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Are You Like My Busybody Neighbor?

This week, there was a warning notice taped to the windshield of our car. This is the car we seldom drive. It sits in front of our house, waiting for the day when our teenage son will start learning to drive.

The warning notice reminded us that no car is to sit idly for more than 72 hours in our city. Being the law-abiding citizens that we are, we immediately drove the car around the block and parked it back in that same location. But then we started wondering if that would be sufficient. After all, if the car were not obviously gone from its usual spot for a long period of time then anyone could assume it hadn't been moved at all.

Of course, we also wondered who ratted us out. So we started watching. As we took our evening walks around the neighborhood, we began to notice more and more of these notices attached to our neighbors vehicles, too. Predictably, this turned out to be the work of a busybody neighbor who clearly has too much time on her hands.

In leadership, we sometimes lapse into behaviors like those of my busybody neighbor. For example:

  • This neighbor is intent on finding the opportunities for a "gotcha." It seems as if she is patrolling the neighborhood looking for violations that she can report. Sometimes, in the workplace, it appears that managers are doing the same when the focus is on looking for what's wrong instead of building what's right.
  • There is a difference between doing what's right and doing what the rules say. Even though we sometimes exceed the 72-hour limit for our parked car, thereby breaking the rules, it may not be the right thing to immediately report us to the police. After all, the police have other matters to attend to. We have talked with them about this, and they agree there ought to be a different way for this to be handled. In leadership, focusing on what's right is paramount. The rules are meant to support what is right, not to circumvent it.
  • Leaders need to use their resources wisely. My busybody neighbor seems to think that the best use of the police department is calling them out on these nuisance complaints. She also thinks, apparently, that this is a good use of her time. Others would disagree. She could better spend her time picking up litter in the neighborhood or reaching out to have conversations and make friends and be neighborly...
  • Like my neighbor, leaders should always remember that everything comes down to a human-to-human connection. Rather than operating a clandestine operation to bust a rule-breaker, maybe the neighbor should just come and talk to us. Maybe it would have helped her to know that we didn't move our car for three consecutive days because we were too busy with our son being in the hospital. How many things do we miss, as leaders, when our focus is on something other than the personal connection?

Here's the progression I see when people are weakening themselves. Like my neighbor, leaders sometimes rely on their authority and the rules instead of relying on their own influence. This is always an inherently weak position. Over-reliance on the rule book results in bypassing connections with other people. It becomes an exercise in right or wrong, with no shades of gray. Sometimes, leaders even tell me that they are not asking for explanations because they don't care what the reason is for the rules violation.

I wish it were that simple. But if we are to be effective, we must remain open and willing to listen to the reasons people have for the decisions they make. You can't listen if you're bypassing a connection. And you can't make a connection if you are overly focused on your role and the presumed authority that comes with it.

It would've been nice to have a neighbor inquire about our car. I would have welcomed the opportunity to be listened to, and I would have listened to whatever concern is behind the neighbor's motivation to ensure that no car sits by the curb too long. Instead, I'm resentful and annoyed. It's difficult to imagine any scenario where I will now listen to or support anything this neighbor has to say.

As a leader, check yourself to be sure your behaviors are not like those of my busybody neighbor. The way you are viewed is directly correlated to the way you view and treat others.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThis blog post is part of the CONNECT! Community’s August focus on connecting by listening. As a leader, you will be able to more effectively CONNECT2Lead when you actively and empathically listen to others with an intent to understand. Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog. To God be the glory!