I received a text from my wife (Deb) recently, which simply said “you need to come home, I twisted or broke my ankle.”  In the Emergency room we learned she had a dislocated ankle and 3 broken bones. She is now recovering and when we go anywhere, she needs a wheelchair and I have a temporary handicapped parking permit.

I now see things differently than before her injury. I now notice:

  • how many handicapped parking spaces there are and how close they are to a building
  • how conveniently the handicapped door button is located
  • what it’s like to see things from her perspective of being in a wheelchair, instead of standing up

I once heard someone say:

“The eyes can’t see what the brain doesn’t know.”

The challenge for all of us is seeing an issue or problem when we haven’t experienced it ourselves. Our understanding of things is based on our unique experiences.

It is harder to see many of the challenges people experience every day:

  • Racial or gender discrimination if we haven’t experienced it
  • The struggle many women face between career and motherhood if we don’t have that struggle
  • Harassment if we haven’t been harassed
  • Bullying if we haven’t been bullied

The list is endless. While your eyes will be opened, and you will we see it more clearly when you experience it yourself, there will be some things you can’t experience.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t seek to understand and do what we can. Take a tip from how great leaders deal with issues and challenges they haven’t experienced.

  1. Caring – They care about what’s happening to those whom they are leading. They consider them to be more than a resource used to get work done, they are human beings, and they want to help. I’ve met way too many leaders who say, “our people are our greatest resource” and then have no compassion for them. If you don’t care, you will never be able to see.
  2. Listening – They listen not just to people in their organization, but in the community and throughout the country. They want to be aware and don’t assume it’s not an issue, just because it isn’t being talked about in their organization. Great leaders are proactive, seeking out information, not waiting for a major event to bring something to the surface. They seek out problems, even when it makes them feel uncomfortable. When someone says something they don’t understand because they haven’t experienced it, they ask questions like, “what do you mean by that?”, or “can you give me an example?” in order to better understand. In listening, they learn what is important.
  3. Collaborating on Solutions – Too often leaders think they have the answers, and no one tells them they don’t. They charge forward implementing their ideas and solutions. Great leaders know if you want to fix a problem, start seeking solutions from those impacted, it’s where you will learn the best solutions. I’m reminded of a Ted Talk where Ernesto Sirolli talked about a project he once worked on. He and a group wanted to help people living in Zambia with growing food. Without ever asking them why they were not growing anything; they decided to plant tomatoes, which resulted in some magnificent tomatoes. Unfortunately, when the tomatoes were ripe and red, overnight, hippos came out from the river and ate everything. The group was stunned and said to the Zambians, “Why didn’t you tell us?” The response was, “You never asked.” Make sure you ask.

I’m confident the more you care and listen, the more your eyes will be opened.

Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. Ecclesiastes 1:8b (GNT)

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