Do your employees, your coworkers, your customers, or even your spouse or kids feel that way about you? Or do they feel like you’re truly tuned in to their needs and care about those needs?

As one of my Australian colleagues, John Milne, asks, “Have you ever experienced a leader or a manager who was as subtle as a brick? Their communication style is clumsy, tactless, overpowering or negative. They lack the subtlety and finesse needed in delicate, sensitive or complex situations.” Obviously, no one wants to be led by a person such as that.

That’s how I felt last week. Flying out of Chicago on Southwest Airlines, my plane was repeatedly delayed for several hours. We eventually boarded the plane, then sat on the plane for two hours, after which they told us the captain’s hours had expired, the flight was cancelled, and we had to deplane. After calling the Southwest Airlines “help line” and talking to two different agents, I was told a different story, saying it was “weather related” and they couldn’t help me. Their “policy” was to re-book me on another flight two days later, and in the meantime all the expenses and inconvenience were my problem, not theirs.

Their lack of caring was as subtle as a brick. But as I always tell my audiences and coaching clients, “Look for the positive in every situation.” The positive for me was to make sure I never treat anyone like that.

On the other hand, leaders and people with the deft hand of diplomacy communication competence have prevented wars, saved lives and resolved disputes.

Those are some of the secrets in my new, live, first-ever, five-week class on PEOPLE POWER: How To Make Any Relationship Sizzle. We’ll start on May 24, 2022, running from 7:00-8:30 pm ET (6 CT, 5 MT, 4 PT), meeting every Tuesday through June 21, 2022.

Here are a few more tuned-in techniques I advise people to adopt. I shared items #1 and #2 in last week’s Tuesday Tip.

► 3. Get all the facts first.

You’re not tuned if you’re a REACTOR instead of a RESPONDER. And so, for any issue that comes before you, study the issue carefully and fully … first. Tap into the formal and informal networks that will give you up-to-date information. Try to understand your ever-changing physical, political, relational, technological, and/or financial environments at work.

I give my students a simple sentence to memorize. “Withhold evaluation until comprehension is complete.” Use it. It will save you a world of trouble and make you a tuned-in leader.

► 4. Help the people around you stay tuned in.

It won’t be long and you’ll see millions of bumper strips advocating certain candidates for various offices. Unfortunately, millions of people will be so frustrated by the campaigning process that they’ll end up saying something stupid like, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for; they’re all the same.” Still other millions will be so confused by all the claims, attacks, and counterattacks that they’ll end up wondering, “How can I really know which one will make the best leader?”

Let me remove some of your frustration and confusion. I’ve studied, written, and spoken on leadership for years, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter if you’re leading a country, a company, a department, a team, a church, or even a family … leadership has NOTHING to do with title or position. You could be the President of a country or the General Manager of a Fortune 500 company and NOT be a leader.

In truth, leadership has EVERYTHING to do with results. As Peter Drucker, the leading authority on leadership in the last 100 years, put it: “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

There’s an important lesson in Drucker’s comment for all of us. You’ve got to keep the people around you tuned in to the results you’re bringing about, or they might not see them. And if they don’t see the results, they’ll probably feel disgruntled

Indeed, my research indicates that the employees in an organization know and understand less than 25% of results that they are helping to bring about. If you’re going to be an effective leader, you’ve got to keep people tuned in.