After more than a hundred interviews for FranklinCovey’s On Leadership series, I’ve typically found quick common ground with each guest. Many of them were friends of mine, or we had a mutual colleague who connected us.
With Susan Cain, author of Quiet, our commonality was my brother, who is an introvert (and read her book twice). With Dan Pink, it was his description of our peaks, troughs, and recoveries and how they relate to my energy and focus levels throughout the day. Even with General Stanley McChrystal, who joined through a mutual friend, I could relate to his views on leadership and the challenges our country is facing.
Although my professional stature and contribution are palpably less than all our guests, I’ve had little difficulty relating to all of them rather quickly, either because of mutual passions or in some cases, related paths.
And then there was Dr. Tererai Trent. Before inviting her as a guest, I had not read her book and held a shallow understanding of her journey, passions, and mission. And little of that lessened during my time reading her book or for that matter, even during the interview. To put it bluntly, we have very little common ground.
I am a 51-year-old, white, American male who’s lived a very resource-rich and (by comparison) easy life. I serve in an executive capacity in a global public company and, although I have worked extremely hard and earned all of my success, I can’t begin to imagine how much harder it’s been for her to do the same.
She is a black woman of a certain age and survivor of multi-generational patriarchy in Africa, who raised children as a single parent, immigrating to the U.S. with no money, resources, or support system.
I’ve reflected often on her path and how nearly impossible it is for me to relate to her life, challenges, despair, and loss. We’re both successful, at different games, with different rules, and different judges.
I acknowledge how completely un-relatable our paths have been. Do we agree on some points? Absolutely. Would we likely have a great conversation over dinner or in a meeting? I’m confident we would. But beyond polite conversation for a short period, I can’t claim to have any real appreciation for how steep her mountain was, compared to mine. Mine was like walking an undulating golf course, steering clear of the gators sunning themselves on the next pond over. Hers was like hiking Kilimanjaro with no training and no gear. And making the summit safely and now giving weekly tours.
Her summit humbles me. It doesn’t lessen my own any, but it sure puts my journey (and pending challenges) into perspective. And I would have missed all of this introspection, awareness, and paradigm-widening if I had not heeded the great advice of one of my team members who recommended Tererai as a guest. If I continued booking guests based on two degrees of separation and based on my own interests, I’d really be doing myself and our audience a disservice.
Now it’s your turn. Turn the introspective gaze toward your life.
Are you able to appreciate others’ paths, independent of your own, and acknowledge their ascent? Are you limiting yourself and those around you?
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