Everyday leadership: Misunderstandings a good time to learn

Last week my wife, Carol, prepared a crock pot of food for dinner before she left for work. She placed a nice pot roast in the middle of the pot and added a small amount of water for it to cook. She also prepared a nice medley of vegetables and mushrooms to add flavor. She cut up colorful red and yellow peppers, deep green snow peas, sharp smelling onions, and musky mushrooms. Since I was working at home, Carol asked me to put the vegetables and mushrooms in the pot a couple of hours before the meal was ready to eat. She suggested that I could stir them if I wished adding that the meat may break up with the stirring. I, of course, was willing to do my part.

As the day went on, the smell permeated the house. I must say my stomach juices were churning in response to the aroma. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the time came for me to play a part in the preparation of our supper. I retrieved the bowl of vegetables and mushrooms from the refrigerator and dumped them into the crock pot. Then, I proceeded to push them into the bubbling juice. For the next two hours each time I passed the crock pot, I stirred the food. Soon the vegetables were well cooked and the meat began to break up in small pieces mixing all together.

When Carol returned, she uncovered the crock pot. She turned to me and said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Surprised, I replied, “It looks like a great stew to me.” It was supposed to be a pot roast,” she said with little pleasure. “Oh,” I said in a subdued tone. “I thought we were making beef stew.”

Shortly, I realized that Carol had a vision of a pot roast with tender cooked vegetables and I had a vision of a well-mixed, juicy beef stew. Both of us were working toward the same goal of a tasty supper. But we had different visions of the end product. She failed to clearly explain what she intended to create. I failed to ask clarifying questions about the specific nature of the supper. We were not maliciously working against one another. We just assumed that we had a shared understanding of the outcome.

So many times, similar misunderstandings occur between a leader and his or her followers. Unfortunately, sometimes when these misunderstandings occur leaders blame followers for sabotaging their vision and followers blame leaders for misleading them about their vision. It is often more of a true misunderstanding. Leaders and followers need to learn from misunderstanding and work to connect shared understanding. Believe me, the next time Carol leaves a crock pot to my tending, I will ask what kind of meal she is trying to create. As a matter of fact, I would bet that she will tell me before I have to ask.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.