Leadership and Lazy Labels

megaphoneIn a workshop the other day, 2130 Partners’ co-founder, Suzanne Frindt, (who is also my wife), usedthe term “Lazy Labels” to capture the instant, automatic, and unexamined statements many, if not all of us make on a fairly regular basis. These statements could also be called “knee jerk reactions.” In this highly charged season of political sound-bites, such Lazy Labels seem to be flying everywhere!  What we notice about “Lazy Labels” is that they seem to be a convenient way to suppress complex topics you don’t actually understand, don’t want to examine, or have “already made up your mind about.”  The issue with this is that their use diminishes your effectiveness as a vision-focused leader. Let me explain. Lazy Labels often have the effect of “shutting things down” like diagloue and conversations. If you stop dialogue, healthy inquiry, and curiosity-based listening with one of those quick labels/statements, you and those around you, will never learn more about each others’ knowledge, perspectives and feelings. In fact your brain has a mechanism to be sure you don’t learn anything that disagrees with your Lazy Label.  You won’t be learning anything new about the subject at all.  You will only see evidence that agrees with you. As we have written about often, we believe this is the era of collaborative leadership. We need each other’s skills, competencies, knowledge and perspective now more than ever, so shutting yourself and/or your team members down is dangerous.

Scotoma example

Scotoma example

Lou Tice of The Pacific Institute in Seattle, WA teaches about scotomas“ which are our blindness to data that doesn’t match our beliefs about the world.  (Scotomas are literally an area of diminished vision within the visual field, a blind spot. It comes from the Greek word skotos (to darken) and means a spot on the visual field in which vision is absent or deficient.) What we are talking about here are “mental scotomas,” meaning a figurative blind spot in a person’s psychological awareness, the person being unable to gain insight into or to understand their mental problems; lack of insight. There are many great examples of how we can’t see things right in front of us that we are not open to.  A common example is when you get a new car and then suddenly see similar models everywhere. Where were they yesterday?

I am going to suggest that the scotomas created by your Lazy Labels protect you from the discomfort or flat out fear of stepping into the unknown. After all, if you drop the Lazy Label and actually engage in a real dialogue about a subject with someoone, you may hear things that may make you uncertain, uncomfortable, or downright scared. If you open up to, and actually consider ideas, perspectives, and data that differ from your previous ideas, you will be in unknown territory.  You may even be permanently changed by the interaction.

If that happens, you might find yourself in a complex web of relationships and agreements built on who you were and how you thought before you opened up in this new dimension.  Before you even get the chance to find your new footing you will have to get to work in new conversations with many people.  You might even run into resistance, mocking or rejection.  (No one ever said leadership growth would be easy…)

Even if you believe you are more evolved than I am describing, what about the folks that work with and for you?  Are you getting a sense of how some of your great ideas for change may land with some of them at times? Do members of your team react to you with Lazy Labels?

We have posted on a number of occasions about being present, being with the unknown (courage), and making the choice to work from a shared Yonder Star, (or shared vision).  In a recent post we looked at the assertion that “anything you can’t be with owns your life.” Now we are upping that challenge.  We are asking you to look newly under your Lazy Labels when you hear them come out of your mouth and encourage those around you to do the same.

If you are willing to get serious about kicking yourself into a new learning orbit, start making lists of Lazy Labels you have for family members, people and programs at work, “the government,” community servants, religious groups, scientific data and theories, etc., etc.  Engage with and learn from people on the other side of those Lazy Labels. Be intentionally slow to understand. In this era of “faster, faster, faster’ it will be a challenge, but it will be worth it.