How The Best Leaders See People Looking Through the Lens of Humanity
Someone is not doing what they are supposed to. Isn’t that what we face daily as leaders? If you lead people, it’s often true—however, not the right perspective. I’ve discovered the best way to see people, regardless of what they are doing right or wrong, is through the lens of humanity. They are human beings, doing their best.
In this article, I will explain how we can move toward this more noble, and more effective, way of seeing everyone. This is crucial because how we see people determines how we treat people.
On a weekly basis, someone reports to me about someone else who “is not doing what they are supposed to be doing.” I hear the complaining and the rants, and I try to avoid taking it all in. So as a personal addendum to these conversations, I quietly remind myself of the following truth:
If I fail to see people through this lens of humanity, I fall into a common trap of judgment. We are all familiar with this place. We start feeling badly toward the other person. We get frustrated, disappointed, or resentful. It’s not where I want to be. I never want to lead from a place of judgment and frustration, but from a place of calm and loving-kindness. I haven’t always seen people this way. So, let me break down how this perception has revolutionized my thinking toward others.
Humanity changes our perspective.
I don’t work with employees, team members, bosses, or staff. I work with human beings. I don’t treat patients or sick people. I treat human beings. I don’t have clients or venders who call on me. Human beings pay me a visit.
Many years ago, I was in an important meeting when I got a call from a number I did not recognize. On the other end of the line was a salesperson for some obscure product. I have to admit I was harsh with him, maybe a bit too hard, admonishing him for calling me though I had never given him my number. After patiently listening to my tongue lashings, he said, “Sir, I am a human being.” Wow. That stopped me in my tracks. To me he was just a sleazy salesperson.
Why is it important to see everyone as a human being? Because like you and me, that person hurts, dreams, smiles, loves, fears, cries, mourns, and laughs. That person has a mother and a father; they were once a child; and they will one day die.
I am often reminded of this when the UPS or FedEx person comes into our building to make a delivery. I have to admit, these companies sure know how to motivate their people because they are always moving fast, never stopping to chit chat. They are on a mission, and they do a great job. But they dart in and out, and we take them for granted. They ask us to sign, so we scribble our name and say “thank you.” We are each busy, and we both know the drill. Yet we miss the fact that they are fellow human beings, not just a delivery service.
Similarly, with the people we lead, we get into routines and see them through the lens of our own daily expectations. If we are not careful, if we are not intensely intentional, we forget they are human too. We see them almost as tools to carry out certain tasks. But my friend, great leaders always see people as people. Great leaders stop and smile. They hug. They empathize. They care and love. They take the time for others, and they go the extra mile. They give themselves to others this way because in their core, they see others as fellow human beings.
People are doing their best.
Is everyone doing their best? I get a lot of opposition when I say this to people. I believe so. But, that’s different from saying everyone is performing at their highest potential. None of us are. So, can those around me do better? Of course. I can do better. That’s why I aim to grow.
However, without growth, without change, without maturity and further awareness, I believe that everyone is doing their best where they currently are. Is that an excuse to give people a free pass when they are clearly crossing a line? No. If someone lies to me or steals from me, I believe that with their current character level, they are doing their best. However, I will still do what is necessary to enforce healthy boundaries. There are consequences for poor choices, even if one is operating at their personal best.
So what is the benefit of looking at others as if they are always doing their best? Simple. We remove our own perception that detects their ill motives. Looking at others through the lens of judgment often leads us to bad feelings toward them because we use our own filters to judge their intent. If we are mature enough to remove those self-imposed filters, we see others through the lens of humanity. We see them as flawed human beings who are doing the best they can do.
For example, in a professional environment, it is unacceptable for someone to habitually come in late to work. But at their current level of professional maturity, that’s the best they can do. Since I see them as doing their best, I do not resent them. But I will have to talk to them and say, “I am sorry, but because you are not able to come in on time, you will have to do…” For example, maybe they are ineligible for a promotion or a raise. Maybe we have to put them on probation or even fire them.
I don’t see it as my role to punish them. I never punish anyone. I work with partners and adults. I simply have boundaries. If people choose to do something that crosses those boundaries, I respect that the choice is theirs. But I also have a choice. No hard feelings. No problem. But consequences naturally occur following all our choices—good or bad.
Even when I enter the room to fire someone, regardless of what they did to me or to the team, I always remind myself: They are a human being who did their best.
We simply must look through the filter of love if we are to lead well. We must see people as people.
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