Feeding Each Other
“Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.” – African proverb
The quotation above could be one of Steven Covey’s timeless principles of highly effective people. While the sentiment isn’t directly expressed in Covey’s seven habits, it closely aligned to this one: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The quotation though does speak to learning. Wanting to see things from another’s point of view is the point of Covey’s habit. He often noted that we don’t listen with full intent because we are thinking about our own reply. It’s why communication, verbal and non-verbal, is so important. Face to face. Back and forth. Thinking first.
Many years ago, while attending a Presbyterian church service my minister offered this story. St. Peter had offered to show an inquiring man the difference between heaven and hell. He took him to hell first where the scene included starving, emaciated people sitting next to delicious smelling pots of stew. In each person’s hand was a long-handled spoon too unwieldy to be used to feed themselves. And so, hell represented a sort of slow starvation for people stationed there. St. Peter then took the man to heaven where he quickly inhaled that same delicious aroma of stew as he walked into this new spot. To his complete surprise was a pot of stew in front of each person and that same unwieldy long-handled spoon held in their hand. But people here appeared jovial, well fed, and happy. The man, completely puzzled by what he was seeing asked St. Peter, “how could this be? What is the difference?” St. Peter answered, “in heaven people have learned to feed each other.”
Let’s face it. We all have unique experiences in the ways we were raised, the environments we lived in, and the folks we interacted with each day. It’s part of what made us who we are today. It’s impossible not the see the world through our own distinct lens. We can’t be someone else, but we can learn from someone else. And we learn by listening, asking questions, and observing. It’s not unlike me being taught at an early age to write notes of thanks and appreciation to those who had helped me. It’s not the prose or eloquence of the note that matters. You just have to mean it. Our actions have to show we mean it. Our authenticity reveals itself by our honesty, sincerity, and action.
Gallup researchers and writers have often listed four important attributes they have learned that followers want in leaders. Leaders would be wise to think about these as they operate in today’s uncertain context. Because there is no leadership without followership. Followers want these four pieces from leaders: Trust. Compassion. Stability. Hope. These supports aren’t built overnight but are essential building blocks. If you, as a leader were on trial for presenting evidence of these four in your leadership, what actions would you offer? It starts with you and if you find yourself lacking in an area then consider this Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”