I know you are a leader and so I know that you probably saw the recent movie Darkest Hour. After all, it was about Winston Churchill, it was about leadership, and it was about a crucible in the course of western history.
There is a scene in this movie that audiences seem to adore. It is when Churchill, beautifully portrayed by Gary Oldman, goes on the underground train—or the “Tube” as Londoners call it—to gather opinions from the common people. It is a tender and seminal moment in the film. It just didn’t happen. Not as portrayed, anyway. Now, Churchill did go to pubs and out on the street to find out what people were thinking, but he never rode the Tube alone to survey opinions.
Still, I want you to think about what the filmmakers were trying to show of Churchill. He was a better leader because he cared about what the average man was thinking. He knew he lived in a bit of isolation. He says as much in the movie just as he said it in real life. His world was an upper crust English world. But what did the laborer or the homemaker or the pub manager or the newspaper salesman think? Churchill cared about this and knew he would lead better by knowing what the people he led were thinking.
There is another man I admire who did the same thing. The late King Hussein of Jordan, father of the current King Abdullah, used to drive a taxi around Amman so he could talk to his people and hear their opinions without them knowing who he was. He led better for it.
Both of these men knew what we must know as leaders today: our leadership roles isolate and deform us if we let them.
You lead from a certain vantage point in life. You are of a certain socio-economic strata, you spend time with a certain group of people, you dine/golf/workout/socialize with a specific tribe. Your role, because of its pressures and your associations, can make you narrow. It can make you “of one kind.” It can focus you on certain priorities, cause you to lead in a certain style, make you aware of only certain people and keep you in a cultural cubicle.
Yet to be a successful leader, you must understand, care for, and be able to relate to a wider variety of people than your experience allows. You need people on your team that you might consider geeky. You need extroverts when you might be an introvert, or introverts if you are an extrovert. You need detail people when you are a generalist. You need a blue collar perspective if you’ve been white collar all your life. In other words, good leaders build effective teams of those who are different from them.
How do you cultivate this? You go to lunch with people outside of your tribe. You read novels. You participate in sports and cook outs and social times with people far different from yourself—and I mean in every way different, from race to nationality and background.
Only then do you have the compassion and the understanding and the emotional range to build the diverse teams that lead to success. Only then do you start to know what you don’t know. You start “seeing” from outside yourself. This is essential to leadership, to team building, to marketing in a diverse world, and to living a large and generous life.