Wonya Lucas and the Value of Being a Fair Witness
“Wonya Lucas is another wise leader. Last year I was facilitating a vision and strategy session for an organization called CTAM (Cable and Telecommunication Association for Marketing); Wonya is a member of the board. At one point in the discussion, we were talking about how and whether CTAM should change the focus of some of its offers to better serve its members. One person was very enthusiastic about how a particular offer would appeal to the membership. Most of the other participants in the session were getting caught up in the person’s enthusiasm. I saw Wonya listening carefully, not yet responding. A few minutes later she spoke up, noting that while she agreed that the membership would love the offer, she wasn’t sure about their bosses – that it might be a harder sell to convince them of the value of it – and that they were, ultimately, the ones who would have to pay for the members to use it. Her balanced insight changed the flow of the conversation, and the group ended up agreeing on a more robust and universally appealing offer.
I’ve often seen Wonya be the “fair witness” for a group; she seems to have a real gift for keeping her objectivity, even when all around her are losing theirs. People rely upon this ability in their leaders. We look to our leaders for guidance, and when we don’t respect the quality of our leaders’ insight, when we don’t believe that they can stay objective about important situations – we question their decisions.”
— From Chapter 6 of Leading So People Will Follow
Recently, Wonya and I were talking about a situation where she had made a decision as a leader that turned out not to have been the right thing for her team and the organization. I really appreciated her “fair witness,” objective approach. She was able to say, “here’s what happened; here’s how that didn’t work; here’s what I’ve done differently; here’s what’s happening now.”
Being able to reflect on and grow from successes and mistakes as a leader is the essence of wisdom. Too often, leaders just keep moving: good things happen, bad things happen, but they don’t stop, take a breath and think – dispassionately and objectively – about what it means, and use their understanding to improve going forward.
In order to do this, though, you have to cultivate the skill of being a ‘fair witness’; of being able to look at situations – even those in which you have a strong emotional stake – as objectively as possible, so that your decisions are based in reality, rather than denial, hope, avoidance, or wishful thinking.
I recently read a wonderful definition of wisdom, from Aristotle: he proposes that wisdom is the understanding of causes. That is, knowing why things are a certain way, which is deeper than merely knowing that things are a certain way. Wise leaders look for the “why” behind events, and it helps them to make decisions that will benefit them, their teams and their organizations.