This is the first in an occasional series of guest postings by people whom I admire for the leadership they offer to a complex and changing world. I hope you enjoy learning from them as much as I do.
My wife, young daughter and I had the fortunate experience to spend the past two years living in São Paulo, Brazil. As natives of Southern California we had never visited South America and it was a grand adventure in every way imaginable. What I was not expecting was that the experience would test my judgments and preconceptions but once I realized that was happening, I tried hard to embrace it.
It started small. Summer is winter. The metric system. The 24-hour clock. Celsius. A four or six-hour time difference (there’s no “spring forward”). I was always thinking and converting. No unconsciousness allowed.
One difference that completely surprised me in a “2+2 doesn’t equal 4” kind of way involved cars making right turns. As we are taught in the US, when approaching an intersection, you put your right blinker on, look left, maybe stop, and then turn right. It’s an easy image to conjure. That simple act, however, is more for the people behind you who can see the action unfolding and should, arguably, be prepared for it.
Compare that to cars coming from the opposing direction. What you are doing to them is not turning right but merging left. So, a left turn signal would be more appropriate. This is what they do in Brazil and I could never get used to it.
I’ve never questioned the act of the right turn before. I had no reason to. And it got me thinking about how my judgments – my assumptions – may prevent me from seeing what’s really happening. Here are a few things I came up with (with some questions to consider included):
- It’s not just about taking things for granted. At times, we should actively question foundational items and actions. What assumptions do you make that should be questioned? Re-evaluated?
- Take “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” to a whole new level. Start small. Find something truly broken and look at it from a completely different perspective. Then move to a functioning product or process and repeat.
- Perspective matters. Are you considering everything? A 360° view can be healthy, necessary or just plain safe.
My experience south of the equator taught me to test my assumptions, to question the basis for my decisions, actions, and even the delivery of products and services. In a more profound way I see the importance of sound evaluation, considered from diverse points of view and re-evaluated appropriately and objectively. While this is not a simple thing to do, “simple” is not what leaders sign up for, right?
From now on, whenever I feel like I’ve got it all figured out, I remember myself at an intersection in Brazil helplessly trying to figure out which blinker to use. Take nothing for granted. There’s always another way to see the situation you’re in.
Joel Stern has 16+ years of full life cycle recruitment experience within professional and financial services. Throughout his career, Joel has developed and enhanced recruitment solutions (people, process, technology) to help create efficient and well run Talent Acquisition functions. At Opening, Joel’s focus includes building relationships with experts to create a library of evaluations, bringing best practices in talent acquisition and holding the team accountable to Opening’s value proposition: taking the guesswork out of the hiring process and helping employers build high-performing teams.