Listen before you judge.

Missed deadlines. Failed audits. Tardiness to work, unkempt hair and goodness! Every report heard, a bad one. At some point wondering if it was truly possible for not a single soul to have anything good to say? Looking at my own dependent deadlines, I confess my patience was wearing thin and after one ball dropped too many the email went out – Can we talk about this?

I was fuming but chose not to have the talk on that day. It was a week later when we would talk. One morning I came in early, and we were the only two in the room (Surprise! 🙂 ) I called him to my office and asked him two questions: How he was doing, and what he felt about about his work and working for the organisation after three years. Like most men, he went logical and started on the philosophical – The organisation is good, focused on outputs etc.

I allowed him to go on and when he finished, I gently told him my question was not about what he thought about the organisation but about himself – Was he enjoying his current work? What did he like? What was he looking forward to? I explained that I had noted the pressure he seemed to be under and the issues and wanted to know how he was holding up under it and whether there was anything I could do differently to support him?

He started talking… and the dam burst. Tears flowing. They were the painful silent tears. Balancing tears. Those for some reason speak to me of more pain than gut wrenching sobs. When one sobs you know they are engaging their pain. These silent tears speak of someone who is at breaking point, who has squared his or her shoulders trying to man up but has reached a point where they are facing the reality that they cannot go on.

What does one do? He couldn’t go on. We sat in silence. I passed him the tissues and went to get water so he could get his dignity back. Turns out there was family pressure. Sickness in family, disillusionment, betrayal at work. Financial burdens etc.. let’s just say this guy had shoulders of steel to carry what he was carrying, and still show up to work.

I sat quietly, ashamed of my earlier thoughts. Listening instead of talking had given me an opportunity to be human. To seek to understand instead of being understood. When we finished an hour later, we had a plan. We prioritized the key balls he was juggling and agreed on follow up time each week to follow up, track progress and identify some areas for delegation to others who could help.

Finally – I asked him if I could pray for him and when I prayed the tears flowed even more. This time mine too, as I silently confessed to God my failure to look out for the sheep He gave me. You see, in the busyness of deadlines,results, issues and crises of finance, we sometime forget that the distance between performance and non-performance is the distance between the heart and the mind.

People coping with emotional, financial, marital, family stress and even sickness cannot be at their peak. It is important that when things start slipping, we start with the person and then the results. And that is your leadership lesson from the pink corner for today.

Listen before you judge – people are fighting many battles you won’t understand until you really listen.

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