Scene: Four-year old boy on a city bus. He sat next to his Mom. It was early morning, about 6:40am on a winter day. It was still dark outside. The woman and her son, seated near the front, were among the first on the bus. After a few more stops en route to Minneapolis, several more people had boarded. The boy casually examined each person who walked by his seat. Then he furrowed his brow, looked up at Mom, and asked, “Everyone’s car doesn’t work?”
It took just a moment of mental calculus for me to interpret the meaning and context of that question: Mom and son were riding the bus to Minneapolis because their car had failed. The boy’s mental calculus and interpretation of the situation were different. He and mom rode the bus because their car wasn’t working. All these other people? Well, they must have had car trouble, too. Apparently it’s what the bus is for.
Cute, but wrong.
Why did the boy make that conclusion?
Lack of information.
Lack of experience.
Lack of coaching.
He didn’t have information about the reasons the other people were riding the bus. Perhaps some were riding because of car trouble. Others? Lack of a car. Preference for riding over driving in rush hour. Less expensive than driving a car and parking downtown. Preference for reading and quiet time on the bus.
The boy didn’t have experience, either. If he were a seasoned mass transit rider he might realize that he, too, could ride the bus regardless of the status of Mom’s car. He might also meet other people and learn their own motivations for riding the bus.
After asking, “Everyone’s car doesn’t work?” Mom coached him with her response: “No, their cars are probably just fine. They probably ride the bus because they find it easier to get to work. Some of them might not have a car.”
With additional information, experience, and coaching, the boy’s perspective changed. He was able to view his situation and others’ behavior more accurately. He was able see his world with clarity and understanding.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to help our followers develop this clarity and understanding. It’s not unusual for followers and leaders alike to misinterpret situations and act ineffectively as a result.
A few days after that bus ride, I had a conversation with a follower who was involved in a difficult situation with a handful of coworkers. In that case, too, the mental calculus and interpretation were incorrect due to lack of information, experience, and coaching. The effect was confusion and conflict.
Debriefing the situation, I took time with this follower to share information. I had been able to talk with various people involved in the situation and learned several things that neither the follower nor I had known before. This new information helped to clear up the picture.
The situation also became another story to add to the follower’s library of experience. Each experience, especially the well-examined failures, increases a follower’s ability to understand future situations accurately and to respond effectively.
Our debrief conversation was also an opportunity for coaching. Coaching is a complex and dynamic skill. (Here are some of our articles on coaching.) In this case, my approach was to help the follower use the new information for a more accurate interpretation of the situation and understand how the experience leads to better self-leadership.
Information, experience, and coaching are just three of many gifts that leaders can give to followers. The right information, the right experiences, and effective coaching will help others be more effective in any responsibility and become more effective leaders.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo retrieved from Google Images. Originally posted by CriticalTransit.com