Photo Credit: Unsplash

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Several years ago, I was asked by a local church to give an introductory talk about the different types of "love languages" for a class that was kicking off a study of Gary Chapman's popular book. As part of the preparation, I decided to retake Chapman's quiz and re-identify my preferences. Then I decided that I should take a shot at predicting my wife love languages in ranked order fashion (I guess I was feeling particularly brave that day!). Later, I asked my wife to take the quiz. She consented, took it and I compared my rank order "guess" with her results. It wasn't bad. I switched two items in the middle of the list but otherwise was on target.

(Now, before you think I am overly-self congratulatory . . . I should have done pretty well. I am a trained marriage and family therapist. I worked for years with couples in a clinical setting. No new territory here.)

What was surprising was when I asked my wife what she thought my primary love language was. "Gifts," she said confidently. Nope. Not even close. Now, I'm not trying to be hard on my wife. She is not a marriage and family therapist. She has not studied, spent hour upon hour thinking about, and struggling, to understand couples. But her answer did raise my curiosity, so I asked, "Why did you think it was gifts?" "I remember," she said, "when your brother and sister-in-law gave you a gift and how moved you were by it!" She's right. I was.

What she didn't know, because I never told her, was why I was so moved.

More about this in a moment. However, this basic misunderstanding of confusing what with why is a primary problem, not only with couples, but with leaders as well.

When interviewing employees I often find it common for them to have a naive belief that the managers/supervisors really don't know "what is going on." They are usually wrong. Even when the environment is hostile, closed, secretive, or even "toxic" the managers typically have a pretty good understanding of what has happened and what is currently happening that contribute to the issues they face.

If those employees could sit in on the discussions with those leaders they would find that the description of what has, and is, happening is usually pretty close to what the employees themselves tell us in interviews we have with them.

But, leaders are less adept and telling me "why" things are the way they are. Why is this you wonder? It can be for numerous reasons . . . fear, projection, past history, generational shifts . . . you name it. So when leaders have the wrong idea about "why" there attempts to fix "what" often fails.

These leaders need a process where employees can safely and confidentially tell them 'why" things are the way they are. Leaders need a radical commitment to hearing this so that they do not operate of a false premise and waste time, effort, and lose the good will of them employees--who will see it as one more example of how leadership doesn't know "what" is going on.

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