Don’t get stuck on the dark side of human intolerance
By Rob and Mike Anleitner co-author to “Tech Leadership 4.0”
In my book “Awakening from the Deep Sleep”, I list 25 examples of ways we can find ourselves slumbering in the “deep sleep” of life. These largely are examples of what happens when traditional behaviors hold us back. The main message is that anyone can be hemmed in by the expectations of others or of society as a whole.
It’s bad enough if you permit the deep-seated xenophobia that lurks inside many of us to affect the way you treat those around you.
Worse of all is allowing the intolerance that others feel to infect and limit your own potential and behavior.
The political environment of the 21st century has brought many of these stereotypes onto national and international stages, and one can only hope that ongoing discussion and self-examination will, sooner or later, move society’s sensitivity needle.
This is a particularly important matter when dealing with the most recent generation of technical workers. They’ve been raised in a society where many of the issues that provoke a visceral, gut-level response in their elders have absolutely no impact on their emotional state. If they see you allowing something in this vein to surface, most of them will lose confidence in you very quickly.
The flip side of the coin is also perceptible in Gen Y and millennial cohorts. They don’t feel constrained to any extent by some of the ideas that have been present in human society for thousands of years. Mike Anleitner’s millennial daughter Jocelyn was born with an extremely high level of intelligence, and she often drove her parents a bit crazy with her beyond-her-years abilities.
She also exhibited a strong aptitude for mathematics, and, like her father, was drawn to engineering as a profession. While she faced, and still confronts, some degree of prejudice about her role as a female engineer, that hasn’t seemed to affect her enjoyment and excitement about her work. It never occurred to her that she shouldn’t enter the world of technology because her chromosomes were somehow “wrong”. She earned Professional Registration before she reached 30 and is now a successful environmental engineer.
Mike can reflect back to his studies and early career – a time that was only yesterday in the long stream of human history – when having a “girl” in any engineering class was not only unusual, it made everyone wonder about her personality, motives, and (of course) her appearance.
In sum, giving in to chauvinism, bigotry, and other forms of intolerance will cause you to get “stuck” in a place where your leadership capability will be stunted and ultimately deformed.
When you have the burden on your back, whether you are giving or taking from the dark side, it can become impossible to develop, maintain, and exhibit the level of energy, gusto and confidence that people expect from a leader.
Connect with others in a meaningful and respectful manner. If you need to improve on this, try thinking about people in terms of their productive capability. As a leader, that matters more than any visual cues you might get from their appearance.
Don’t allow stereotypical thinking to infect your team, event if you have to confront someone about this. Explain that it’s OK with you if someone doesn’t conform to narrow stereotypes, as long as they are industrious and constructive individuals. If someone exhibits rank prejudice, make sure you counsel them privately about the impact that their behavior can and will have on the tasks that your team must complete.
If you feel you are limited by prejudice, remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous adage, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission”.
Treat people the way you want to be treated. If you get it wrong, don’t hesitate to recognize your error and apologize for your mistake. Apologies in these areas can be the most difficult you will ever undertake but allowing an error to go unacknowledged will almost certainly be counterproductive to your role and effectiveness as a leader.
Always start with a high opinion of others; it may be the most important thing you can do. An “innocent until proven guilty” standard is a great starting point.
Consider physician-essayist Lewis Thomas’ words: “We are educated to be amazed by the infinite variety of life forms in nature; we are, I believe, only at the beginning of being flabbergasted by its unity”.