We do not progress from error to truth, but from truth to truth. Thus we must see that none can be blamed for what they are doing, because they are, at this time, doing the best they can. We learn only from experience.
During my nearly 30-year career, I have been fortunate to have had wonderful mentors who supported and challenged me as I developed as a leader. Often when reflecting on how I approached a situation, I recognize a tidbit of wisdom shared by one of these mentors that contributed to my ability to maneuver through the situation successfully.
Recently I found myself thinking about one mentor, my former supervisor from St. John’s Medical Center, Sandy Cameron. She was a member of the human resources department and acted as a liaison between the employees of the medical center and the administration. Sandy had a beautiful way of handling difficult situations with respect and fairness. She always focused on what was not working in the process rather then the individuals involved. She had high expectations of professional conduct and if an individual was open to coaching she believed everyone could be successful.
The following are three tidbits of wisdom Sandy shared with me that I hold close and would like to share here. They were presented to me in the context of the workplace, but I have used them in all aspects of my life, especially the first one.
Assume positive intent
“Assuming positive intent in the workplace means consciously choosing to assume that our co-workers are operating to the best of their ability, and are acting with the best interest of the company and their colleagues in mind (http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2011/05/03/the-rewards-of-assuming-positive-intent/#sthash.IVHZh3Ex.dpuf).
In my experience both in the workplace and beyond, when it really comes down to it, most of the time individuals are not consciously making decisions using a hidden agenda to sabotage an individual, a project or an organization. More often they simply have a misunderstanding or different interpretation of what they should be doing or they may not have the skills and abilities to do what they have been asked. Another possibility is they may see another, sometimes better, way to get to the same outcome. By assuming positive intent in any of these situations, we open ourselves up to be respectful as we ask for clarification and work together to reach common ground. In the end, when we assume positive intent we are able to focus on the process and positive outcomes without negativity or disrespect.
Your human resources are your most important resources treat them with respect.
A good leader understands an organization is made up of people and for an organization “to grow and adapt, the leadership must recognize the value and contribution of people” (http://www.derekstockley.com.au/newsletters-05/018-human-capital.html). While an organization’s bottom-line, efficiency, goals and outcomes are important, they can only be met when leaders create an environment that reflects respect, reciprocation and responsiveness to the people. To do this, leaders must be courteous in even the most difficult situations, maintain open lines of two-way communication, and provide the training, resources and support necessary for individuals to get their job done effectively. In an environment where the people are respected and supported they have the confidence and desire to respect and support the organization right back.
Don’t make it personal.
An organization’s people bring with them a variety of personalities, life experiences, and perspectives. A good leader has the ability to build respectful relationships valuing the individual, while also being able to communicate clear expectations. In some cases the expectations will be the policies and performance standards of a business, in others it might be the amount of time and attention someone can give to a volunteer committee or even a book group. In any case, creating a respectful environment focused on agreed upon expectations removes much of the opportunity for individuals to make things personal. In other words it is not about who the person is, but rather their ability to meet the established expectations. And if an individual is challenged to meet expectations it creates an opportunity for shared goal setting and supported growth allowing them to develop through experience.