One of the primary characteristics of a great leader is the ability to be discerning. Webster describes discerning as “showing insight and understanding.”  

In the last few days I have had several opportunities to experience in my own life and in the lives of friends how easy discernment can turn into criticism. These two characteristics might actually be on a continuum.

It occurs to me that the ability to discern is a gift from where I do not know. I only know that in my experience I am usually able to read a situation and see “what is” which is not necessarily congruent with what I am being told about what is. Even when it might be my first encounter with a person or situation I “feel” the truth of the situation which may be referred to as intuition.

Where I get into trouble is when my ego takes over and I move from discerning the situation into criticizing. This leap from discerning to criticizing is quick and seemingly justified (at least in my own mind.) Once the ego takes over then the mind starts racing and before I know it, I have moved from the gift of discernment to the curse of the critic.

It is impossible to develop healthy relationships when coming from a place of criticism. The ego loves the critic as it continues to feed and inflate the ego. We can actually be addicted to being right which is the goal of the critic. When we are “right” we get an internal shot of dopamine which can be very addictive. We may temporarily feel better but usually destroy relationships and trust along the way.

The key is to remain in a place of gratitude for our ability to discern. With practice this will allow us to continue to see “what is” and make the most appropriate and insightful choices.

This is why great leaders have the ability to address and confront difficult situations and inappropriate behavior from the place of neutrality.  Neutrality builds trust even in confrontational situations. Trust is the absolute foundation of all functional relationships.

Warmest regards,

The “Millennial LeaderShaping Coach”