By way of preamble, this article is part of a three-part leadership series on improving your aptitude in leadership. Since the skills and disciplines are cumulative, we strongly recommend that you start with Part 1 of the series, if you haven’t already done so.
Many years ago, my dad shared with me a story about an elderly woman who had an alcohol addiction problem. Her family scolded her regularly to stop drinking and tried to prevent all access to alcohol for her. Yet, she continued to find ways to sneak alcohol despite their best efforts. This became an ongoing battle between her and her family who, afterall, were just concerned for her well-being.
It was this elderly woman’s grandson who effected change and in a most unlikely way. Rather than scold his grandmother and make her feel guilty about her addiction, this young man brought his grandmother one alcoholic drink a day. In addition, he would sit with her and keep her company while she drank since it was considered culturally pitiful to drink alone. He never spoke in judgment of his grandmother. He simply maintained his ritual of keeping his grandmother company as she drank the beverage he brought her. This continued for two years, at which time, without prompting, his grandmother decided to quit drinking on her own.
There are many questions that seem like they would help explain the rather surprising conclusion. What these details will not do is help us understand how we can effect change in the way the grandson did nor will they help us to pick up on the subtleties that made possible the profound insight the grandson showcased. The secret is staring us in the face in this example – simply put, suspend judgment. It is the essential habit we must form if we want to build self-awareness.
When we interact with people, the temptation to judge their behavior, personality, and actions is very strong. We see that this rings true with the majority of the grandmother’s family. It’s unavoidable for us as human-beings and we can probably relate to the stance the family takes as well as their methods. The temptation to jump to judgment is even more so with people we think we know very well – our closest friends and family, especially as we grow older. We think that since we knew them for so long that we are highly capable of judging them. The fact is, no matter how close we are with others, we still live different lives, have different influences, and experience different victories and failures. When we jump to judgment, we effectively color the facts through the lens of our own perceptions. In doing so, we miss the subtle details which evolve solutions that are mysterious to others, but exactly what is needed.
This is the beginning of self-awareness. The reality is that we are our own worst critics. By definition, if we cannot suspend judgment when dealing with others, it is probably a good indication that we are incapable of seeing ourselves except through a judgmental lens, as well. When you suspend judgment with others, and you start to note some of the profound intuitive realizations that they need, it is also an indication of your ability to pick up on the subtler aspects of your own awareness.