Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.
Great leaders start by confronting the brutal facts.
You can twist perception, reality won’t budge.
“Show Don’t Tell,” Rush
Abraham Maslow stated that of all the characteristics and tendencies of self-actualizing individuals, the most crucial is to establish and maintain is an accurate perception of reality, what he called being Objective. He defines this attribute as the “capacity to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality … to judge correctly and efficiently.” It has been my personal experience that this attribute is also the most controversial because it counters the more popular view of Relativism – the position that there are no absolutes and that what you see depends on where you sit. However, if Maslow and Collins are correct, and I think that they are, this is indeed the most important characteristic of Actualized Leaders and if you were to focus on only one to develop, this should be it. So, in this post I would like to explore what it means to be Objective, why it’s controversial, and how to develop this attribute in your own journey.
Let’s start this exploration by defining “objective” – judgment that is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. Maslow went on to describe this attribute as having an accurate perception of reality, or being “cognitively correct.” Individuals who were more Objective, and thus more self-actualized, were more open to experience, less rigid, and more problem (as opposed to person) centered.
Being Objective starts by accepting that an external, singular reality exists independent of our perception. Reality also exists independent of popularity and authority. Many philosophers and writers, from Plato and Maslow to Collins and Stephen Covey (author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) affirm the existence of the “natural laws” of an external, objective reality. Our challenge is to discover and act in accord with these laws, and with reality.
However, of all the attributes this one seems to be the hardest for folks to accept. I think that one of the reasons for this is because of the popularity of the previously mentioned competing theory: Relativism. Relativism states that there are no absolutes, and therefore, no singular reality. In other words, what you see depends on where you sit, and since everyone is at a difference place, one view is just as “valid” as another. As such, there is no such thing as “right,” “wrong,” “good,” or “evil.” However, Maslow states that oftentimes unbalanced or deficient individuals are not so because of some neurosis or emotional illness. Rather, they are often “cognitively wrong” and acting in ways which they may prefer or emotionally cling to, but that are not in accord with reality.
Another reason I think that it’s difficult to be Objective is because of our emotions. We may feel a certain way about a person or circumstance, and that sentiment may inhibit our ability to be disciplined and focused in our effort to confront our reality, and ourselves. So often we would rather blame others, or our parents, or the stars, instead of taking full responsibility for our situation. And taking personal responsibility (as previously discussed in this BLOG ) must start with a brutal confrontation of the facts.
John Allison, CEO of the Cato Institute and former Chairman and CEO of BB&T, states that being Objective is the most important quality of effective leadership. And, the opposite of Objectivity, psychological evasion, is the only “cardinal sin” of leadership. According to Allison, missing a data point in your assessment is not unforgiveable. Actively ignoring, denying, or evading reality, however, is
It is crucial to note that being Objective does not mean that you, I, or anyone else has a direct line of sight into reality. We are all human and fallible, and our own experiences and emotions can and do cloud our perception and judgment. Covey states that our mental maps (perception) are never the actual territory (reality). As such, we must remember that changes in our perceptions (e.g., hope, denial, etc.) in an effort to change or distort reality do not affect the actual territory. They just move us further away from our destination.
So, if you are interested in being more Objective consider the following strategies:
- Try to assess your situation “clinically” without emotion. Imagine that you are floating over yourself and your situation; what do you observe?
- Pretend that your situation or circumstances belong to your best friend; what advice or counsel would you give him or her?
- Ask a trusted friend or family member for his or her objective, candid (“brutal”) assessment of your situation; listen to and absorb what they say.
Is there a truth in your life that you are evading or ignoring? What part of your reality needs to be confronted? What would become possible for you if you had the discipline to objectively assess your situation, and the courage to confront and change it?