by Marshall Goldsmith
He is a great executive. A self-starter, he prides himself on being able to land on his feet in virtually any new environment. He is extremely intelligent, hard-working, creative, and entrepreneurial. He gets the job done. Not only doesn’t he need much supervision; he doesn’t like it when people treat him as if he needs lots of help.
As we talked on the plane, he was obviously frustrated. Describing a recent meeting, he grimaced. “I finally just got up and walked out,” he said. “I was so angry I decided it was better not even to speak. If I had stayed there, I would have told that guy to f– off.”
“What did your direct report do to make you so upset?” I asked.
“I have told him over and over that he needs to take more responsibility,” he grunted. “Then, as soon as I give him a great opportunity, he gives me this lost look and asks me to tell him what he is supposed to do.”
“What about his behavior made you so angry?” I wanted to know.
“I love to figure things out for myself. For example, I was given an assignment to set up a new business in Croatia. I had never been there before, but I figured it out for myself. I just hate it when people need to be told what to do all of the time. I would have never done what he did in that meeting.”
“I can see your point.” I said, laughing. “If he were only you, you wouldn’t have any problems as his manager.”
I went on: “Has it ever dawned on you that most people in the world are more like him than they are like you? Most people need help on new assignments.”
My airplane neighbor, stuck in the seat and by now probably regretting that he had started talking to me, was forced to listen as I continued: “Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if everyone were just like you? Then your job as a leader would be so easy.” (I was being sarcastic.) He started to squirm as we discussed the home front. “Do you do this to your wife?” I asked.
He sighed. “My wife is a wonderful person. Her major complaint is that I am always trying to make her ‘try more things’ and be someone other than who she is.”
“No doubt, someone more like you?” I guessed. He nodded his head. Then he asked: “What do you think I should do?”
My advice about work was: “Make peace with the fact that everyone who reports to you isn’t like you. Some people need more structure and direction, especially early in assignments. Learn to love coaching these people. Help them more and judge them less.”
My advice about home was: “Go home and tell your wife you met a talkative bald guy on the airplane who gave you some free coaching. Apologize for trying to make her act like you. Ask her to forgive you for judging her. Recognize that nobody made you God this week. Let her know that you’re proud of her, that you love her just the way she is, and that you are lucky to be her husband.”
“You are right,” he said with a smile. “I have been pretty stupid.”
Then I gave him some advice about what he should do for himself. “Forgive yourself and start over. Let go of the past. Not only can you stop making such harsh judgments about others–you can stop being too hard on yourself. Overall, you seem to be an outstanding executive and a good husband. You can get even better at both.”
We can all reflect on the myriad times that we have judged other people. How many times has this negative judgment occurred because we think: “That’s not what I would have done?”
I have found four words that almost always help people be better leaders, partners, friends, and family members: Help more, judge less.
How would your co-workers, friends, and family feel if you helped a little bit more — and judged a little bit less? I doubt they would write me hate mail because you read this column and made those changes.