Entering Their World

by Stephen T. Messenger

May 24, 2022

In New York City last year, 125 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents. That’s the most deaths since 2013, and Mayor Eric Adams is looking to pull that number back to zero.

One way he’s attacking this problem is by installing one hundred raised crosswalks annually. These consist of a flat-topped speed hump approximately 6 feet wide that forces cars to slow down as they approach heavily crossed roads. The raised walkway has been shown to reduce average speeds by 18% and accidents by 45%.

In effect, the drivers are forced to switch their mindset from owning the road to entering the pedestrian’s world.

The same applies to how we interact with those on our team. Often, leaders fail to enter the world of those who are following them. The leader thinks they own the road and treats everyone as if they must enter the boss’ world.

A better way to interact with people is to join their world. When my daughter was five years old, my father-in-law was on the floor for an hour with her talking about unicorns and princesses and flying. We applauded him for enduring so much imagination, and he responded: “It’s easy when you enter their world.”

This skill is about listening to and understanding the other person. Until you know what motivates them, it’s hard to influence them.

What concerns the leader is not necessarily what motivates the follower. Traditionally, employees think more about their personal role, their own lives, and what they need to do to be successful today. Honestly, we all do. They don’t always care about the bigger picture. It’s the leader’s job to flip the script.

Often, leaders hold meetings in their offices and conference rooms, mandating their people come to them. They sit around the table in the same office scenery, with the same thoughts, thinking about how the employee can best benefit the leader.

Instead, leaders need to go to people, meet them in their office, their place of work, or their conference room. They need to see what their employees see. They need to experience what their employees experience.

The Army calls this battlefield circulation. It’s when they move to the front lines and inspect the foxholes, talk to the troops, and see conditions for themselves. As discussed in last week’s article, General Eisenhower talked to the Airborne assault team the day before D-Day to enter their world before the invasion.

He could have easily sat in his headquarters and hoped the D-Day assault would go well. Instead, he chose to enter their world.

Those who forget to enter the other’s world quickly become disconnected from their people. They don’t understand what motivates their team, inspires others, and encourages them to succeed. They become isolated and take their finger off the pulse of the organization. They quickly fail.

Entering their world is about:

Relationships: You must know your people to lead them

Communication: You must talk to them to understand the issues

Empathy: You must put yourself in their shoes to see the problems

The reason pedestrian accidents decrease with raised sidewalks is because the cars enter the world of the walkers. The cars are forced to slow down, move to the level of the walker, and understand they are no longer in their own world.

Leaders must do the same. Enter the world of your employees and see how they respond.

Lead well!

Your followers expect you to be a better leader every day. This can only be done through experience, study, discussion, and training. I encourage you to subscribe to The Maximum Standard for a free, weekly email delivered to your inbox every Tuesday. Never stop learning!

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