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It's Not You; It's Them

When I first became a leader I was astonished to find my jokes were funnier, people listened to me more intently, and team members were kind and polite when I was around. People who used to ignore me now liked to spend time with me and agreed with my perspective

It was important for me to remember that in reality myr jokes were not funnier. Instead people were responding to authority, perceived or actual, rather than to me as a human being. Indeed, many people who cozied up to me expected me to consider their perspective more heavily when facing challenging decisions. “If the leader likes me, his decisions will conform to my desires” is how the admirer’s thinking goes, consciously or unconsciously.

This phenomenon is more obvious in areas where decisions are made about people’s futures. In a private school, no one is more in control of people’s future than the admissions director. She is the ultimate arbiter of whether a student can attend the school or not. Unsurprisingly, once families decide to apply to the school, the admissions director gets lots of love. Families return her calls immediately, they compliment her about how articulately she described the school and how much they want their child to attend it.

Things change dramatically after admissions decisions are made. Certain admitted families who professed their undying love for the school decide to attend somewhere else. Families that are denied admission now believe that the brilliant admission director has transformed into a bumbling idiot. Even those who are accepted to the school and enroll are less responsive to the Admission Director’s requests.

At least once each year, after decisions were communicated to families, I would meet with a despondent admissions director--concerned about families that turned the school down and families that had turned on the admissions director.

During those meetings, I had to remind the admissions director not to take the families’ decisions and responses personally; they are not personal. The families were acting in what they perceived in the best interest of their families and their children. The personal feelings of the admissions director were not at all on their minds. These families were being driven by their own agenda.

We are humans and we want to be liked. As leaders it is easy to be too energized when it seems people agree with us and too down when people vehemently disagree with our decisions. It is important to remember that these people have their agendas. If your agenda is to make the best possible decision for the institution and its mission, you should be comfortable with the decision no matter the response.

1 Comment

Tim Daniel
Tim Daniel
Oct 18, 2023

I, for one, have always thought that your jokes were funny.

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