Customs and behaviors inform how work is received

August 14, 2017

Two academics, Cornel West and Christa Buschendorf, have a series of conversations where they discuss six of American history's notable nineteenth and twentieth century leaders. One of the champions their dialogues reveal is W.E.B. DuBois, about whom Martin Luther King, Jr. said this: "Dr. DuBois's greatest virtue was his committed empathy with all the oppressed and his divine dissatisfaction with all forms of injustice."


At a point, West and Buschendorf investigate DuBois's role in edifying people. DuBois, an esteemed and intellectually imposing figure, admitted that his own analysis of this role underwent a marked transition. This is what Buschendorf says to West about the transition: "In the beginning, he thought you just have to tell them the truth, and they will accept it and they will change. But then he acknowledged that there was irrationality, that there was habit you have to cope with."


Even noble persons, given some leadership, will list among self-proclaimed strengths variations of:

"I tell it like it is."

"Straight facts."

"I keep it 100. All day, every day."

Dancing upon the laurels innate in truthfulness is understandable. I'd like to believe that any individual who has at some point led, or will lead, my learning and development has done so making every effort to be prudent and forthcoming with truth.


Truthful assessment carefully dispensed spurs athletes into world-class collections of skills. It does the same for managers, principals, reps, and teachers, too. What Buschendorf says to West in the quote above can be applied as a challenge to examine and refine the ways we present and consume information. Following DuBois's thinking as it is framed by the scholars-in-discussion lends considerations for people in and beyond these titles. How well you train or teach, mold or develop, is determined by your ability to oversee people changing for the better.


Is your basketball player building muscle and strengthening skills? Is your eighth grader's writing becoming more stylistically sophisticated? Are there any blocks hindering the endeavor to ensure these things are happening? I bet you needn't look hard at the measures that determine whether you've done well to identify that, indeed, there are blocks. You will know a block because it muddies the relationship between you and the way others receive information from you. Blocks don't just stand between the leader and the led. Blocks also stand between the led and the behaviors leaders want to see them adopt. If dispensing truth for sake is your bag, you may have already come to your own terms with the following sentiment; "faith in the power of enlightenment."


Faith in the power of enlightenment is a belief that one will receive your teaching, will accept it at once, and will take on habits that demonstrate adherence to what's been learned. The change we see in DuBois is a transition from leaning on this kind of faith to admitting (quoting loosely) "that the attitudes against his teachings were much more the result of inherited customs and of irrational, partly subconscious actions of men which control so large a proportion of their deeds."


Acknowledging and applying this thought -- that customs and behaviors inform the reception of your work -- positions you to go to battle against blocks intelligently. In determining how you will train, teach, mold, and develop consider how customs, habits, and irrational behaviors are playing for and against you.

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