What I Like About You

I was able to attend the Big 12 Wrestling Championship with my youngest son who is a high school wrestler. If you read last week’s post, I was grateful to add three days of quality time with him to the ever-dwindling number of days I have left. I also love to watch wrestling and love the OSU Cowboys, plus you get to witness some interesting behavior during the tournament.

Like many sports, the calls made by the referees are subject to scrutiny by the fans, the coaches, and the media. Most of the time, the correct call is obvious and undisputable, but that does not stop the fans from complaining when the call is not in the favor of their athlete. I will admit that I have been guilty of this, too, although to a smaller extent with wrestling, as I understand the sport. But I still like my Cowboys to receive the best call possible for the situation.

In 1979, the Romantics released “What I Like About You” in advance of their self-titled debut album. In the song, Wally Palmar sings,

Keep on whispering in my ear
Tell me all the things that I wanna hear
Cause it’s true
That’s what I like about you

Obviously, we all like hearing things that are in alignment with what we believe or want to be true. There were several moments during the tournament when I would have loved to “hear” the ref call something to our advantage. Hearing what we want to hear might make us happy in the moment, but what are the long-term results of only hearing “what we wanna hear”?

One way we only hear what we want to hear is literally not listening to the people around us when they are telling us things we would rather avoid or ignore. When we don’t listen to people, we communicate that they are not important and that what they are thinking and feeling isn’t valuable to us. In addition to the harm caused to our relationships, not listening to the people around us puts us in jeopardy of making mistakes that could easily be avoided. We risk missing out on critical information or analysis that we don’t have. Even ideas that are not adopted or information that turns out to be unneeded can spark conversations that are profitable.

Another way we only hear what we want to is selective hearing, which is prejudging the other person’s input and only selecting what already aligns with our own thoughts and ideas. I have a dog that does not like to come inside when I call her. I can call her, whistle, demand, and clap my hands yet get no response, but if I say “treat” in a quiet voice, she comes running. We can be like that too. When we cherry pick what we hear and discard things that don’t match our predetermined ideology, we stop growing and risk becoming obsolete. A willingness to hear things that we don’t like and listen to voices we don’t agree with creates the opportunity for us to understand something from a different angle which is a significant advantage in leadership.

Whether we are ignoring what others have to say or only hearing the parts we like, hearing only what we want to hear leaves us isolated, vulnerable (not in the good way), and disconnected from reality. As leaders, we cannot afford to live in an echo chamber. Rather, we should seek out and cultivate channels of communication that bring us new and dissenting views. It is only when we seek the truth, in all the ways it may come to us, that we can lead well.

I want to be surrounded by people who are willing to tell me the truth, not just what I want to hear. I want to be around people who trust me enough to tell me what they think and feel, even when they know it is different from what I think and feel. For that to be true, I need to clearly communicate through my words, actions, and attitudes that honesty and transparency are what I like about you, because that is The Kimray Way.