Warren Buffett is at it again, this time spouting nuggets of wisdom in, of all places, Sports Illustrated. The magazine interviewed him for their July 1, 2019 issue because Buffett has an unlikely friendship with Alex Rodriguez, former New York Yankee baseball megastar who came crashing down in a steroid scandal.
Rodriguez has admitted wrong doing and served a penalty of a years absence from baseball (although he's never been specific about what he was accepting blame for). Rodriguez was the punching bag of Major League Baseball for a time, the symbol of a steroid-fueled era gone very wrong. He has since recovered his image and is back in fans good graces again, prompting the article.
As Buffett had told Sports Illustrated, he's supported Rodriguez throughout his trials and tribulations, and of the baseball star's miscues:
"I've always said generally, you should behave better in the second half of your life than you do in the first half of your life. You learn more about people as you go through life. You really learn more about yourself. I think that's been the case with Alex. You and I would not like to be judged by the worst thing we've ever done."
Truer words have never been spoken by an 88-year old mega-billionaire to a sports magazine. While all of Buffett's words contain resonance, the core of this powerful statement lives in the last sentence:
"You and I would not like to be judged by the worst thing we've ever done."
So many leaders hold on to an employee's miscue, often not even that epic, and won't let go. They begin to draw conclusions about an employee's potential based on one mistake, one interaction, one meeting gone sideways. The leader brings his/her analytical, critical, judging mind to the table but checks any sense of empathy at the door.
I've worked with leaders who draw lightning quick conclusions about someone from that person's mis-step, conclusions that are incredibly hard to dissuade them from. They do so in the name of efficiency, because of how busy they are, because of how much they trust their gut. All bereft of empathy.
Buffett's thought is a powerful self-test. As a leader, the next time you're faced with an employee who has made a big boo-boo, before assuming incompetency, ask yourself, "Am I about to judge them permanently based on this temporary error?" Even if the temporary error has lasting repercussions, the question is still valid.
Leaders skilled at using empathy listen, they have compassion, they take time to understand others points of view and make sure those people feel heard, and most importantly, they leave judgment behind.
I'm not saying as a leader you can't evaluate, rank and rate employees and discern their opportunity areas. I'm talking about not letting the actual, unexaggerated impact of someone's error stain the depth of how you view their potential, and them personally.
None of us would want to be judged by our worst mistake. Resist the (understandable) tension to do the same to others.