There are always different interpretations when hearing the same information.
Everybody that listens to something hears it differently from their own perspective. […] — Buddy Franco
I work with a small group of 4th graders in a voluntary leadership program called Student Ambassadors. Each week we meet to discuss what leadership is and participate in activities that tie back to what it means to be a leader.
Recently, the students were given the following instructions for an individual project: create a snowman poster. Each student was given one sheet of various colors of construction paper, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick. They were to sit at individual tables and they could not talk once they started their project.
I gave them an opportunity to ask questions once they heard the instructions. However, once they got their supplies, they could no longer ask questions, and they had 15 minutes to work.
When they were finished, there were five different snowman creations.
Not one of their creations was remotely alike. As one of the 4th graders so eloquently put it:
We had to use our imagination and think outside of the box. — Austin C.
Although they had the exact same instructions, the students had the latitude to create what their minds conceived. They had broad directions and had to figure things out.
One student was anxious, because there were no writing utensils and she didn’t think she could figure out how to make the circles for her snowman. When she handed in her poster, she told me how she solved the problem. She used the glue stick as a writing utensil to make the circles and then cut them out.
That’s thinking outside the box. That’s problem-solving.
A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. — Steve Jobs
These students had a broad perspective of a problem, in this case how to create a snowman poster. Because they had different ideas, background knowledge, and information, they attacked the project in various ways.
The lesson here is much deeper than a poster. It’s the fundamental idea that we think in different ways and we need to come to a better understanding of various perspectives as leaders.
I recently wrote a piece published in The Ascent called Negativity is like running into a brick wall. I wrote from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand why people choose to be negative, and then I got a new perspective.
On the one hand, it’s true that we have more control over our mood/positivity/negativity than we are sometimes willing to admit, but at the same time, I am hesitant to dismiss or devalue the stories of people who suffer from mood disorders and other issues who find it much harder than the average person to get out of a cloud of negativity. I suppose what I’m learning most is that everyone has a different worldview based on their different backgrounds, experiences, upbringing, and that’s the way the world works. — Sarah Cy
Sarah and I started a dialogue over her response to my piece, and it allowed me to grow as a writer, a leader, a person in general.
Leading has always been about communication through the expression of ideas, but more importantly from listening. We all have our interpretations and perspectives on similar experiences. The true leaders are the ones who listen with an open heart and an open mind.
In my elementary classroom counseling classes, we talk about the five parts we need to be an effective listener: our ears, our eyes looking at the speaker, our mouth off, our brain to interpret information and ask questions, and our heart to show the other person that we respect what he/she is saying.
The one that most students bring up first when we review the parts is the heart. They get it. They understand that when listening with your heart that you are truly in the moment with the other person and you care about what he/she is saying.
We can learn a lot about leadership and perspective through a simple snowman activity and listening to others.
**This piece first appeared in the publication The Ascent on Medium.com.
I'm a lover of life, an eternal optimist, and I have an intense desire to add value through simple living and positive vibes.