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Ease Up!

We were hiring a new Langauge Arts teacher. I was leading a committee who just finished our first interview. I came out to get the next candidate and sitting in the waiting area were the next three candidates. I did a quick take, walked back into the interview room, and thought "I know who I am going to hire."

You might think that this is good, but it is very, very bad. First, I'm not the only one doing the hiring…remember, we are using a committee. Second, how in the world can I bring on a teacher who will be spending hundreds and hundreds of hours with young impressionable minds based upon 7 seconds of outward judgment? I can't and I shouldn't. Yet, this is where my mind went.

How quickly do you judge people?

Isn't it interesting how fast we judge people and on what little grounds? We meet someone for the first time and after a 3-minute conversation, we've decided his political party, his grooming habits, his positivity for life, and his potential in helping us. It's a shame. Maybe he just finished a manual labor task, maybe he's having a bad day because an accident happened in his family, maybe he wasn't that focused in the conversation because he has an important presentation coming up later in the day. Who knows…but we seem to think that we do. If you doubt me, just start to pay attention to your thoughts about people you don't know throughout the day. Driving to work you pass a runner, what thoughts come to your head? You walk by a beggar, what thoughts come to your head? You see a new employee being briefed by your boss, what thoughts come to your head? Our judging machine is constantly running and it can't be shut off.

The benefit of this judging machine is that it's right a lot of times. Many of those quick judgments pan out to be just as they seem. Perhaps that person you met really does have a terrible attitude most of the time. Maybe the jogger does have a problem with portion control, or perhaps the beggar has made a lot of choices that have placed him in a bad situation. I'm not arguing with the fact that we judge because, honestly, we need this brain function. It helps us make good decisions, it helps us prioritize our time, and it helps us make sense of humanity.

However, what I am arguing is for us to be extremely cautious with our judgments about people. Even though we may be right many times, the cost of being wrong is too much. Here's a real example of what judgment can do:


Chelsey's story:

When I was in high school I worked at this big huge new restaurant in town. They hired a wide and diverse group of employees, most with one commonality - they were young like me and my friends. As soon as it was open, I applied for the head server position. Unfortunately, I didn't get it. In fact, none of us young and energetic people got it. They gave the position to a much, much older lady named Joyce, who had curly white hair and looked like the type of grandma you'd place in a cookie commercial. I kept thinking, "How can she handle this position? How is she going to keep up? This is a demanding job!" I was not happy about this and my behaviors definitely let her know.

One Friday night, all of my preconceived notions were put to the test when my friends decided to ditch work and leave the entire large restaurant to Joyce and me. There was no way she was going to keep up and this was going to be a nightmare.

Surprisingly, we turned over every table twice that night. Dang. She was hustling. We were in the trenches together, blood, sweat, and tears, the whole night we had each other's back.

Never had I had teamwork to that level before. It was through walking that fire that my eyes were opened and I could see why they chose her instead of me as the head server. From that day on, we worked together really well and created a lifetime bond. She came to my wedding, I helped support her through a battle with cancer, and we still keep in contact. Holy cow, I completely misjudged her based on her age (a horrible thing and I feel bad admitting that), but thank goodness for that Friday night when I was able to see her for who she truly is.


Whether you know it or not, when you walk out onto that production floor, you've placed a number on everyone's head. Some people you think are amazing workers with tremendous potential. Others you see as lazy place-fillers. While you might be right with some, you might be wrong with others. Either way, what is guaranteed is that all of your behaviors, all of your actions, and all of your thoughts are based upon your judgments of the person.

It's like we've got a scale system in our head and we rate people that we don't see much potential in as a 2 or a 3 and those with great potential as a 9 or a 10. You tend to be more positive around, tend to spend more time with, and tend to delegate more to the 8, 9, and 10s. When you're around the 1, 2, and 3s you lose your positivity, you feel like the only things you can tell them are corrections, and you'd much rather not be around them at all. Based on your actions, the higher-judged employees will feel more of your care, while the lower will notice your lack of care. The 8, 9, and 10's will work harder, will grow faster, and will produce more because this is what you expect of them. The others, not so much. You'll most likely come to the judgment that some are more motivated than others, while it very well could be that your way of seeing them is causing their motivation or lack thereof.

The more that we believe in a person's potential, the more they will begin to express their potential. It really is that simple. See them with low potential, expect nearly nothing from them, and they will likely give you exactly what you'd predict. See them with high potential, expect great things from them, and almost always they will deliver. This means that the decision is yours. Do you want low-performing or high-performing employees? You get to decide based upon how you see or judge them.

My guess is that you'd like to get the very best from each and every employee. It is probably one of the reasons you're reading this. If this is true, we have to start to change your mindset. We have to work on helping you see each person you encounter as a 10. Sure, they may not be there yet, but they have the potential to be and they need you to believe in that potential. It is what uncommon, caring leaders do. They treat everyone as their best employee. They hold everyone up to high expectations.

Several years ago I was teaching a group of shipping executives this concept when one of them spoke up. "Jason, I don't believe you. I've been working with Johnny for over 20 years. I know him. I know that he is a 3 and he is never going to change." You might know someone like Johnny. Maybe you've had the same experience. Perhaps it is simply too hard to imagine this person as a 10. In that case, you can use the same tool that I taught this exec.

"Bob, I get it. It might be too far of a jump to move from a 3 to a 10. So, let's ease up. What if instead of seeing him as a 3, you thought of him as a 4. In all of your interactions with him, you look for evidence that he is a 4. Could you ease up on your judgments to do that?"

"Sure," Bob replied. I knew he was sincere, but I also know a lot of leaders that make commitments and never follow through on them. You can imagine my surprise when 3 months later, I got an email from Bob.

"Jason, you'd never believe it! Johnny is actually a 5!"

When we Ease Up on our judgments and start to look for evidence that we've ranked the person too low, 9 times out of 10, we'll find that evidence. It won't work every time, but it will work enough times that it will be worth the effort.

Alan McLenaghan, CEO of Sage Glass, a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain, is leading a highly productive electrochromic glass company. He is well known for spotting the best in everyone he sees. He states,

"If I didn't go down a path that my mother really boosted me on, I could be working in a coal mine or a steel mill in Scotland. That was my destiny. My mother said, 'education.' And she worked to make sure that my sister and I got that opportunity. And therefore it changed my life. So, every time I’m looking at someone on the production floor in Faribault, Minnesota, or France or in Poland, I’m thinking 'Maybe you're smarter'. I'm going to start there."

More importantly, his actions reinforce his words. He has 21 languages spoken at his plants, he leads the charts in diversity, and more than half of his executive team is composed of female leaders. Keep in mind, this is a technology and manufacturing organization. When you see value in others, they will show you their value.

We as humans are never going to be able to put our judgments on hold. We are also never going to be 100% accurate in all of our judgments, especially about people. What we can control is how much we believe those judgments. Easing Up on the numbers we assign to people is within our power. We can do it if we are intentional in our thinking.

As we question our judgments, as we Ease Up, as we look for more evidence, we are working on the inside. Naturally, as we work on our inside, our outside starts to change and people will notice. They will feel a difference when we are around them. They will feel like we care more about them, and a deeply caring leader who sees everyone as a 10 is uncommon.

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