I’ve never known anyone who was what he or she seemed; or at least, was only what he or she seemed. People carry worlds within them.

I love the quote above by Neil Gaiman. I probably use it too much, but it’s become a mantra of sorts for me. It helps me approach each person I meet without a lot of preconceived notions about who they are. Instead, I try to get to know them and learn about some of the worlds within them. I remember this quote even in long-term relationships, because people are constantly changing and growing.

Each of us is a complex mixture of our beliefs, values, passions, gifts, voids, and wiring. We are all shaped by our experiences—good and bad. And we all have our very own blend of dysfunctional behaviors. Each one of us has different knowledge and different skill sets. We do different things and have unique perspectives. Because of this, each of us wears a particular set of lenses through which we see the world.

In addition, humans fall victim to confirmation bias all the time. We see what we expect to see. If we believe that a someone is “good,” we are more likely to interpret their words and behavior through a positive lens. If we believe that someone is “bad,” we are more likely to see their words and behavior through a negative lens. To illustrate, think about this statement: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Some of you just had a visceral reaction to that statement. Why? Because Hillary Clinton used to say that a lot, and you might interpret that statement based on how you feel about Clinton. In reality, the statement itself is neutral. It’s an African proverb that means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe environment. It has nothing to do with government and everything to do with community. (Thanks wikipedia!) Confirmation bias like this gives us another set of lenses.

As humans, we generally feel most comfortable with people who are similar to us, so we unconsciously tend to seek out people like us. Think about your friends, the people you go to church with, even the people you work with. Notice any trends? We like to be comfortable. And the familiar is comfortable. On goes another set of lenses.

All of these lenses piled on top of each other color how we see and understand our world, and it’s really hard to remember that we’re seeing the world through so many lenses! Without meaning to, many of us behave as though everyone else understands the world the same way we do—that we’re all playing by the same rules (remember the 5 Tricks game?). I believe that the best leaders work hard to become aware of the lenses they wear, which allows them to more easily remember that other people have different sets of lenses. Those great leaders also help teammates and peers do the same thing.

My hope in sharing all of this is that you will think about the lenses through which you filter the world. The more you are aware of your lenses, the more likely it is that you will be open to the new and different—to hiring people on your team who don’t fit the mold, to different perspectives and beliefs, to giving and receiving grace, to being wrong, and to the idea that none of us have it all figured out.

We all wear our lenses. It’s why diversity is so important on a team—diversity of thought, of background, of experience, or belief. Our lenses shape the way we see the world, for good and bad, and becoming aware of them is a powerful way to grow as a leader.

This week I encourage you to think about the lenses through which you filter the world. How do they help? And how might they be holding you back?


Image by insEyedout. Used under CC BY 2.0 license