A friend once gave me some great leadership advice. Leaders need to spend time trying to understand how the world occurs to a person in order to make sense of their actions. Why? Because no one ever wakes up in the morning and thinks to themselves, “Today I am going to act in a way everyone else would think was irrational.” Rather, people act in a manner that is completely rational to how they view the world. If leaders understand how others view the world, then they can understand their actions.
I think this is great advice. Its insight is brilliant because of it’s simplicity. But it has me wondering…is there a singular rational way to live?
We live in culture that loves irrationality. Chance, collage, anarchy and deconstruction are things we adore. These are so ingrained in us as a culture we have no problems swimming in the incongruity enabled by them. For example, Lady GaGa could easily be considered the poster-child for post-modernity and irrationality. She crosses gender, sexuality and race boundaries seamlessly. The art of her performances seeks to display the role culture plays in constructing our identities. At the same time she sings, “I was born this way…” This seems completely irrational and paradoxical. How can one claim that gender, for example, is a social constructed label while singing that the way one is established at the time of birth long before society has a chance to construct something?
Back to my friend’s statement.
How do people view the world? If they see the world as paradoxical in nature and devoid of any absolutes then perhaps, the irrationality makes complete sense. Who is to say whether we are socially constructed or if we are born a certain way? What if it is a combination of the two? Perhaps it just arises out of living in a world that seems full of contradiction and irrationality. We live in a world that is beautiful and ugly, complex and simple, full and empty, hopeful and despairing, blessed and tragic. A world where at times all events seemed to be threaded together by a single narrative, and other times is seemingly individual events occurring in chaotic randomness. Surrounded by all that, how does one keep themselves from becoming irrational?
In light of this, I believe the advice my friend gave me is spot on. Admittedly, I often judge the behavior of others to be irrational. But it irrational to me. Which is simply to say that based on how I perceive the world I have determined there to be a singularly rational way to operate irregardless of the circumstances and forces impacting another persons perception of the world.
As a leader, taking time to listen and understand why they do what they do provides many opportunities to lead. Listening communicates a concern for the person and builds relational capital. It allows the leader to learn and gain a broader understanding of the world and how it impacts those around them. Finally, it provides a place for the leader to facilitate greater change. If a leader can understand how one acts based on how the perceive the world, they can help change, not only the action, but the perception of the world. Which is absolutely transformational. It is the type of change that affects the whole life of the person. It changes how they think, how they act, their attitudes, and their relationships.
And as a leader, it changes me.