Rendering Judgment Upon Your Peers

During the angriest stand-up meeting I have ever attended yesterday, Me and another teammate were criticized for not provided needed information. The tone of the criticism was in the nature of an attack.

Our verbal assailant said he asked for information from us and never got it. He had made an inquiry asking for versions and saying he didn't have context for what was in the latest releases of a couple of packages. We replied indicating he was to use the latest ones. They're packages of seed data... you just want the latest.

He said with far too much emphasis, "No Franco you don't understand the context." I thought I understood the context pretty well, I explained. We thought he needed to know what version numbers to use and replied to say which ones. But he wanted details on their contents and, so, wasn't satisfied with our answer and didn't reply to say so.

So who is to blame? Are we expected to be mind readers?

Apparently, so. To hear him speak, you would believe it was my responsibility to recognize his context. Those of you who believe leadership requires listening and empathy might note that requiring someone else to accept your context as the only primary and valid context qualifies as neither listening nor empathy.

I was told I was "wrong" in very blunt terms. He said the relevant context was that he is busy and doesn't have time to reply to everything. That the deployment was just one of many things he had to do today. He finished with admonishing tone to drive home the fact that I have been corrected: THAT is the context.

Okay... his context was that it was taking longer than he wanted. It wasn't that he needed data or clarification. And our context was wrong and didn't matter.

Incidentally, "wrong" was a word that was tossed around carelessly during this meeting.

The Story

And I think I see the narrative unfolding before me:

Here he is... martyr for the team. Giving up his entire day of productivity so that he can do a deploy, which he does not relish doing.

Not for his own sake but for the sake of the team.

This is something we should all be working to support. It feels like there isn't enough support. He resents having to ask for support at all.

Everything should all be solved and working already. There shouldn't be surprises.

So when he barks at us, during this meeting he is justified because it is for the sake of the team.

That's a story. It's one story. And there are other possible stories, but this is the one that he seems to have been acting upon. He can be a paragon of objective rationality, but on the basis of some story, here he was lashing out at his own team members.

Rendering Judgment

As it happens, I was writing up a feedback request for a promotion considering for him just before the meeting. After the meeting ended, I wiped out it's contents and merely noted that I decline to comment.

My assessment of him had shifted too much toward the negative far too suddenly for me to give an objective one. Even now I feel very unobjective. This situation has been really challenging for me to detach from.

I said nothing... I would have to laugh in my own face if I wrote down all of his virtues in this moment. And I would feel unjust if I only said negative things, which are the only things I can think about when I consider him.

If I take a step back, here's what I notice. His actions and attitude yesterday were toxic. They were not in the spirit of cooperation with our team. There were in the spirit of resentful and entitled sacrifice: taking one for the team. In the process he attacked nearly everyone. And this ranks very highly in terms of important data for rendering judgment on a person.

Our team doesn't need sacrifices. We don't need ego-driven entitlement. We need calm and collected evolution toward supportability that we can only achieve together.

So what am I to say when asked if this person has demonstrated the qualities to move him into a position of greater authority and more leadership? He has a lot of work to do to achieve detachment so that he can act from the better part of his nature even when the situation is frustrating and difficult. That part exists and is beautiful and I'm sad to see it set was set aside yesterday for the crap performance that I actually witnessed.

Can You Hear Me Now? (Entitlement and Feeling Heard)

A standard pattern for "how to take criticism" and "how to deal with conflict" generally acknowledges that we ought to listen and acknowledge and that people tend to ease up once they feel they have been heard.

An anti-pattern occurs when you feel that you must be heard in order to ease up. In my experience, when I want to be heard, I will tend to feel angry and upset if a difficult conversation drags on and I have not arrived at feeling heard and acknowledged.

It isn't pretty and I'm just going to call this out for what it is. In a moment like that, if my focus is on being heard, I have adopted a posture of entitlement. I am acting entitled to being heard and acknowledged and requiring that it occur in a manner that I recognize as authentic. Yuck!

It's so fascinating to me that the very same thing that is effective when granted to another with generosity, listening and making it clear that you have heard them, is ineffective when I desire (or expect) the same for myself.

Let's consider what happens when two parties in a difficult discussion both think that it's important to hear what the other side has to say, but neither party wants to be the first to listen. Those discussions go nowhere. They go in circles. They maximize suffering for all involved.

The standard pattern works only when granted to others because, in order to break up the log-jam, Leaders have to go first. We, as Leaders, must take the responsibility to act on this understanding that conversations go badly when no one wants to listen first. We have to act on our desire to minimize the conversations that feel pointless and upsetting.

And as for whether we are heard at all, that must be left to trust that we will get to say our piece after the other party has spoken about their concerns and had them acknowledged.

Inspired by Michael Hyatt on Leadership

This morning I listened to Michael Hyatt’s podcast episode on the nature of leadership. Much of it is character driven (ala Stephen Covey) and, even as I try my hardest to avoid confirmation bias, I find so much strength and encouragement to carry on in my own ways, which sometimes feel naive and pollyanna-ish, because of the words he has said.

An example of how I might be naive is that I believe and act as if conflict in the workplace cannot exist without blame. To me, blame is as oxygen to the fire of conflict. This requires that I put aside the matter of “justice” while resolving disputes and instead to side-step my own desire to blame. Instead I choose to lean in, try to understand, and to pursue collaboration toward a resolution. Things get fixed faster and, I believe, people feel free to improve themselves when they are not in reaction against the perceived judgment from others. It doesn’t mean that I don’t value justice. But it does mean that I choose to exercise a bit of faith that management/reality/whatever will act justly in the long term, a principle I think I picked up from Robert Stephen Kaplan.

Hyatt’s podcast is so very much about the individual nature of leadership characteristics. Even as you try to influence others, the seeds of it are in your choices and what you choose to give prime status in your view of things and where you put your efforts. I am almost moved to tears when I think about how beautiful a world of people trying to live these ideas would be. We could do so much together.

(Personal note: I honestly didn’t think of myself as any kind of leader until my manager at Juniper Networks, Kim Order, the only manager-mentor-hybrid I’ve ever had, tried to convince me of it. This episode makes me think of her and how much appreciation I have for my time working for her. I’m glad she saw this in me and I like trying to live up to it.)