A few weeks ago, one of my kids started bugging me while I was trying to get some work done. That’s not really what happened, but at the time, in my self-focused state, that was my mindset. I was in the middle of something that I considered important, although now, I can’t seem to remember what it was. Make no mistake though; I’m certain it was critical.
She wanted me to watch this video. I’m sure many of you have seen it by now. It was the story of an autistic basketball manager who got to suit up and play in the team’s last game of the season and in his four minutes on the court he scored 20 points, sinking his last three pointer at the buzzer to send the crowd into a complete frenzy. If you haven’t seen it, take the two minutes and 45 seconds it takes to watch it. You will be glad you did.
It’s an amazing story, and I almost missed it. More importantly, it was a story that my daughter had found and wanted to share with me, and I almost missed that too. I was so involved in what I was doing that I had already made a judgment that whatever she wanted, was less important than what I wanted right then. I’m thankful that I paused and reconsidered. I took a split second to stop and look at her and focus on what she wanted. I don’t always get it right but because I did, we watched the video together and talked briefly about how amazing things can happen when we don’t make judgments about people and just give them a chance.
I don’t know if she will remember the conversation, but I will. I’ll also remember the story of Jason McElwain and how he and his coach made a statement from their small high school that millions of people were able to learn from. What I hope I will remember the most though is that when I’m too focused on what I want at any given moment, I miss opportunities that are created by listening to others and focusing on them. We think we know what’s important to others and what they want or are about to tell us, sometimes we don’t. Listening is the only way to be sure we aren’t missing something we wish we hadn’t.
Often, as leaders, we are challenged by this same mindset at work too. We think we know what our team needs or wants or are more focused on what we need to tell them, than what we should be learning from them. We give them enough airtime to tell ourselves that we listened, but not enough for them to really be heard. From my position working with businesses, I often get to have conversations with leaders, as well as their teams and hear perspectives from both sides. It’s always interesting to hear the leaders talk about what their team thinks or believes and then listen to their team give me a completely different picture. The unfortunate thing is that when we stop listening to them, they stop bothering to tell us stuff. And sometimes, we need the stuff.
One of the traits of great leaders is their ability to focus, we have to remember that what we focus on matters more than the focus itself. Sometimes the information, the moment, the different perspective that we need is out there, not inside. The only way we benefit from it is by shifting that focus to others and really listening. My daughter, once again, reminded me of that.