The human brain is capable of 1016 processes per second, which is more powerful than any computer currently in existence. Because of its immense complexity, the brain has also developed evolutionary shortcuts to help us survive and make sense of the world around us.
However, as with any complex machine, a small misfire can lead to massive failure. In business, there are many obstacles our minds must overcome to succeed. But one in particular tosses the biggest wrench into the entire operation. I'm talking, of course, about judgment.
We hear a lot from self-help texts and management training about how we have to accept others, practice empathy and walk in the shoes of those who work for and with us. But do we actually follow that advice in our day-to-day lives and careers?
If pressed, many of us admit we do not. Why is it so hard? Because passing judgment on others is simply easier and faster than the effort required to understand others' influences and motives. This is true in both life and work. For example, if you see a homeless man asking for change, it's easier to pass judgment on how he got to that place than it is to stop and ask about his story.
Similarly, when you're at work, if employees are struggling, it's easier to make assumptions about their motivation or intelligence than to put in the work to improve the relationship. Here's the problem, though: While judging others may be more efficient, it's a critical mistake for building a successful business or career. So, here are three ways to remove judgment from your leadership style:
1. Move toward reflection.
There is a difference between reflecting objectively about mistakes vs. passing judgment on the people who have made them. Reflection is productive; it helps us learn and leads to positive results. Judgment, on the other hand, makes us resent our team members and reinforces a belief that the previous failure will repeat itself as a future failure.
If you lead from a place of judgment, sooner or later your team will believe the hype and behave as you're portraying them. Strong leaders, however, attack workforce problems head-on and without hesitation, while ensuring that employees learn from the past without being defined by it.
It's difficult, but not impossible, to analyze problems without assigning blame, and we all want to work with people willing to be accountable for their mistakes. So, try dissecting any problems with the goal of fixing them rather than focusing on who is at fault. This kind of environment will not only be more constructive but will make your team members more willing to admit mistakes and accept accountability if they feel that that reaction will make for a positive learning experience.
2. Focus on growth, not punishment.
You've likely heard the saying, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Essentially, that means that you shouldn't criticize others if you also have weaknesses. And we all have weaknesses; we've all made mistakes we regret. Instead of punishing colleagues, literally or figuratively, then, use those instances as opportunities to grow and learn. Our society tends to shame individuals who make mistakes; however, were each of us exposed for all of our past indiscretions, it probably wouldn't be a pretty picture.
Consider an extreme example: the American criminal justice system. In the mid-1970s, rehabilitation was a key part of U.S. prison policy, recognizing that the overwhelming majority of people in prisons will eventually be released back into society. However, since that time, our prison system has become more punitive, and less attuned to helping individuals grow.
According to Robert Morgan, a psychologist at Texas Tech University who has worked in federal and state prisons and studies treatment methods for inmates, "Right now there's such a focus on punishment; most criminal justice or correctional systems are [so] punitive in nature, it's hard to develop effective rehabilitative programs." So, while your organization is obviously not a prison, you can still find lessons there. When the emphasis is on growth, people at even the extreme ends of society have the capacity to improve.
3. Stop judging yourself.
We've discussed why you should stop judging other people who work with you, but in reality, the person we judge most commonly is the one in the mirror staring back at us. Judging ourselves for past mistakes prevents us from moving forward to achieve success.
Whether those mistakes were professional failures, missed opportunities or even regrets about our personal lives, our negative self-perceptions are crippling. And, typically it is the people with the highest performance who have the lowest opinions of themselves. According to research conducted by Cornell, in regard to self-evaluations in the workplace, top performers studied rated themselves far lower than their performances merited.
This finding is consistent with research done way back in 1977 on fourth-year medical students in New Zealand. The study found that self assessments for the 141 students observed were far lower than were their peers' assessments, which in turn were far lower than the assessments of staff. So, this self-judgment issue is hardly a new problem.
Whether you are judging others for mistakes or yourself for perceived failures, the energy expended and the anxiety induced as a result are a complete waste of your human potential. By practicing strategies of growth and improvement, putting an emphasis on positivity and creating an environment where constructive failure is celebrated, your team and organization, as well as you yourself, will realize a new level of success.