Be a Champion for Difference

“Liz, you make me crazy. Can’t you do anything without planning it to death? This work needs to go out now.”

“Hunter, this project isn’t ready to go. Several sections need more work. If we release it now, there’s going to be rework and more rework. Not to mention all the complaints we and the boss will get.”

“Time is money, Liz. All your dithering over getting it right is costing the company money. We’ve got to get moving.”

“Time spent on rework wastes money, too. Hunter. I don’t get how you can’t see that.”

“What I see, Liz, is you holding everyone up because of your ridiculous obsession with planning and perfection.”

“I’m not worried about perfection, you moron. I just want things to work right.”

Liz and Hunter’s raised voices had drawn the attention of their boss, Alonzo. He called them into his office. It wasn’t the first time their disputes had disrupted the office. After a lengthy conversation, the three of them emerged with a plan—and peace.

Alonzo was a gifted leader who understood how to manage people through, and around, the perils, pitfalls, and polarization that come with binary either/or thinking.

Here’s three actions Alonzo knew were needed to help Liz and Hunter see beyond “my way versus your way” so they could work together and get the job done.

Keep the end goal and what you need to accomplish in mind—always.

Both Liz and Hunter were passionate about their project. They believed they were doing purposeful work that would benefit employees and customers. However, in their zeal in promoting their personal vision for how the work should be handled, they got bogged down in details and lost sight of their over-arching purpose.

Alonzo helped them see how taking sides and pointing fingers only slowed their progress in reaching the common goal they shared.

Recognize that there’s usually more than one way to get something done.

Liz was a methodical planner; Hunter was intuitive and spontaneous. Liz wanted to work out all the details in advance. Hunter saw work elements that could withstand a little risk-taking and could be released sooner. Instead of addressing the merits of what the other was proposing, Liz and Hunter fought over whose approach was right and whose was wrong.

Alonzo helped them appreciate how both of them were right but for different reasons. Some of their work did require thoughtful planning and testing to avoid unnecessary issues; other parts didn’t require such meticulous attention. Alonzo guided them in dividing their work into phases that could be released at different times.

Alonzo used the metaphor of taking a road trip to enlighten Liz and Hunter about multiple approaches. He asked them to name what route they would take to visit a big city. Hunter said he would use the freeway. Liz wanted to travel back roads. Alonzo asked them what did it matter what roads they traveled as long as they reached their destination. Neither Liz nor Hunter could offer a valid reason.

Appreciate that standing up for what you believe in doesn’t mean being uncompromising or intolerant about other perspectives.

Convinced that their approach to their project was the right one, both Liz and Hunter had asserted their preferences as incontrovertible truths. Either/or thinking (and hubris) does that to people. They assert the rightness of their position, the wrongness of those who see things differently, and lose sight of the big picture.

Alonzo helped Liz and Hunter realize their lack of skill in doubting the correctness of their position and the incorrectness of the other’s. He encouraged them to take a step back going forward and think critically before jumping in, especially when they were so passionate about something. Alonzo told them that passion and absolute, unyielding certainty is a warning sign for a big blind spot.

Life, love, and leadership don’t lend themselves to cookie-cutter solutions. Understanding that helps us have a plan—and peace.

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