Years ago, I heard a saying... “How can you ask your neighbor to clean up his yard when you have dandelions on your own lawn?”
We are often quick to judge and condemn someone for their actions when we have things to work on our own. In business, we often criticize a way of doing something when we do not have control over our own processes.
When standing in the middle of your sea of yellow flowers, how can you ask your neighbor to clear their field?
Covey’s Fifth Principle: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
When people typically approach a problem, they engage with the hope to present their point of view. The answer is obvious to them, and they choose to convey their solution. This approach is not optimal for real learning.
Covey’s principle is very simple: listen first (to understand) and then share your perspective (the understanding). By approaching a problem in the opposite direction, the process shuts down our opportunity to learn. By forcing your opinion on a group first, you lose the chance to gain perspective to expand your own point of view.
When asking someone to clean out their dandelions, did you take the time to understand why they have these weeds? Was it money troubles? Do they grow them to make tea? Your neighbor may have very good reasons for their yellow flower garden.
Can My Grass Actually Be A Sea Of Green?
As you look at your business practices, are your processes clean? My assumption is no. Everyone’s process has flaws and needs improvements. Lean teaches us the seven wastes are everywhere, and with continuous improvement, we can minimize their impact.
Many processes need to be reviewed and improved because they have been in place for a long time. Your team is comfortable, and work simply flows. Is it optimal, or are there many workarounds?
Before questioning another group’s business practices, make sure your work is flowing optimally through the process. Ensure your yard is tidy and neat before questioning others. Do not give anyone an opportunity to look at your weeds while examining their lawn.
Share Your Fertilizer...
I often want to help someone clean up their processes and offer my recommendations for improvement. I can see some of their wasted efforts, and I want to help them see the same thing. But why would they listen to me?
When I approach another leader, department, or group about a recommendation, I air out some of my dirty laundry. I share my weaknesses and improvements. I want them to know I am not full of… fertilizer.
When approaching another leader with criticism or the spirit of improvement, please show some vulnerability and compassion.
“You know, last month I realized my process needed a review, and we did this…”
“I recognized my procedure for that had so many loopholes, I am not confident how we ever got work through the system.”
Show your colleague you are making improvements as well.
Quick To Judge? Be Quick To Offer Help.
I know firsthand how easy it is to comment on another process in a part of the business outside of my team. I try not to judge, and I recognize I have a lot of work to do on this behavior. One thing that has stuck with me: the people who criticize my process and follow up with “How can I help?” are the most influential. I respect these critiques.
If you decide something must be said about another person’s process and you have taken the time to understand how the process works, you need to be willing to help. Show this person your ideas, and jump into the weeds with them. Spray weed killer, pull weeds, and help clean up the yard. Show you are more than a critic; you are willing to help with the cleanup.
Why Do Dandelions Matter?
Everyone hopes for the “perfect” yard with no weeds, well maintained, and the envy of the neighborhood. This utopia is possible with a lot of effort. When your neighbor’s yard is the opposite, it can devalue your efforts and diminish your contribution to the block.
In business, our peer groups will have dandelions just like you. They may display the “perfect lawn,” and with some close inspection, you will find a weed or two. The point is, do not critique someone’s lawn until you have begun to clean up your own. When you express an opinion that someone is doing something wrong without improving your own situation, be prepared for kickback. It will be equally as easy to find your weeds as you found theirs. You both can point out and show each other’s flaws. However, by showing you are willing to pull some of your own weeds and apply some weed killer, your neighbor will appreciate you more. He or she may follow your example and accept your observations.
Noticing a lawn full of dandelions is easy. Pointing them out to your neighbor is simple. Making your yard clean is more difficult. How can you blame your neighbor for his dandelions when yours are seeding the neighborhood? Just try to understand your neighbor’s dandelions after you have pulled a few of your own.
Good luck, and keep weeding!
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