Thursday, March 23, 2017

When Did We Stop Listening To Each Other?

I was barely twenty years old when I wrote those words thirty years ago.  I gave a presentation at a conference of retail managers back in August of 1987, and that was part of my presentation.  I was a very new manager--the youngest in my company's history.  I was promoted to store manager out of desperation--there was nobody else available in that area and it was made abundantly clear it wasn't a permanent position.  Don't get comfortable in that office, because you won't be there long.  However, within a few months I was quickly rising to become the company's top manager--everyone was baffled by that, especially considering many of the managers in that company had been at it for decades. 

It was a different time then, and managers had a "my way or the highway" approach to leadership.  I didn't.  I used a team approach--I had to, because I didn't have any experience or knowledge to draw from.  I realized everybody brought a unique set of skills, everybody had a talent, and everybody had the opportunity to participate in decisions.  We didn't always agree, but everyone got to weigh in.  And when it was time for me to decide, I went with the best plan offered, whether it was my idea or not.  Because of their unique skills and experience I was able to cover my lack thereof.  And it worked well. 

Which is how a twenty-year-old kid with perhaps a nine months of experience winds up sharing his winning management approach to a very big room full of veteran managers with decades of experience at a management seminar at the Holiday Inn.  I wasn't well received.  Believe me.  What I was saying was contrary to everything they knew to be true.  You couldn't run a store like.  And they laughed and laughed at my "new age" ideas on management.  But looking back now with decades of experience under my belt, I was dead on right.  In fact, I still use that approach today. 

We learn more when we listen.  We grow more when we remain flexible.  We accomplish more when we work together.  What I've learned from team building has carried over into my personal life as well.  My core values haven't changed over the last thirty years, but many of my attitudes have changed about a great many things.  That's because I've remained open to change.  I listen to people.  I study both sides of an issue before I make a decision--in fact, I get to know the issues so well, I could argue either side of the debate if I wanted.  I can be swayed, I can be convinced, and I consider it a strength.  I don't mind taking a second look at what I believe is true and modifying it as I go along when there's new information to consider. 

That's the problem we have in our country today.  There is a "my way or the highway" attitude--we don't listen to each other anymore.  We don't learn anything from each other.  We don't seem to get the fact that one group's weakness is the other group's strength.  If I don't agree with you on every point, I'm wrong.  Period.

One thing I've always believed is that other people don't have to share my values, and I don't have to share theirs.  Just because I don't agree with theirs, and they don't agree with mine doesn't mean we're enemies.  It doesn't have to mean one of us is right and one of us is wrong.  It means we're different.  And agreeing to disagree should be a perfectly acceptable in the Land of Liberty.  It used to be. 

We used to learn from those differences, and grow through those unique perspectives.  We celebrated individualism and the unique thoughts, talents, and ideas each of us brought to the table.  But that's not the way it is anymore. 

One group, the rule makers, seem to always be telling everyone what they should do, what they should believe, how they should feel about everything, and how they should live--and viciously attacks and humiliates anyone who steps over the politically correct line that they have taken it upon themselves to establish.  The other side, the freedom lovers, could care less about the rules they never agreed to abide by and go against many of their core values, and they have no problem telling the rule makers all to go pound sand.  That, in turn, causes the rule makers to lose their ever loving minds.  And we've all seen that--it's not pretty.  That's when the name calling begins.  And that's where we are in our loving and tolerant America today. 

We've come a long way, huh?  I wonder if we ever get back to learning from one another again?  I'm hopeful we will.  I'm reminded of what happened to those "my way or the highway" managers back when I started my career.  They made themselves obsolete because they failed to see that the world was changing. 

~Todd E. Creason

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