From Judgment To Faith – A Leader’s Journey

September 5, 2018 Glenn Case
woman jumping free, a broken shackle behind her signifying freedom and faith

In a past article, I wrote about the influence judgment can have over our ability to lead. To judge is human. As emotional beings judgment is, if nothing else, an emotional response to our environment. On a deeper level, it's a protective mechanism. 

The question, perhaps, should not be, "Are you a judgmental leader?" but rather, "to what degree are you a judgmental leader?".

I'm a judger. I catch myself judging others. Most often, I judge because another's actions threaten to push me beyond my comfort zone. We judge when confronted by that we most fear. And for leaders, what is often feared the most is a loss of control. 

Looking back on my many years as a leader, I realize now that I struggled with this one. Especially earlier on. Suddenly I'd been entrusted with a position of responsibility that was intimately tied to the actions of others. Gone were the days when I worked alone, responsible solely for my own actions.

Now, as a leader, what others did reflected on me. Judgment, I was finding, reared its head whenever I felt this reflection was not a positive one.

A team member who was struggling became someone to be actively "managed" - a person I judged to be ill-suited to the role, or was unwilling to apply themselves. Rather than check my judgment at the door and actively coach the individual to better understand the obstacles in their path, it was easier - and more comfortable - to draw my own conclusions. To make a judgment call.

While I understood enough as a young manager that the best reflection on me was to develop a team that trusted me, too often my actions were governed instead by my own need for control. To manage others' perception of me and my abilities. 

With struggling team members, I wanted resolution because I needed to prove I could "deal" effectively - decisively - with the situation. In my interactions, I approached the team member with a pre-conceived outcome. Basically, I was driven by my own agenda, not that of the individual. An agenda driven, at its heart, by fear.

In retrospect, I cloaked - and rationalized - my judgment in the "assessment- heavy" nature of management.

Managers are, after all, assessors. Assessors of performance. Competencies. Skills. The list goes on. But I gradually came to understand as I developed as a leader that all too often for me assessment merged with judgment.

As Wayne Dyer once said, "Real magic in relationships means an absence of judgment of others."

This was a journey of understanding and enlightenment that took years to unfold for me.

As I became more confident as a leader, and in myself, I came to see things differently. I was given the grace of self-awareness.I realized that the vast majority of people want to do the very best they can. Yes, they sometimes struggle. They may fail, or fall-short of their own expectations or those of others.

As a manager, yes, it was my role to assess this. But I learned that to actually lead, it was my responsibility to support and coach my people to find the answers they needed to succeed. Answers that existed within themselves, just waiting to be explored. And to do this, I needed both to have faith in this reality and to release judgment.

Glowing lightbulb representing greater self-awarenessBelief in their potential and their authentic desire to succeed increasingly became my drivers. Curiosity slowly replaced judgment. Their agendas replaced my own.

Judgment still muscled its way in. It's determined like that.

But in time, I learned to release the need for control. Began to place faith in the authenticity of others. In the vulnerability required, I was becoming more authentic myself. And a more effective leader.

It's interesting that few posts on Authentic Leadership actually list the release of judgment as a core requirement. However, as stated in this post by Peter Economy in Inc., #3 of the 9 listed attributes of an authentic leader is "They know how to manage fear".

"Truly authentic leaders," Economy says, "have learned to manage their fears by first acknowledging their fear and the causes, and then talking about their fears openly and honestly. They possess the courage to act ethically and transparently as they continue to push through their fear to achieve their goals."

But in time, I learned to release the need for control. Began to place faith in the authenticity of others. In the vulnerability required, I was becoming more authentic myself. And a more effective leader.

Acknowledging that fear underpinned my judgmental tendencies was the starting point to greater awareness, allowing me to eventually shift my perspective to one more empowering. One that was truer to the type of leader I wanted to become.

Leadership, I was learning, is as much as anything a journey of self-discovery.

As you work with your team members, ask yourself, am I allowing judgments of the person to seep into my role as assessor? Am I being driven more by my own fears than truly supporting the individuals in my team for their own sakes? Do I lack faith in their unlimited potential, and their desire to succeed?

Using these questions can help you self-assess, perhaps opening up opportunities to strengthen your authenticity as a leader through releasing judgment. Perhaps, even, learning more about yourself in the process!

What's been your experience of judgment as a leader, and as a follower? Would be great to hear from you!

Glenn Case is a Leadership, Executive and Team Coach in Vancouver, Canada. 

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