Oblivious

Do you pay attention to how your behavior comes across to others?

 Photo courtesy of Jay Wennington

Photo courtesy of Jay Wennington

It was an early morning flight out of San Francisco International Airport. I was still sleepy from having to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to get ready for the flight back home on that Friday in August. Boarding started just before 5:30 am.

I boarded early, and was able to observe as other passengers board. With their faces up, they scan the overhead panels, looking for their seat assignments. Then I saw him.

He stood just across from me in the aisle. Let’s call him Fred. After putting his duffel bag in one of the overhead compartments, Fred took his time taking off his jacket. He then proceeded to meticulously fold it and then stow it on top of his duffel bag.

All the while, he was standing in the aisle, and a long line had formed behind him. Other passengers were trying to get to their seats, but traffic was at a standstill. The gentleman at the head of the line had a stern look on his face, but said nothing. His gaze bore holes on the side of Fred’s head, but our friend was completely unaware of what was going on around him. Absolutely clueless, Fred completes his stowing ritual and then took his seat.

As I watched this unfold, I started wondering how many of us are like Fred. We go about doing our own things without giving any thoughts to the effects they have on others. We are completely unaware of the impact our behaviors have on those around us. A good leader must be aware of how his behavior affects others. If the effect of the behavior is a negative one, relationships could be affected without the leader realizing it. Very few people have the courage to walk up to their boss (or any other person for that matter), and tell them how their behavior comes across. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news!

Have you ever seen people who seem to yell into their phones or talk loudly in public places? With the increase in the use of cell phones over the last 15 years, this scenario has become a very common occurrence. If you're the type that dislikes this type of behavior, you will be embarrassed if the people you know, exhibit such. You will try to put some distance between you and them. If you don’t know them, your subconscious immediately tells you they're not the type of people you want to associate with. Before you realize it, there’s a wall between you and them. This is the type of wall that a leader doesn't want in the way as he engages with people.

There was another time I was in line at a McDonald’s restaurant, waiting to order a meal. The lady at the head of the line was taking her time to look through the menu. To the chagrin of those patiently waiting in line, she would make a choice, and then change it. This elect-reject cycle happened a few times. Her friend tried to hurry her along, noting that there were people waiting in line to place orders. She impatiently responded that people should wait for their turns, just as she had waited for hers. This seems to suggest that while some people may realize the impact of their behavior on others, it’s possible that they just don’t care. This is a worse scenario than just being oblivious.

As a leader, you should not only be aware of how the ways you behave affect others, you must also care that it affects them. When you care about people, it helps them build trust in you. The ability of leaders to inspire trust in those they lead is turning out to be the new critical skill that is essential in today’s global economy. In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell noted that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. You care about people because you know they have value. This starts when you see them, not as objects in a world that revolves around you, but as people to be admired, encouraged and appreciated.