Jim was a veteran of World War II -a member of the "Greatest Generation." He was a colleague and a personal friend. As a B-24 bombardier, Jim flew many bombing missions over Germany. We were having lunch at a Mexican restaurant one day when I asked "the" question, "What were you feeling and what was it like to be the one dropping bombs on people below that could be wounded or killed?"
His reply was very telling and has wide implications, “When I looked through the bombsight, from altitude, I never saw people, I only saw buildings and weapons factories.”
I never saw people!
Jim’s answer provides an interesting insight not only about war, but also about our business and personal lives. War is hell and there will always be innocent lives lost and threatened. But there is another concern that hits much closer to home.
Leaders are often gifted with the ability to focus on long-range issues. In focusing on the goal/vision/purpose, there is a tendency to lose sight of immediate surroundings. Looking to the future, leaders can fall into the trap of never seeing the people.
In this TGIF world (Twitter, Google, I-Phone, & Facebook) there is so much technology at our disposal that we have a tendency to rely on these modern forms of communication without interacting with real, live people. We need to have face to face meetings between people, without phones, texts, or Skype. The most effective communication is still one on one. Studies have shown that what we say is not half as important as how we say it. A text can be misinterpreted. People interpret our communications in three different ways;
- 55% of what they hear is based on facial expression & body language,
- 37% percent is based upon the tone of our voice,
- and only 8% on the words that we say.
In the church, we tend to sit in our comfortable pew and send money for someone else to go into the poor neighborhoods of our cities, go overseas to minister in the developing countries, or to just share our faith with our next door neighbor. We will never receive the blessing of touching lives until we serve others face to face. That is a life changing event, not for those touched, but for those who touch.So often we think we are doing our duty by sending a donation to the Salvation Army, overseas missionaries, or disaster relief. But without interacting directly with people, we are never doing enough. Something of our message is lost without our presence. It is the difference between being and doing. You can do good stuff, but being good is more effective.
In the business world, it is easier to sit in a padded chair behind our plush desk than it is to go out among the employees, customers, and the community. The view from the office is a distorted image of the needs of the organization. There has to be a time to get away from all the hustle and bustle and to think and plan, but it is just as important to see the people and listen to what they are saying and become known to them.
When taking an automobile trip with my wife, Rita, I usually do all of the driving. Her driving makes me very nervous while its relaxing for me to drive. It has taken years to understand why this is so. It is not about being in control. There are others, worse drivers than Rita, with whom I am not nervous. We finally figured it out. Rita is a detail oriented person with shorter range vision. I, on the other hand, am a long range viewer. She sees everything around her but does not see the things I see - way ahead down the road. While I am focusing on the road ahead, I often ignore, or do not always see, the things that are close up on either side.
I never want to get to the point where I do not see people!