Growing up, I was fascinated by far-away places; still am. My parents subscribed to National Geographic magazine and I eagerly looked forward to each issue, knowing that opening the cover would reveal a variety of stories about strange cultures and new discoveries – all accompanied by the most incredible photographs. From my room in Madison, Tennessee each article transported me to another place and time.
One of my favorite stories was about Rapa Nui, more commonly known as Easter Island. It’s the planet’s most remote island; 3,000 miles from the coast of Chile and over 1,800 miles from the nearest inhabited island. It’s famous for the hundreds of giant stone statues, called “moai,” scattered around the landscape. For centuries, people have been trying to understand how the locals were able to carve these statues, how they were able to transport them, and what they were meant to represent.
Many of the moai became buried over time due to flooding and landslides. In fact, it was only a few decades ago that archeologists, excavating around some of the larger statues, discovered the moai were full body statues rather than just large heads. Digging below the surface revealed not only a more fully formed sculpture, but traces of paint and carvings that had been protected from erosion. Each moai was found to be unique, possessing its own set of characteristics, rather than a clone of the same model.
Unfortunately, too many leaders view the members of their team the same way we used to view the moai – just a bunch of heads, all cut from the same material with little to distinguish one from the other.
Whether it’s due to a lack of time, a lack of opportunity, or a lack of interest; we tend to look at the people around us in terms of what’s easily visible. We make judgement calls based on a cursory glance at only the most basic information. Rarely do we dig deep enough to discover the unique traits someone brings to the table. I mean, how much do you really know about the people in your own organization?
You probably know quite a bit about those operating in your immediate vicinity – those you interact with on a daily basis. You work closely together, have lunch, share personal anecdotes from the weekend, and even develop friendships. As these close relationships grow, you naturally learn more about their capabilities and interests.
But what about those outside of your inner circle? How much do you really know about them? If your perception of someone is based on a limited set of interactions, say a few email exchanges or telephone calls, then you don’t have the full picture. If you make assumptions of their potential value based on a narrow scope of work that’s readily available, you have no way of judging their true potential.
Effective leadership involves digging deeper. It requires learning about what lies beneath the surface. Of course, that takes time. It takes effort. It takes commitment. But then, that’s leadership.
As scientists learn more about the moai, they also learn more about the long-lost civilization that created them. An entire culture lies underground, waiting to be discovered. Who knows how the world might be enriched and expanded with just a little digging?