Judged By What?

I’m astonished by the number of people who bristle when you challenge them. Even if you challenge them on observable behavior (i.e. not letting others complete their sentences, or pecking at their “Crackberry” during a critical presentation, or being habitually late armed with a newly varnished excuse each time), they act as if you’ve launched an existential attack on the very basis of their being or worth.

Here is an anomaly. We believe we know what we’re capable of. So rather than being judged on what we do, we expect people to give us a break on the basis of what we’re capable of. The average person will not oblige. Life is short, they’ll extrapolate from their present experience of you. That’s the impetus to get the job done today, to get your act together now, to do what you say and finish what you start. Despite that, you will have blinkers and issues — we all do. Great leaders will see past the mists of your limitations and the storm clouds in your emotional weather systems and glimpse your larger abilities and perhaps even your positive intent. They will then challenge you to step up to the first and better exemplify the second. They will customize how they engage you, reinforce you and enroll you accordingly. When you experience such a leader or team…hallelujah! But if you need such a leader or team to come through…your life will be one of perennial disappointment and vexation.

Most of us judge others on the impact they have on us. Whether they intended it or not seems not to matter. “It hurt!” And if you didn’t know it would hurt me…well you should have! Or so is the implication inherent in our bruised outrage. On the other hand if we have a negative impact on someone else, and we know it’s not what we intended, we feel a sense of injustice if the other person judges us on impact rather than intent. Of course they often don’t know our intent, but damn it, they should! Or again, so is the implication as we nurse our bitterness. Always become a student of impact, and explore intent. Defer reactions until you’re on the other side of that exploration.

So, should we be judged by actions or by potential? Should we be judged by impact or intent? Both.

We must drive our actions and build confidence in ourselves and others by reaching for our potential, “failing forward” if we must.

We must be sensitive to impact and taper communication to the receiver, rather than exalting the sender (us). At the same time, we must drive the real intent forward if it really matters. We can’t let volatility of impact have us withdraw…that’s just a form of manipulation. Similarly we must make ourselves easy to engage…less prickles and more hospitality for collaboration.

Let’s ask to be judged by who we are today, and coached towards who we can become. Let’s own our impact, but share our intent. Let’s share impact on us, and be open to understanding the best intent of the other person. As we do, we improve our accountability and our capacity, both for performance and building productive relationships with others.